Published by Food Safety News
World Expo US pavilion ignores elephant in the room: factory farming will not feed the world
This summer, the World Expo, held in Milan and themed ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,’ will bring together countries to unravel one of the world’s greatest challenges. Alongside the Expo, the US brings their pavilion titled ‘American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet.’ Here, the US boasts of showcasing innovations that will shape our future and solve our world’s most pressing issue: how will we feed ourselves in the future, given our ever increasing population and ever diminishing resources?
With US sponsors such as the US Poultry and Egg Council, US Dairy Exports, US Grains Council and US Soybean Export Council, one theme should be front and center when we talk about the future of food: factory farming, where animals are closely confined indoors without the ability to express their basic natural behaviors. While the US agriculture industry continues to tout the need for industrialized farming as ‘necessary to feed the world,’ nothing could be further from the truth. Factory farming will ultimately starve us out.
Imagine that a loaf of bread represents all the cereal there is in the world. Now cut that into ten slices. Then set aside five of those slices. That’s the amount of cereal consumed by humans directly. The rest? Four slices are consumed by farmed animals, and one will go to biofuels. Factory farming also has a heavy water footprint. As Nicholas Kristof wrote recently, “A single egg takes 53 gallons of water to produce. A pound of chicken, 468 gallons. A gallon of milk, 880 gallons. And a pound of beef, 1,800 gallons of water.” Arable land and water – our most precious dwindling resources - are all wasted in a factory farm model. In this model, we end up competing with farmed animals for these resources.
A United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) study suggests that for every 100 calories of human-edible cereals fed to animals, just 17 calories enter the human food chain as meat or milk. The UNEP calculates that the cereals used to feed farmed animals could, if they were instead used to feed people directly, provide the necessary food energy for over 3.5 billion people.1 Yet 805 million people go to bed hungry every night. That’s one eighth of our fellow human beings. Our food system has failed them. If we started all over again, we would not chose such an inefficient and unsustainable form of food production.
The US does have some of the most inspiring and innovative problem solvers when it comes to feeding the planet. Farmers, like Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, are forging what is known as regenerative agriculture – having animals and the land work together, rebuilding soil quality from rotational grazing and mixed farming. Tech companies like Hampton Creek, Clara Foods and Beyond Meat are creating more sustainable solutions through plant based and other alternatives for tomorrow’s food needs.
Henry Ford once said if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. He gave them a car. Today, agribusiness continues to offer the faster horse, or rather the faster growing chicken, a pig that produces more piglets, a bigger cow. But this system will go the way of the horse and buggy as more humane and sustainable, and often cheaper options progress and leaves the current model behind.
Compassion in World Farming, as part of the Slow Food pavilion (at the Theatre in Biodiversity Square), will offer an alternative message this coming week at the Expo, to be held June 10th at 6pm. Stop ignoring the elephant in the room. Factory farming cannot be counted on to feed the growing world population. It’s too dirty, too cruel and too wasteful. The event will challenge attendees to take a cold hard look at the realities factory farming is having on the future of food and our planet. The future model does not involve doing more of the same, but in truly innovating food technologies and farming systems that play a restorative role, rather than a destructive one.
1. UK Government Office for Science, 2011. The future of food and farming: challenges and choices for global sustainability: executive summary.