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March 15, 2013

Farm Animal Welfare in Vietnam

Partnering to improve the welfare of animals raised for food in Southeast Asia

Humane Society International

  • Sows confined in gestation crates on a farm near Hanoi. Chetana Mirle/HSI

  • Battery cage egg production facility in North Vietnam. Chetana Mirle/HSI

  • Researchers, policy makers, veterinarians, and NGOs participated in an HSI-sponsored workshop on factory farming at Hanoi Agricultural University. Robert Lucius/Kairos Coalition

  • HSI's Farm Animal Welfare Director, Chetana Mirle, speaks at a workshop on factory farming at Hanoi Agricultural University. Robert Lucius/Kairos Coalition

by Chetana Mirle

A year ago, I began traveling to Vietnam to explore how HSI could help improve the welfare of farm animals in this region, since we are acutely aware that some of the most rapid growth in farm animal production, and factory farming, is taking place in Southeast Asia. 

According to industry reports, Vietnam is the fourth largest pig producer in the world, and pork consumption and production continue to rise rapidly. It is also clear that American producers are increasingly eyeing Vietnam as a market for their products, due to the country’s rising demand for meat, eggs, and milk.

Pig welfare

During my first trip last year for a conference on agriculture and climate change, I visited a pig farm with a biogas digester that captures the animals’ manure and converts it into small amounts of combustible methane gas that can be used for cooking stoves and lamps. The farm we visited was small—housing approximately 30 pigs—but the manure provided cooking gas for 11 households.

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While the conference organizers and some participants lauded the benefits of this technology for manure management and renewable energy creation, many of us were disturbed by the conditions of the pigs on this farm. In order to facilitate manure capture, and to simply and efficiently transfer it to the biogas digester, the animals were continually confined to a barren, crowded, concrete enclosure, where they lacked the ability to move freely, let alone play, forage, or experience most other natural behaviors.

I was deeply concerned to learn that these types of manure management projects are being actively promoted throughout Vietnam, despite the fact that there are more humane, effective, and sustainable means for managing animal waste, as well as mitigating animal agriculture’s impacts on climate change.

To add to my concerns, Vietnam’s pig sector is also rapidly industrializing, and incorporating some of the most abuse intensive confinement practices in the animal agriculture sector. 

When I returned to Vietnam in March, I visited an industrial-scale pork production facility, which confines its breeding sows in gestation crates. It was heartbreaking to walk down rows and rows of sows confined for their entire lives in barren crates so tiny that the animals can’t even turn around. I watched as these animals—who in more naturalistic environments are active, curious, and playful—lay listlessly in their stalls, or stood while continually swaying their heads back and forth.

Egg-laying hens

A few days later, I visited a battery cage egg production facility outside the city of Hanoi. The facility, which housed approximately 10,000 hens, did not fit the generally accepted stereotype of a “factory farm.” Instead, it was located on a small family farm, adjacent to the home and managed entirely by household members. 

Unfortunately, the suffering of the animals in this facility was comparable to those on any factory farm around the world. The birds spend their lives confined in barren battery cages, so crowded they can’t fully spread their wings, walk, or even comfortably make postural adjustments. While Vietnam is still largely known for backyard, free-range production of eggs and chicken meat, this industrial system of egg production is expanding due to investment by international companies and government policy.

We are doing what we can to prevent such suffering by working with a diverse group of partners to promote farm animal welfare in Vietnam and across Southern Asia.

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