Few understand how our hunger for ‘cheap’ meat, dairy and eggs is costing us the Earth.
It’s understandable because cruel factory farming is so often hidden from view. But on October 16, World Food Day, it has never been more important to remind us all of the extent to which this horrific form of industrialised animal agriculture, contributes to the climate, nature and pandemic emergencies currently facing society.
Please do read and share the following widely, so more people around the world understand why factory farming must end.
- Animal Cruelty: The world now rears and slaughters 80 billion farmed animals every year for food. An estimated two-thirds of them endure lives of misery on factory farms. Vast numbers of farm animals are caged or crowded. Chickens cannot flap their wings. Mother pigs crated so they can’t turn around for weeks at a time. Cattle taken out of fields and fed grain instead of grass. It is the biggest form of animal abuse and cruelty on our planet. I have no doubt that in years to come humanity will look back and be ashamed and horrified at the way we treat sentient creatures. That day cannot come soon enough.
- Cheap Food is a misnomer: We are told factory farming gives us ‘cheap’ food. Industrially produced meat and milk are indeed cheap at the supermarket checkout. But the low price of these products is achieved only by an economic sleight of hand. We have devised a distorting economics which takes account of some costs, such as housing and feeding animals, but ignores others, including the detrimental impact of industrial agriculture on the environment and health.
- Destroying Nature: Intensive or industrial animal farming is a major driver in the decline of the very ecosystem services we need to produce food in the future; being polluting of air and water, devastating to pollinating insects, like bees, needed for the very existence of a third of all food and responsible for soil declines now hitting many parts of the world. The feed-crops are typically grown to feed factory farmed animals, using polluting artificial fertilisers and soil-damaging chemical pesticides. The resulting countryside is all too often barren. Lifeless. Fields with few, if any, worms, birds, beetles, butterflies or bees. But it’s not just the countryside, dead zones are emerging in the oceans around the world. Industrial agriculture systems, with their high dependence on artificial fertilisers and chemicals, are a major source of pollution of our precious water. Quite simply our hunger for ‘cheap’ meat from animals fed on cheap corn grown on chemical-laced fields is poisoning and driving out precious species and damaging ecosystems on land, rivers and sea.
- Species Extinction: Earlier this year, a Chatham House report, ‘Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss’, was launched in partnership with Compassion in World Farming and The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during a live webinar. It identified that our global food system is the biggest driver of destruction of the natural world with agriculture being the main threat to 86% of the 28,000 species known to be at risk of extinction. The bottom line is that our increasing global appetite for ever more meat from factory farms means clearing more forests worldwide for farmland, encroaching on wild lands. We are simply sweeping our wildlife away.
- Depleted Soils: The UN suggests that, if we continue with damaging farming practices, we have just ’60 Harvests Left’ before the world’s soils either disappear or become useless. We have a golden opportunity to bring together the long-standing wisdom of regenerative, agroecological farming; farming in harmony with nature, together with the technological innovations of new proteins that don’t require animals at all, such as cultured meat from stem-cells. In this way, we can save soils for our fruit and vegetables and ensure that everyone has a rich and plentiful diet, with a real diversity of protein sources
- Deforestation: When people think of habitat loss through deforestation, they tend to associate it with logging to make way for housing and crops for human consumption. In fact, a major driver is the farming of soya and corn on a huge industrial scale, much of it destined for factory farmed animals around the world. Vast areas are turned over to these. Yet, it’s not soya per se that’s the problem, but the way it’s produced and what it’s used for. If these crops were produced without pesticides, without monocultures, with mixed rotational farming, on existing farmland rather than deforestation, then things would be better. If the land was producing food directly for people, it would be better still. Soya is a wonder-crop, a complete source of protein for humans. Yet the vast majority of soya goes for animal feed, 35 million tonnes of it a year to Europe, largely to feed factory farmed animals.
- High Wastage: The main argument given in support of factory farming is that it is the only way to feed the world’s growing population efficiently and effectively and yet factory farming is the single biggest cause of food waste on the planet. More than a third of the crops we now grow worldwide – enough food to sustain four billion people – are used to feed farm animals, who then waste most of the food value in terms of calories and protein in conversion to meat, milk and eggs.
- Contributes to our Climate Crisis: Food is responsible for 21–37 per cent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. In agriculture, the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is farmed animals. Globally, the production of animal products is responsible for up to 78 per cent of all agricultural emissions. As it is, the farmed animals sector produces more direct greenhouse gas emissions than the entirety of human transport. In many a climate discussion, cows are cited as a big problem because of the methane they emit; factory farmed pigs and chickens on the other hand are wrongly overlooked. Industrial pigs and poultry may not be emitting large quantities of methane directly in the same way as ruminant animals. However, their rearing still produces serious emissions. Carbon dioxide is released from the intensively managed soils needed to grow their feed. Added to this, intensive pig and poultry rearing also involves feeding soya from deforested farmland in South America, a major source of carbon, into the atmosphere. To get a sense of proportion here, scientists suggest that up to two-thirds of arable land globally is feeding factory farmed pigs, chickens and cattle, as well as biofuel-powered vehicles. Growing feed for factory farmed animals is also causing substantial emissions of nitrous oxide – the most aggressive greenhouse gas – from fertilisers. Nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and it also depletes the ozone layer. If we carry on increasing meat and dairy consumption as we are, then emissions from food production alone could trigger catastrophic climate change. No contributions necessary from the energy or any other sector.
- Pandemic and Health Risks: Whilst the emergence of Covid-19 has been linked to eating wildlife, it shows strong parallels with other viruses which have emerged from industrial farming, such as highly pathogenic strains of Avian Influenza and Swine Flu. Both these previous diseases, originating in chickens and pigs, have been devastating; believed to come from keeping living, breathing, sentient creatures in the most unnatural conditions – caged, crammed and confined on intensive farms. At the same time, factory farming fuels the global appetite for more meat and other animal products, meaning that more forests are cleared for farmland, encroaching on wild lands and their novel viruses. When it comes to the animal kingdom, our environment and disease transmission, the wellbeing of animals and people are closely intertwined. Covid-19 has shown us how fragile society really is; how our way of life can be snatched away in a moment; never has there been a more potent example of why protecting people means protecting animals too.
- Antimicrobial Resistance: Globally, around 70% of all antimicrobials are used in farm animals. Antimicrobials are regularly used in industrial livestock systems to prevent the diseases that would otherwise be inevitable when animals are confined in crowded, stressful conditions. Overuse of antimicrobials in industrial farming contributes significantly to antimicrobial resistance in humans.
Every day, somewhere in the world, there is new confirmation of how destructive, inefficient, wasteful, cruel and unhealthy the industrial agriculture machine is. In this age of pandemic, climate and biodiversity emergency, there is an urgent need to end factory farming and reduce the consumption of meat and dairy.
We must make sure our leaders understand that without an end to factory farming, and a move to less and better meat consumption, the world cannot realise the Sustainable Development Goals nor the Paris Climate Change targets.
For anyone who wants to help restore our planet, one of the most important things we can all do is to change the way we eat. By eating more plant-based foods and less and better meat – such as free-range, pasture-fed or organic – we can help our ravaged planet start to heal.
Thank you, your help and support is so appreciated.
Compassion in World Farming