Stories about marine animals, such as whales and turtles, dying after ingesting or being stuck in plastic bags have grabbed headlines in recent years, sparking a global debate about waste and the environment. But land animals, including those we eat, are also impacted.
In France, at least 60,000 cows suffer from tumours and infections caused by the accumulation of waste in their rumens, according to French environmental protection NGO Robin des Bois (Robin Hood), who have dubbed them “trash cows”.
The Recycling Network Benelux, another NGO, estimated that between 11,000 and 13,000 cows were impacted in the Netherlands last year, while in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region of Flanders the number of cows affected was believed to hover around 6,000.
France’s association for bovine farmers, INTERBEV, revealed that some of the foreign objects found in cows’ rumens include bits of pneumatic tyres, wires, nails, hard plastics, and broken needles – amongst others.
Many cows do not present any symptoms and are only revealed to have ingested waste upon being killed in abattoirs, which then remove the meat from consumption. But those more severely affected suffer from fever, despondency, reduced appetite and lower milk production.
This, in turn, results in financial loss for farmers. The Recycling Network Benelux estimated that the total economic cost for the entire Dutch livestock sector ranged from €10.8 million to €16.6 million annually.
Breeders have turned to a controversial solution: inserting magnets weighing from 100g to 1.3 kg into cows’ rumens, which animal welfare NGOs have criticised.
“There is something dangerous and unacceptable about forcing magnets into the oesophagus and stomach of animals using 55cm long push guides,” the Robin des Bois group said in a statement.
The French NGO has been calling on authorities to develop a plan to recycle the tyres used in French farms – there are as many as 800,000 tonnes nationally, according to a 2017 estimation from state agency ADEME.
“However, inaction persists and tyres continue to shelter mosquito larvae, feed fires and harm domestic livestock and biodiversity,” the Robin des Bois group deplored.