Can factory farming feed the world? The numbers say no.
Over the course of several decades, animal agriculture has become a ruthless, relentless machine that inflicts unspeakable cruelty upon billions of animals—and devastates iconic wildlife, 50% of which has been wiped out in the past 40 years due to intensive food production.
Industrial agriculture has been marketed to Americans as the only way to feed the world—a necessary evil needed to ensure that our swelling populations can access cheap food, fast.
But the math says otherwise.
Despite the vast amounts of inexpensive (and often low-quality) meat, dairy, and eggs it produces, factory farming is deeply inefficient—and that inefficiency comes at an environmental and humanitarian cost.
Only a finite amount of land on Earth can sustain crops, and not only are we rapidly approaching capacity, but huge amounts of the crops we grow are fed to animals on factory farms. In fact, 97% of the world’s soy and 33% of all cereal harvests are used to feed farm animals (UN FAO, 2006). These vast tracts of farmland and the crops they produce could be used to feed human populations in need—instead, they help propagate a cruel, unsustainable system that eats up natural resources and harms the planet.
And we’re not exaggerating—industrial agriculture accounts for 70% of all water use, takes up 50% of usable land, and is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions (including 37% of methane, which has more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon) (UN FAO, 2006).
All of that damage, and we don’t even get a decent return on investment: for every 100 calories we feed to farmed animals in the form of crops, we only get about 30 back in meat and milk (Lundqvist, et al. 2008). Even more unbelievable: one calorie from chicken contributes 65 times the amount of climate change as a calorie from protein-rich legumes (Tilman, et al. 2014)
Efficient? Not so much, especially considering chicken is the least carbon intensive meat.
In our global quest to increase food production, factory farming has become a dangerous middleman—increasing human contributions to global warming, using up precious resources, negatively impacting our most treasured wild species, and harming humans and farm animals in the process.
We’re running out of time to act: according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, we only have around 60 harvests left in our soils. But consumer demand for a more humane and sustainable system has not gone unheard: some of the world’s largest meat companies have started to realize that the tide must turn.
Big names like Tyson, Perdue, and Cargill have made investments in the proteins of the future: plant-based alternatives and clean meat. Top players in the food service and restaurant industries are exploring ways to help consumers reduce meat intake and increase consumption of healthier, more sustainable sources of protein.
With your help, we can keep the change coming and save the planet—and prevent the suffering of billions of farmed and wild animals trapped in factory farming’s ruthless, relentless machine.
Learn more about factory farming’s disturbing connection to wildlife extinction and environmental destruction in Compassion in World Farming CEO Philip Lymbery’s hard-hitting new book, Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were.
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Lundqvist, J., de Fraiture, C. Molden, D., 2008. SIWI Policy Brief.
Tilman D., Clark, M. 2014. Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature. 515 (2014): 518–522.
Livestock’s Long Shadow, UN FAO, 2006, p43