French agriculture on show in Paris
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Billed as the largest farm show in France, the 50th International Agricultural Fair in Paris opened its doors to visitors on Saturday. Among the nearly 1,000 stalls showcasing the best of French produce and agricultural know-how, RFI found an osteopath…for animals.
At the Salon International de l'Agriculture, there is a tiny stall for the Professional Institute for Animal Mechanical Osteopathy. It is overshadowed by a much larger stand from a popular fast-food chain promoting its use of French beef in its burgers - a sensitive issue given the current horsemeat-for-beef scandal. A few curious onlookers approach osteopath Cyril Crausaz, the institute’s president. Crausaz, a confident man with long hair and a rugged beard, is more than happy to explain what he does.
“Our field is everything that can be manually manipulated. This means animals limping; cows experiencing problems after calving…a bull that refuses to mate because it has a bad back,” he says with a straight face.
His clients range from farm animals and race horses to domestic pets, such as “pets that can no longer climb onto the sofa, for example.”
But jokes aside, it is a serious profession with around 600 practitioners in France who have to undergo five years of rigorous training in anatomy, physiology and biomechanics on horses, cattle and dogs.
“It’s a profession that’s starting to become officially recognised…as a speciality within veterinary science, so we can now practise animal osteopathy without being a veterinarian,” he says, adding that animal osteopaths work closely with fellow veterinarians, farriers (people who make horses’ hooves), animal behaviouralists and commercial breeders to ensure animals are properly treated.
Crausaz concedes people are initially sceptical about animal osteopaths.
“Some people come to us with suspicions; they say: ‘No, no, no, this can’t work, this isn’t right’, but they leave completely taken aback by the results...People are surprised to see an animal let itself be treated. It’s true that it’s rather impressive to see such a large beast in our hands, but the animal is absolutely confident being treated, and we see spectacular results.”
Working with animals presents a unique set of challenges.
“It’s different working with animals because they can’t speak. Sometimes it’s better because they don’t say anything stupid or lie,” he says.
But “animals are definitely more powerful and stronger than you, so you can’t take it by surprise. You have to have a trust relationship between the osteopath and the animal. The animal responds to us, and we respond to the animal. We try to bring it to a position to make it easy to manipulate it calmly, with as little pain as possible, and everything happens in a serene environment.”
In another show pavilion, young children are marvelling at some of the latest technologies in veterinary science designed to keep animals at ease during treatment.
Alexandra Renard, a student in Lyon who has been studying veterinary science for the past two and a half years, says larger veterinary clinics are investing in new machines such as MRI scanners and blood analysis machines to improve diagnosis and treatment.
“At my last practical (placement), there were five veterinarians, and there were a lot of machines such as ultrasound machines, radiography machines. They could also carry out operations with materials that don’t exist in smaller clinics,” she says.
The future of farming is also on show at the fair, including the delicate issue of genetic research.
Xavier David is a representative from France Génétique Elevage, a national French organisation whose members include commercial breeders, genetics and data processing firms.
He says the group helps farmers to analyse the genetic makeup of their cattle to control its produce.
It involves, for example, analysing bull semen to control the quality of beef and milk produced by the next generation of cattle.
Farmers are interested in “the quality of the milk, quality of the beef, the contents of the milk, rates of protein and fat to be able to make cheese very easily,” he says.
“[With regards to] the quality of the beef, you have the quantity produced per cow, but you also have the quality of the meat, the colour of the meat. We don’t just produce or select only cattle or animals on the productivity, but the quality as well,” he adds.
Some 12 million euros’ worth of French cattle semen and embryos are sold around the world, representing a growing industry.
“It’s growing because we know that, in the next 30 years, demand for agriculture will increase all over the world, and French genetics can be a very good solution, suitable for all types of [farming] systems all over the world,” David says.
But he hastens to add that this does not mean artificially manipulating DNA to produce so-called “Franken-foods”.
“I can understand [people’s] fear, but don’t worry, we don’t make any manipulation. It’s just a scan. You just want to know at the birth of the calf if it will increase a trait for the next generation, or decrease the trait. It’s just to know the potential of the genetics better…There is no manipulation,” he says.
Almost 700,000 people are expected to visit the agricultural fair over the next seven days.
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