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Oceans and Landless Farms: Linking Southern and Northern Shadow Places of Industrial Livestock (1954–1975)

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This article argues for more extensive attention by environmental historians to the role of agriculture and animals in twentieth-century industrialisation and globalisation. To contribute to this aim, this article focuses on the animal feed that enabled the rise of ‘factory farming’ and its ‘shadow places’, by analysing the history of fishmeal. The article links the story of feeding fish to pigs and chickens in one country in the global north (the Netherlands), to that of fishmeal producing countries in the global south (Peru, Chile and Angola in particular) from 1954 to 1975. Analysis of new source material about fishmeal consumption from this period shows that it saw a shift to fishmeal production in the global south rather than the global north, and a boom and bust in the global supply of fishmeal in general and its use in Dutch pigs and poultry farms in particular. Moreover, in different ways, the ocean, and production and consumption places of fishmeal functioned as shadow places of this commodity. The public health, ecological and social impacts of fishmeal – which were a consequence of its cheapness as a feed ingredient – were largely invisible on the other side of the world, until changes in the marine ecosystem of the Pacific Humboldt Current and the large fishmeal crisis of 1972–1973 suddenly changed this.
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Keywords: agriculture; globalisation; industrialisation; livestock; shadow places

Appeared or available online: July 8, 2020

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