Jahrbuch für Geschichte des ländlichen Raumes 13 (2016)

RHN 4/2017 | Publication

Using Animals. Economics of Animal Production in the Modern Era

Editors: Lukasz Nieradzik and Brigitta Schmidt-Lauber


Table of Contents:

Lukasz Nieradzik and Brigitta Schmidt-Lauber: Economics of Animal Production

Perspectives of Usage

Michaela Fenske: The Challenges of Reduction. Reflections on Farm Animals from the Perspective of European Ethnology

The development of the human-animal relationship in rural economies can be read as a manifold reduction: a reduction of knowledge about farm animals in society; a reduction in the number of chances to gain sensual experiences with cows, pigs or hens; a reduced number of races of numerically more animals and a reduction of the animal into a pure material resource. Furthermore there seems to be diminished interest in these animals. This contribution discusses the potential of cultural studies to reverse these reductions from the perspective of European ethnology. The paper is divided into two parts: In the first part, the popularity of the European honeybee in postmodern cities serves as an example to reflect on both how animals are used today in different social contexts and how these different contexts define the animal. It calls for an open perspective beyond modern taxonomies. The second part outlines different examples of anthropological research studying animal economies in rural contexts. These reflections are grounded in new concepts of the Human-Animal Studies and Multispecies Ethnography that interpret the different relationships between humans and animals as special ‘human-animal-entities’ or ‘hybrid communities’ constituting an important basis of rural economies.

Ernst Langthaler: Feeding and Eating Animals. The Fabrication of the Global Meat Complex

Since the mid-nineteenth century, human-animal relationships in industrial societies have been exposed to significant processes of engineering and commodification. In the context of agro-food globalization transnational sites of meat production, distribution and consumption emerged that were regulated by public and private actors, which I call the global meat complex. In the first period (1870s–1930s), meat from settler colonies in the Americas and Oceania supplied middle-class customers in the United Kingdom and other European metropolitan states with affordable meat. In the second period (1940s–1970s), US surpluses of corn and soybeans fuelled the expansion of capital-intensive livestock feeding in the welfare societies of Western Europe and Japan. In the third period (1980s–2010s), new agricultural countries emerged as both suppliers (e.g. Brazil) and buyers (e.g. China) of feeding stuffs for large-scale meat processing and retailing under the command of transnational companies. During these periods, the life cycles of both plants and animals were more and more technically manipulated as well as commercially exploited by state-supported research and industrial capital. However, plants and animals somehow resisted total human control, thus provoking permanent tinkering – which, in turn, accelerated the ‘spiral of risk’. The heavy burden of the global meat complex on society and on the environment forces humans to adopt more sustainable alternatives of food production and consumption, either proactively or reactively.

Lukasz Nieradzik: The Sensuality of Killing. A Contribution to the Study of Cruelty, “Humanity” and Mysophobia among Butchers in Fin-de-siècle Vienna

The article examines the sensual dimension of skilled manual work in Viennese butcheries around 1900. At this time, kosher slaughtering was heavily criticised as anti-modern and archaic. Social, cultural and economic transformations had changed working practices, professional self-images and the ethics of butchers, and new medical perspectives had led to a diversification of human-animal-relations. In the middle of the 19th century modern killing practices had manifested themselves in the building of slaughterhouses, and had let to a rationalization of work and to a new biopolitical regulation of life and death. The occupation and utilization of “bare life” (Giorgio Agamben) desensitised the ideal of slaughtering and sharpened criticism of slaughter in a Jewish kosher way because it was characterised by a sensuality of killing animals that the so-called modern work denied. A new regime of production not only established a radical asymmetry in human-animal relations, but also dynamised the cultural and emotional parameters of society in fin-de-siècle Vienna.

Christoph Winckler: Welfare of Farm Animals from the Viewpoint of Animal Welfare Science

This paper gives a brief historic account of animal welfare science and addresses current concepts of animal welfare. In 1964, Ruth Harrison’s book Animal Machines led to an intense public debate in the UK about animal production, which not only affected husbandry standards but also served as the starting point for animal welfare science as a research discipline. Currently, we can distinguish three main concepts of animal welfare that refer to a) the biological function, b) the mental state of the animals and, c) the animal’s ability to perform normal behaviours. According to these concepts, a valid assessment of animal welfare requires the use of animal-based measures taken directly on the animal (e.g. through examination or observation). Accordingly, animal-based assessment protocols have recently been developed for a number of farm animal species; they may be used for the detection of welfare problems at the farm or regional/national level or for farm assurance purposes. Future tasks comprise the assessment of (positive) emotional states as well as the implementation of improvement measures in farming practice.

Susanne Waiblinger: The Significance of the Relationship between Humans and Animals for an Animal-friendly Husbandry

Research in cattle, pig and poultry farms emphasizes the importance of the stockperson’s behaviour for the animals’ level of fear or confidence. The stockperson’s interaction with animals has either stress or stress-reducing effects, and in turn affects animal production, health and well-being of the animal. It can also influence the ease of handling. Attitudes and personality of the stockperson differ greatly. Stockperson attitudes influence not only their interaction with animals, but also decisions in regard to housing and management. A good human-animal relationship is associated with improved housing and management that proves beneficial for animal welfare. In sum the relationship between the stockperson and his or her animals affects the animals both directly via interactions and indirectly via decision making. New knowledge and experiences can change attitudes. Training programs can thus improve the human-animal relationship and ultimately improve animal welfare.

Economics of Usage

Alexandra Rabensteiner: About Good and Bad Meat. The Image of Animal Products in Meat Magazines

The paper examines the medial discussions on meat consumption. The analysis of leading Austrian and German newspapers and magazines and so-called Meat Magazines between 2009 and 2014 shows increased insecurity about food and especially meat. Based on the food regime theory with its categories of ‘food from nowhere’ and ‘food from somewhere’, the paper examines various journalistic and medial strategies (referring for example to animal welfare or health) to manage consumer’s insecurity and to present meat as preferred and safe food.

Jadon Nisly: “He does not get away from his cattle”. Human Livestock Interaction on a Model Farm of the Popular Enlightenment (1782–1795)

“Cows should be looked at as machines that turn fodder into milk.” This quote seems to fit in well with modern industrial animal agriculture, but it actually goes back to Albrecht Thaer in 1799 and the intellectual environment of the so-called Economic Enlightenment. Its actors hoped to reform the traditional three-field agricultural system by abolishing grazing on pasture and keeping cattle indoors throughout the year to produce more dung. In doing so, they tried to fully economize and rationalize animal bodies, as suggested in Thaer’s quote. Since most peasants did not immediately respond positively to the proposed changes, the Popular Enlightenment tried to create exemplary model farms. One of the most important Catholic reformers of the Popular Enlightenment, Bamberg’s Prince-Bishop Franz Ludwig von Erthal (in office 1779–1795) was interested in agriculture and built such a model farm, or Schweizerei (Swiss Dairy), near his summer residence, Schloss Seehof. The model farm was intended to demonstrate the efficiency of year-round stall-feeding with clover without pasture, and was also intended to breed stronger, more efficient cattle for the area. This new summer stall-feeding meant a large increase in the workload for the cow maids, as can be seen in the testimonies from servants of the Schweizerei. As they testified during an inspection, they spent their entire days in the stall in close contact with the cows, and replaced the social interaction that loose cows would have with each other. The question of animal agency is also posed in a difficult way with year-round stall-feeding, since the cows were tied up most of the time and could not express their agency through movement. However, contemporaries acknowledged that cows had to cooperate in order to do the combined human-animal work of letting themselves be milked. Despite objectifying and rationalizing the cows’ bodies, those involved in the Economic Enlightenment still were forced to see them as subjects.

Christian Dölker: Uncomfortable Animals. Legitimation Strategies for the Usage of Animals in Gartenlaube – Illustriertes Familienblatt

The Gartenlaube – Illustriertes Familienblatt, Germany’s most popular weekly journal in the 19th century, contains diverse scientific, journalistic and philosophical articles that distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate forms of animal utilization. The contribution examines the function of these strategies and their influence on the relationship between ‘human’ and other ‘animals’. This allows insight into a standardization process and into forms of anthropological self-reflection in 19th century Germany.

Peter Moser: “Living machines” and “animal motors”. The Conceptualisation of Draught Animals, Machines and Motors in the Agrarian-industrial Knowledge Society, 1850–1950

During the 19th century draft animals emerged as a more suitable source of power for the mechanization of agricultural production than the steam engine that had been the power centre of the manufacturing industry since the late 18th century. While horses, oxen, cattle and dogs were crucial for implementing the industrially produced machines in the agricultural practice, a conceptual dialectic between animals, machines and motors developed in the period between 1870 and 1960. Animals were perceived as “living machines” and “animal motors” in analogy to the steam engine and machines became identified as “animal motors” in order to compete with the already established draft animals. The newly gained scientific and tacit knowledge of the animal body and its specific emotional, intellectual and physical capacities heavily influenced the rising agricultural engineering-industry. In the first half of the 20th century engineers, in close cooperation with farmers and agronomists, developed new motor-powered machines including the multifunctional tractor equipped with a power take-off. This tractor became the new power centre on the farm in the middle of the 20th century. The complex interplay between technological innovations and sociocultural dispositions for the first time enabled agriculture to participate in a significant way in the consumption of mineral resources from the lithosphere – a precondition for the reduction of the so far multifunctional draft animals on the farm to monofunctional milk or meat producers.

Barbara Wittmann: Development and Turning Points of the German Poultry Industry 1948–1980

This article examines the development of intensive livestock farming between 1948 and 1980 using the West German poultry industry as an example to show how human-livestock-relations and rural working culture changed over the course of three decades. In this framework, chicken assume the role of pioneers in a double sense: On the one hand the first form of intensification of animal farming was studied for laying hens. New modes of automation, mechanization and specialization were developed and spread to other livestock production areas. On the other hand, criticism of intensive animal livestock farming first came up in the debate on battery farming in the 1970s and focused on animal-ethical aspects. This article provides an inside perspective of the German poultry economy using their central association’s own magazine. By investigating the industry’s self-legitimation strategies inherent to its self-representation in the magazine and by examining its interactions with agrarian-historical and cultural influences, new light is shed on the introduction of intensive farming.

Veronika Settele: The Production of Animals. Thoughts on the History of Animal Farming in Germany

Current discussions of the conditions in industrialized farming, particularly those of animal husbandry, are often polemical and fixate on deficiencies. The story of how animal farming developed has so far largely remained untold, although it is precisely the historical perspective that could add depth to the discussion. This article makes the case for a social history of animal farming in Europe in the twentieth century. This history took place on two levels; on the farm and in society at large. Industrialized animal farming produced economic and socio-cultural transformations and thus allows an understanding of the changing human-animal relationships. What happened on the farm between animals, humans and technology is closely entangled with how society conceptualized farm animals: It led to a politico-economic reality that in turn shaped human imagination. This article attempts to write a history of animal production by shedding light on cattle farming in the 1970s in both German states.

Raffaela Sulzner: About the Good Bees. Human-Animal-Encounters in the Urban Beekeeping of Vienna

For several years there has been a remarkable public interest in bees as urban actors. People living in the city centres are keeping bees on their balconies and terraces. At the same time we see a great reduction in the number of bees around the world. There are a variety of reasons for the loss: climate changes, diseases, the resistant Varroa destructor, or the often-discussed pesticides for seed treatment in agriculture. Due to these developments bees have come into the city and appear in the media as urban animals. Following Michel Callon’s approach of a “sociology of translation” this paper examines the relationship between bees and beekeepers in Vienna. How do they negotiate living together? How is the relationship regulated by power dynamics and mechanisms of control? The paper argues that bees are actors in economic processes that influence political decisions; they are partners and friends that ensure our existence. Bees as cohabitants in the city should therefore always be kept in mind as equal actors when thinking about urban beekeeping.