Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Save the world: Factory farming birds nest
Bird's nest soup is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. A few species of swift, the cave swifts, are renowned for building the saliva nests used to produce the unique texture of this soup.
Hong Kong and the United States are the largest importers of these nests. In Hong Kong, a bowl of bird's nest soup would cost $30 USD to $100 USD. A kilogram of white nest can cost up to $2,000 USD, and a kilogram of "red blood" nest can cost up to $10,000 USD.
When I was in Primary school, we were very proud of our Niah Caves in Sarawak, Borneo. Accordingly, it went back as far as some 20 to 16 million years ago during the Early Miocene. The cave is an important prehistorical site where human remains dating to 40,000 years have been found. It was also a source of income when collectors scale the cave using flimsy bamboo trellises to collect bird nest nest. My Dad's been there and he said that the stench was so bad that you don't want to go there, so I have never been.
At that time, my school was a two-storey building. Birds which we thought were swallows, it could be swifts used to make their nests at the eaves of the roof. They would bomb their shit on us. Every now and then, the old care taker used a long pole to rid the nest. The result was an awful mess of shit and dead nestlings. When we complained to him that he was killing the babies, he retorted, you complain of the shit landing on your head, and now you complain when I clean it up.
It was fine when the collectors are out of sight, out of mind in the remote jungle cave. But when it is just beside you, it is another story.
Since the 90s, some "brilliant" people decided to factory farm swift's nest. It is now done in a big way in a town in Indonesia. The locals don't like it, but the farmer's don't care. This had spread to the South East Asian region. Landlords find it more lucrative converting their buildings into factories.
Since the late 1990s,purpose-built nesting houses, usually reinforced concrete structures following the design of the SE Asian shop-house ("ruko") These nesting houses are normally found in urban areas near the sea, since the birds have a propensity to flock in such places. This has become an extraordinary industry, mainly based on a series of towns in the Indonesian Province of North Sumatra which have been completely transformed by the activity.
It has become an industry and investment. There are bird nest seminars to entice new investors promising a get rich quick investment. There are many that are built on existing shophouses.All they have to do is to knock down the internal walls.
From a first hand informant of some one who lives in a town there the town has many of these factories, it poses a health risk. "Swiftlets' natural environment is a cave which is airy and cool. The farmers install air conditioning and the water simply drain on to the road there there is no proper drainage. The whole town stenches from the shit and dead birds.
To attract the swiftlets, they develop a special CD and blare out the music with loudspeakers. When the swfts return in the evening and leave in the morning, they cause such a loud racket. The poor neighbours subjected to noise pollution and also the bird droppings move out, and they vacate the building to more farms.
Australia and New Zealand ban birds nest for fear of bird flu or avain flu. In deed for this reason, many people wonder if this is the cause.
I heard about this, and in one of my traveled, I saw many concrete buildings with little windows. My guide told me that those were factory farms.
I have never bought Birds nest, and will never buy them. The image of little nestling dropped on the ground of my primary school is forever etched in my brain.