Caring about jaguars means caring about chickens—and vice versa
You know all about the primary victims of factory farming: the oversized chickens crammed in dirty sheds, the beef cattle left with no shade on dusty feedlots, the hens and pigs trapped in cages and crates so small they can’t even turn around.
But did you know that you don’t have to live on the farm to be hurt by our broken food system?
In fact, intensive animal agriculture is driving so many of our most cherished wild species—from jaguars to bison to bees—to the brink of extinction.
In the United States and around the world, we’re farming more animals than ever before—and these animals consume a lot of feed. But rather than put the animals on pasture, they are crammed onto factory farms, while we grow endless acres of soy and palm to feed them. These vast, monocultured lands are wiped of their biodiversity, and their soils are stripped of critical minerals and organisms necessary for healthy ecosystems.
This starts a cascade of cruelty: without space to thrive and healthy soils to grow, trees, wildflowers, and other important plantlife vanishes from the land. Insects—including essential pollinators—and birds soon follow. And up the food chain it goes, until all that’s left are the monocultured crops, which are harvested and fed in huge quantities to animals on factory farms. These animals—many of whom never see daylight—will never get the chance to enjoy the acres and acres of land that were used to grow their food.
And it’s not just land that’s affected: 20% of the world’s fish catch—taken from oceans with rapidly-dwindling fish populations—is fed to factory farmed animals.
This phenomenon is happening around the world, and it’s responsible for the decline of some of our favorite iconic species, including jaguars, Great Plains bison, African penguins, and critically endangered Sumatran elephants.
The plight of Sumatran elephants is a heartbreakingly familiar one. Their native country of Indonesia has lost most of its original forests—the home of elephants, tigers, orangutans—and in less than one elephant generation, more than half of their habitat has been destroyed. The culprit? Huge palm plantations, which produce large quantities of kernel that is ultimately ground up and incorporated in animal feed. These farms break up the land, isolating elephant populations in small pockets. With population size and genetic diversity against them, these elephant groups are often too weak to sustain themselves.
Decades of intensive agriculture has brought us here: in the past 40 years, 50% of global wildlife has been wiped off the map.
To turn the tide, the face of global agriculture has to change—and fast. For farm and wild animals alike, the systems with the highest welfare potential bring landscapes back to life, put animals back on the land, and restore our soils through conscientious stewardship and rotational grazing. Building a more sustainable, responsible food system from the ground up—along with a considerable reduction in global meat consumption in favor of plant-based protein—is the only way to bring our wildlife back from the brink.
We’re told that we have to choose between wildlife and farming, that we must sacrifice our ecosystems to put food on the table. But that’s simply not the case. We can have our cake and eat it, too—if we treat our lands with respect and commit to giving animals, farmed and wild alike, the compassion they deserve.
As Benjamin Franklin once said: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” If we don’t act soon, hundreds of wild species will no longer have places to call their own.
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.