Posts Tagged ‘factory farming’

In Defence of Factory Farming: How a ruinous system is kept afloat – Part 5

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

It is my pleasure to introduce the fifth and final part in the series of my guest, Peter Stevenson’s, exploration of the interweaving threads that justify and entrench factory farming.  Thank you Peter for sharing with us in detail the varying strands that support and allow factory farming to thrive and for highlighting that a fresh approach is needed to developing a fair and kind food system.  Please read the whole series here.

Peter Stevenson's two rescue dogs, Jodie and Jamie.

Peter Stevenson’s two rescue dogs, Jodie and Jamie.

The claim of necessity: we need to produce 70% more food by 2050

Finally factory farming wraps itself in the cloak of virtue. We’re the good guys come to feed the world. Its advocates tell us that 70% more food must be produced to feed the growing world population which is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. And as we need to produce so much extra food, further industrialisation is inevitable.

This ‘70% more’ message has become the prime driver of global food and farming policy. It is widely cited to justify industrial and technology-based solutions that respond to a challenge presented as a primarily quantitative one. The fixation with 70% more is such that policy makers tend to give insufficient attention to the danger that mounting industrialisation will undermine the natural resources – land, soil, water, biodiversity – on which our ability to produce food depends.

But what if it’s not true? What if we don’t need to produce 70% more? Then current policies, with their focus on a massive increase in production, would be based on a false premise.

De Schutter has said that “We live in a world which, if we managed our resources adequately, could feed almost twice the planet’s population. We produce the equivalent of 4500 calories per person per day.  That’s twice as much as the daily need of 7 billion inhabitants”.

It is clear that more than enough food is already produced to feed the anticipated world population in 2050 of 9.6 billion. The real challenge lies not so much in producing more but in wasting less, and ensuring a more equitable distribution of food and agricultural resources. As will be explained below, over 50% of global crop calories are lost or wasted or otherwise used in ways that do not contribute to the human food supply.

A 2014 report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition states that worldwide 25% of food calories are lost or wasted post-harvest or at the distribution/retail and consumer levels. In addition, 9% of global crop calories are used for biofuels and other uses.

cows_eating_feedlot_2

Grain-fed cattle on factory farm

The University of Minnesota paper referred to earlier calculates that 36% of the world’s crop calories are fed to animals but, as explained above, only 17-30% of these calories are returned for human consumption as meat or milk. The effect of this is that 70-83% of the 36% of the world’s crop calories that are used as animal feed are wasted; they produce no food for humans. This means that 25-30% (70-83% of 36%) of the world’s crop calories are being wasted by being fed to animals.

In total, therefore at least 59% of the world’s crop calories are wasted:

  • 25% post-harvest or at the distribution/retail and consumer levels
  • 9% in use for biofuels and other non-food uses
  • 25-30% by being fed to animals.

UNEP has also looked at the waste entailed in feeding human-edible crops to animals. It calculates that the cereals which, on a business-as-usual basis, are expected to be fed to livestock by 2050, could, if they were instead used to feed people directly, provide the necessary food energy for over 3.5 billion people. If a target were adopted of halving the amount of cereals that, on a business-as-usual basis, would be used for feed by 2050, an extra 1.75 billion people could be fed.

Increased production may be needed in certain regions or specific cases but, in light of the various forms of loss and waste referred to above, the claim that a 70% increase in global food production is needed by 2050 substantially overestimates the quantity of extra production needed.

And so necessity, the last refuge of factory farming, crumbles. We do not need to produce huge amounts of extra food; we simply need to use what we produce more wisely.

Conclusion

An interlinked web supports factory farming and allows it to thrive. This web comprises many strands: legislation that appears strong on paper but in practice often proves illusory, a deceptive economics that by sleight of hand can make the costly appear cheap and a scientific orthodoxy that tends to restrict our view of what constitutes good animal well-being. Further support comes from claims to efficiency that bear little scrutiny, a questionable assertion that we need to produce 70% more food and avowed respect for animals as sentient beings while treating them as machines which if fine-tuned will be ever more productive. As a result industrial livestock production appears to be locked in to our food system.

We urgently need fresh thinking that allows us to develop a food system that provides healthy food, restores and enhances the natural resources on which agriculture depends and respects the animals that provide our meat, milk and eggs.

Pasture-based farming in Georgia, USA – the way it should be…

Peter Stevenson is Compassion in World Farming’s Chief Policy Advisor. His parents were Czech refugees who arrived in Britain in 1939. Peter studied economics and law at Trinity College Cambridge in the mid 1960s.   In 2004 Peter was the joint recipient with Joyce D’Silva of the RSPCA Lord Erskine Award in recognition of a “very important contribution in the field of animal welfare”.

He has written comprehensive legal analyses of EU legislation on farm animals and of the impact of the WTO rules on animal welfare. Peter is lead author of the recent study by the FAO reviewing animal welfare legislation in the beef, pork and poultry industries.  

Before joining Compassion in World Farming in 1991, Peter worked as a solicitor and, for fifteen years, as a freelance theatre director working in experimental fringe theatre and for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He lives in Scotland with Annie his wife who is a painter and two wonderful rescue dogs, Jamie and Jodie, who bully him with incessant demands for walks, play, food and fun.

Heavenly Yoghurt

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

The difference between an intensive dairy and a free-range one, is startling.

In Mexico, I happened upon a free-range dairy farm, with cows grazing on grass, living long and happy lives. At this farm, the average life span of a cow is 20 years. On intensive dairies, the type of which I came across in California, they were fortunate to make it to 5-6 years. That speaks volumes of the welfare implications.

The local farmer told me how there was no drug or hormone use – because there was no need. The cows look after their health, naturally. She stated that the cows “must be treated with respect.” This sustainable system is how it should be – beneficial for the animals and the planet. I also got the chance to try the yoghurt made from the milk produced by these cows. Delicious. And proof that happy cows actually make better tasting dairy products. Have a look at my latest video to see an example of dairy cows being treated as they should be.

For your copy of ‘Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat’, click here.

In Defence of Factory Farming: How a ruinous system is kept afloat – Part 4

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Factory farming is thriving with long tentacles reaching out around the world! Here is Part 4 of 5 of Peter Stevenson‘s exploration of the interweaving threads that justify and entrench factory farming, locking it into our food system.  Please read the whole series here

Peter Stevenson with his two rescue dogs, Jamie and Jodie.

Peter Stevenson with his two rescue dogs, Jamie and Jodie.

The claim to efficiency

The industry regularly asserts that cramming large numbers of animals into factory farms and pushing them to extreme levels of productivity is efficient.

However, industrial livestock production is inherently inefficient. This stems from its dependence on feeding human-edible cereals to animals. Studies, including a UNEP report, show that for every 100 calories that we feed to animals in the form of human-edible crops, we receive on average just 17-30 calories in the form of meat and milk. A 2013 University of Minnesota paper indicates that the efficiency rates may be even lower for some animal products. It reports that for every 100 calories of grain that we feed to animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef.

A Chatham House study stresses that feeding grain to animals “represents a staggeringly inefficient use of resources”. A 2013 FAO report points out that the feeding of cereals to livestock could threaten food security by reducing the grain available for human consumption. Olivier De Schutter, until recently UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, states that “continuing to feed cereals to growing numbers of livestock will aggravate poverty and environmental degradation”. It will aggravate poverty by pushing up cereal prices placing them out of reach for the world’s poor.

Animals’ inefficiency in converting human-edible crops into meat and milk brings other inefficiencies in its train. It is a wasteful use not just of the crops but of the land, water and energy used to grow them. Mekonnen and Hoekstra concluded that animal products from industrial systems generally consume more blue (surface and groundwater) and grey (pollution) water than animal products from grazing or mixed systems. They said that the anticipated further intensification of animal production systems globally will result in increasing blue and grey water footprints per unit of animal product; the authors state that this is due to the larger dependence on concentrate feed in industrial systems.

iStock_000011392857Medium

Grain: factory farms waste two-thirds of it

More arable land is generally needed to produce a unit of nutrition from industrially produced meat than from meat from animals that are fed little or no human-edible crops. Moreover, the need for huge amounts of crops to feed industrially produced animals has led to the intensification of crop production with the use of monocultures and chemical fertilisers and pesticides. These have eroded soil quality. The European Commission points out that “45% of European soils face problems of soil quality, evidenced by low levels of organic matter”. A new UK study reports that the soils resulting from years of industrial agriculture are of poorer quality than those of urban allotments.

If industrial livestock production continues to grow, its need for feed crops will increase; this will lead to an expansion of global cropland at the expense of forests and grasslands. Deforestation would involve loss of wildlife, substantial greenhouse gas emissions and the erosion of indigenous livelihoods that accompanies deforestation.

Per unit of nutrition produced, industrial livestock production is more harmful to water, soil and wildlife and uses more arable land as well as surface and groundwater than grazing or integrated crop-livestock systems. It would be hard to devise a more inefficient way of feeding people.

Only grazing on land unsuitable for crop production or utilizing crop residues, by-products and unavoidable food waste as animal feed can be considered as efficient. The benefit of raising animals on pastures or other grasslands is that they convert grass and other inedible vegetation into food that we can eat and are able to use land that is generally not suitable for other forms of food production. Moreover, semi-natural grasslands support biodiversity and store carbon.

The World Bank is extremely positive about integrated crop/livestock production. The benefits of rotational mixed farming are that crop residues can be used to feed animals and their manure, rather than being a pollutant, fertilises the land and improves soil quality.

Peter Stevenson is Compassion in World Farming’s Chief Policy Advisor. His parents were Czech refugees who arrived in Britain in 1939. Peter studied economics and law at Trinity College Cambridge in the mid 1960s.   In 2004 Peter was the joint recipient with Joyce D’Silva of the RSPCA Lord Erskine Award in recognition of a “very important contribution in the field of animal welfare”.

He has written comprehensive legal analyses of EU legislation on farm animals and of the impact of the WTO rules on animal welfare. Peter is lead author of the recent study by the FAO reviewing animal welfare legislation in the beef, pork and poultry industries.  

Before joining Compassion in World Farming in 1991, Peter worked as a solicitor and, for fifteen years, as a freelance theatre director working in experimental fringe theatre and for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He lives in Scotland with Annie his wife who is a painter and two wonderful rescue dogs, Jamie and Jodie, who bully him with incessant demands for walks, play, food and fun.

In Defence of Factory Farming: How a ruinous system is kept afloat – Part 3

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

I have pleasure in bringing you episode three of the five-part series by Peter Stevenson, exploring the interweaving threads that prop up factory farming – perhaps the most inefficient, inhumane and unnecessary system so far invented.  In this instalment, Peter focuses on consumers and sentient beings.  Please also read the rest of the series here.

Peter Stevenson with one of his rescue dogs, Jodie.

Peter Stevenson with one of his rescue dogs, Jodie.

The (blindfolded) consumer reigns supreme

When challenged about the cruelty and environmental damage emanating from factory farming, food industry representatives tell us with a disarming smile that they are simply giving consumers what they want. This ignores the fact that over the last few decades the food industry has spent billions on advertising to forge certain ‘wants’ in consumers and build a food culture which prizes plentiful cheap convenient food and which, as in a three card trick, cleverly diverts attention away from its damaging impact on our health, the environment and animal welfare.

Governments and the food industry are keen to ensure consumers do not have to confront the reality of today’s animal farming. Misleading advertising, packaging and reports often use images showing pigs and chickens contentedly foraging in green fields and cows grazing on verdant pastures. These are designed to lull consumers into believing that all is well and serve to hide the hard reality that most EU pigs and poultry are kept indoors in overcrowded units throughout their lives and many cows are ‘zero-grazed’ never going out to graze. This painting of a reassuring picture that is far removed from the truth is profoundly dishonest and prevents consumers from making informed choices.

The EU Strategy for the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2012-2015 commits to increasing transparency and adequacy of information to consumers on animal welfare so that they can make clear purchase choices. The European Commission conference that launched the strategy was entitled “Empowering consumers and creating market opportunities for animal welfare”. Compassion in World Farming and others have been calling for meat and dairy products to be labelled as to farming method. This would give consumers key information: it would tell them how the animals that provided the meat and dairy products on the supermarket shelf were reared. It would enable consumers to play a more active role in driving welfare improvements.

Labelling CartoonHowever, despite their talk of “empowering consumers”, the Commission and the Member States have in general firmly opposed demands that meat and dairy products should be labelled as to farming method. They seem determined that consumers should be kept in the dark for fear that if they really knew of the miseries of much of today’s animal farming, they would refuse to buy such products. So although we endlessly hear that consumers should be empowered to make informed choices, governments and industry insist that those choices be made while wearing a blindfold. The role of consumers is to consume, not to fret about the animals’ well-being.

Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the case of milk. When you look at the milk cartons in a shop you have no way of knowing if the milk comes from ‘zero-grazed’ or pasture-based cows. Consumers are simply not given the information that would allow them to choose which kind of dairy farming they wish to support (unless they buy organic which can be expensive for those on a tight budget).

Donning the cloak of sentient beings

It is just over 50 years since Ruth Harrison published Animal Machines which exposed the suffering inflicted on farm animals by industrialised farming. Animals are now recognised by the EU Treaty as “sentient beings” but nonetheless continue to be treated as animal machines.

This can be seen most clearly in the genetic selection of animals for ever higher productivity. This is having a devastating impact on animal well-being. The European Food Safety Authority has concluded that “long term genetic selection for high milk yield is the major factor causing poor welfare, in particular health problems, in dairy cows”. A UK study into leg disorders in broilers found that, primarily due to high growth rates, 27.6% of the chickens had levels of lameness that are likely to be painful. The high productivity of modern laying hens causes osteoporosis which results in a high level of bone fractures. The pig industry’s drive to increase litter size results in high mortality rates among the piglets. These animals are trapped just as much as those confined in cages; they are locked into their over-producing bodies and cannot escape the suffering that this involves.

Cloned calves

Cloned calves

The industry is determined to continue treating animals as machines. The UK pig industry runs a campaign for a ‘Two-Tonne Sow’ i.e. sows that, through their piglets, produce 2000 kg of pig meat per year.   Animals are being cloned in some countries. The main objective of cloning is to produce genetically identical copies of the highest yielding cows and fastest growing pigs. Before long food from genetically modified farm animals may be on the market.

Time and again the focus is on maximising productivity with little thought being given to the animals’ well-being (other than when driving the animals to such extremes leads to a breakdown in productivity). The use of animals as machines for maximising production continues to hold sway but is to a degree masked by the self-serving lip service paid by governments and industry to their legal status as sentient beings.

 

Peter Stevenson is Compassion in World Farming’s Chief Policy Advisor. His parents were Czech refugees who arrived in Britain in 1939. Peter studied economics and law at Trinity College Cambridge in the mid 1960s.   In 2004 Peter was the joint recipient with Joyce D’Silva of the RSPCA Lord Erskine Award in recognition of a “very important contribution in the field of animal welfare”.

He has written comprehensive legal analyses of EU legislation on farm animals and of the impact of the WTO rules on animal welfare. Peter is lead author of the recent study by the FAO reviewing animal welfare legislation in the beef, pork and poultry industries.  

Before joining Compassion in World Farming in 1991, Peter worked as a solicitor and, for fifteen years, as a freelance theatre director working in experimental fringe theatre and for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He lives in Scotland with Annie his wife who is a painter and two wonderful rescue dogs, Jamie and Jodie, who bully him with incessant demands for walks, play, food and fun.

In Defence of Factory Farming: How a ruinous system is kept afloat – Part 2

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

The factory farming system still prevails despite scientific evidence showing the wide and negative impacts.  I am delighted to introduce the second of this five-part series by Peter Stevenson, exploring the interweaving threads that prop up factory farming – perhaps the most inefficient, inhumane and unnecessary system so far invented.  Read the whole series here.

A distorting economics

Peter Stevenson

Peter Stevenson

Just as science has brought an overly mechanistic approach to our understanding of animal well-being, we have an economic system that takes certain costs into account while ignoring others. In both cases we see a partial truth but not the whole truth. Some costs of producing meat and dairy products – the provision of feed, housing and veterinary care – are borne by the farmer and hence by the end consumer. Other costs are ‘on the house’ being borne by taxpayers or future generations.

Industrial livestock production is totally dependent on feeding human-edible cereals to animals who convert them very inefficiently into meat, milk and eggs. This inefficiency results in more arable land as well as surface and groundwater being generally needed to produce a unit of nutrition from industrially produced meat than from meat derived from animals that are fed little or no human-edible crops. The feed crops needed for intensively farmed animals are themselves grown intensively leading to soil degradation and water pollution from the chemical fertilisers used to boost crop yields. Industrial farming’s huge appetite for soy for animal feed leads to deforestation in South America which results in massive greenhouse gas emissions and loss of wildlife.

This environmental damage is paid for not by farmers and end consumers but by taxpayers and future generations who will be hampered in their attempts to produce food by water shortages, degraded soil and the biodiversity losses that accompany intensive crop production.

burger-iStock_4026750MedThe high levels of meat consumption that have been made possible by industrial farming are having an adverse impact on human health. Overconsumption of animal protein can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and certain cancers. The cost of treating this disease burden is borne by the (in Europe) taxpayer funded health service not by agri-business which, through years of spending billions on advertising, has foisted a perverse food culture and unhealthy diets on the developed world and is now turning its attention to developing countries. None of the cost of treating this ill-health and the concomitant loss of production through absence from work is included in the price of industrially produced meat.
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Farmageddon on film

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About Philip Lymbery

Philip Lymbery is Chief Executive Officer of Compassion in World Farming and co-author of Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. He is an internationally respected authority on the impact of industrial agriculture on people, animals and the planet.