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Misadventures in the Skin Trade

Donkey skins packed for export at a licensed specialized slaughterhouse in Baringo. The skins are a key ingredient in a Chinese medicine called 'ejiao'. TONY KARUMBA / AFP

This week I spent a few days in Cape Town, in time for a minor, if telling, crisis in international agricultural trade. A ship crammed with 19,000 (mostly still living) cows was stuck in Cape Town harbor, en route from Brazil to the Middle East.

As South African animal welfare authorities scrambled to inspect the horrors on board, the city was enveloped in a powerful farmyard funk. The entire episode can be listed under the baroque stupidities of capitalism – where demand in one country and supply in another means that trade must – must! – proceed, good sense, the environment and human and animal welfare be damned.

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