Sadly, we lost Hazy, one of our three adopted hens, recently despite urgent veterinary treatment for illness. As I sat with the other two hens, Hetty and Hope, I paused to reflect on life and its values. I watched as the two hens busily pecked the ground, seeking out herbs and grubs to eat. I thought about how, as sentient creatures, they not only have the capacity to sense pain and suffer, but also to experience positive emotions and well being. What happens to them matters to them, and that is why it also matters to me. Our chickens are the lucky ones. Sadly, there are many more whose individuality isn’t appreciated. Their intrinsic value isn’t respected, only their financial worth. Their individual needs don’t matter because they have no individual economic value. Their worth is seen in terms of their value as a crop to be harvested, just like potatoes. As Compassion’s co-founder, Peter Roberts, once said to me, “Factory farming begins where the individuality of an animal ends”.
Posts Tagged ‘lecture’
After last week’s seminal lecture by Lester Brown in memory of our late founder, it is perhaps an opportune moment to take stock of where we are going. Stating the obvious for a moment, Compassion in World Farming is, and always has been, about stopping cruelty to farm animals. In 1967, our founder, Peter Roberts, launched our organisation in response to the cages and crates that came to define modern intensive farming. Our track record is testimony to the success of his approach. Now as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, his rallying cry is needed more than ever. Today, factory farming is the biggest cause of animal suffering in the world. Globally we rear around 60 billion animals a year, mostly in factory farms.
Compassion recognises that ending such wide-scale cruelty to animals is a huge task -improving the plight of billions of animals will require the energy of many thousands of people. In order to mobilise maximum energy against factory farming, Compassion is working hard to bring to the world’s attention some of the other, less known impacts of factory farming. Until recently few realised that run-away factory farming and its consequent addictive diet of “cheap” meat has resulted in livestock production accounting for almost 20% of human greenhouse gas emissions.
If you tunnel to the very core, to the ‘essence’, of Compassion in World Farming, you’ll find a belief that farm animals should not, and need not, suffer. We want to end factory farming. Why? Because keeping animals caged, crammed and confined causes huge suffering to the animals involved. Suffering that could often be avoided if a different, more humane rearing system were used.
It is fair to say that climate change dominates the world’s attention at this time. It is also fair to say that the majority of nations around the world recognise the perils of allowing our planet to heat up in the years ahead. What is less commonly reported is that many within the powerful agribusiness lobby are arguing that further intensification of livestock farming could help combat climate change. Their argument is simple: the world’s growing population will need more “efficient” meat production to satisfy growing demand – so the answer to them seems obvious… more “modern”, “efficient”, “mechanised” farming. In other words, the spectre of climate change could lead policy makers to sleepwalk us into more, not less, factory farming in the years ahead.
We know that this would be a disaster on an unimaginable scale; for animals as well as people. It would cause even greater suffering and make our food system even further removed from environmental sustainability, bringing further serious consequences. Our recent high-profile lecture event explored some of the issues at stake here.
Alerting our policy-makers to the folly of factory farming on all fronts – animal cruelty, climate and social costs – will be vital if we are to overcome the huge vested interests that are behind the industrial agricultural model.
Compassion is not a ‘climate change’ or environmental organisation. We are an animal welfare organisation. However, we see the consequences of factory farming on our climate, our environment and our ability to feed the world’s people. There is a great onus on us to engage in the big debates of our time. It is essential to contribute to discussions on food, farming and the environment to help steer the world toward a better future, toward humane and sustainable farming. And therein lies great opportunity.
The climate change debate is a powerful example of where our message of compassion and respect for farm animals is both timely and relevant. Global deliberations on climate change (the next stage comes to a climax in December with the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen), presents us with an opportunity to stop and re-think our relationship with food and farming. Most experts agree that success in the battle against climate change will require a seismic re-appraisal of the way we do things on our planet – and this represents a golden chance to promote our vision. Not simply to combat the intensive agribusiness lobby and avoid further intensification but to re-assess the very way in which humanity treats the tens of billions of animals produced each year.
We know that factory farming is cruel. The current debate gives us an opportunity to point out how stupid it is too.
Amongst the biggest issues of our time are how to feed people today and in the future and combating climate change. Factory farming is important in both of these debates. The bottom line for Compassion is that factory farming causes unimaginable cruelty to farm animals. It also has profound impacts that affect people. High amongst these include factory farming’s wastefulness of precious resources, such as grain.
Each year, in memory of our late founder, Peter Roberts, we invite a visiting lecturer to explore the big issues facing the way the world feeds itself. This year, we were pleased to welcome Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, a former adviser to the US Secretary of Agriculture, and described by the Washington post as “one of the world’s most influential thinkers.”
I had the job of summing up a wide ranging panel discussion following Lester’s presentation, which you can watch here. Our panel included representatives from the World Bank, the European Commission and the organic farming sector. The discussion centred on global food security and the prospect of food shortages.
I’d like to share here more of what I said during those closing remarks.
Lester identified key trends that are undermining the world food economy; falling water tables, eroding soils and rising temperatures. He highlighted how world grain production is now more often than not falling short of consumption, leaving global grain stocks at a near record low. Past price hikes for food can be traced to big events, for example, the poor harvest in the Soviet Union in 1972. What we are now beginning to see, Lester argued, is grain prices being driven by global trends. Not least the increase in human population and the growing demand for meat and other livestock products.
My closing remarks highlighted that, not only do we have competition for grain between growing numbers of people and intensively-raised animals, we now see cars entering the equation with the rise of biofuels.
Vast numbers of animals are now raised permanently indoors; reliant on food grown elsewhere. Consequently, massive areas of land are devoted to growing crops to feed them. Humans compete with farm animals for precious grain resources and now with cars as biofuels take an increasing share of our croplands.
Livestock farming is already a major user of land; it takes up 30 per cent of the world’s usable land area. It consumes a third of the global grain harvest. It wastes protein, not makes it. On average, it takes 6 kg of plant protein to make 1 kg of animal protein.
I invited the audience to take another look at some of the big trends to mid-century. If things continue as they are, by 2050, there will be:
- More people; an increase from 6.7 billion to about 9 billion people
- More animals: the livestock population is set to double in the wake of growing demand for meat and dairy products, particularly from developing countries such as China and India. As we heard from last year’s lecturer, Dr Pachauri, who chairs the International Panel on Climate Change, the global livestock industry already contributes 18 per cent of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions – more than all our cars, planes and trains put together
- Less land; as the effects of global warming take hold, the sea is likely to rise and land will disappear. For food production alone, an additional two million square kilometers of land will be needed by 2030. Sea rise predictions due to climate change suggest that a similar area of land could be flooded by the end, if not the middle of this century
- Less oil; as we have discussed in this column before, ‘peak oil’, the point at which oil production begins an unalterable decline, means that plentiful, cheap oil, the essential ingredient of industrial agriculture, will become scarcer and more expensive.
In my view, factory farming has been the engine-room of the livestock explosion, enabling large numbers of animals to be reared in small spaces. And this is the source of the problem. The world rarely gives something for nothing. Large numbers of animals in small spaces often leads to environmental degradation, to threats to our health as well as enormous animal suffering.
If demand for resource-intensive meat escalates in the way predicted and if the number of farm animals produced annually doubles by 2050, the world faces severe resource challenges, which will impact farm animals, wildlife and people.
The demand for feed crops for livestock will put intensive animal production in direct competition for land with people, biofuels, forests and wildlife.
Lester offers what he calls his Plan B (PDF download) solution for averting a world food shortage. It has four main elements: cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2020; stabilisation of the world’s human population at eight billion by 2040; the eradication of poverty and the restoration of forests, soils and aquifers.
The take home message from the event was that business as usual is not an option. Returning to the vision of our founder, Peter Roberts, he could see that sustainability centres as much around our plate as our car; that a wise-use principle is needed in our food system; that less is more, for example, in consuming less, but better quality, higher welfare meat.
My conclusion is that, by 2050, the world will look a very different place. That is why we need to go beyond the folly of factory farming by 2050, to a humane and sustainable food system that ensures access to decent, affordable food for all; for the sake of farm and wild animals, people and the planet.
Our campaign to end factory farming has never been more urgent or relevant. Your support has never been more greatly needed.
What’s oil got to do with the future of farming?
In a previous posting, I raised the possibility of dwindling oil reserves impacting on the way we farm. Well, a much-overlooked fact is that industrial agriculture is heavily dependent on cheap, plentiful oil. “Agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food” is the way Professor Bartlett from the University of Colorado once put it. Worldwide, vast amounts of oil and gas are used as raw materials and energy to manufacture fertilisers and pesticides. Lester Brown’s Earth Policy Institute, calculates that making fertiliser accounts for 20% or more of the energy used in agriculture, whilst a third goes on pesticide production, grain drying and operating farm facilities.
What’s this got to do with farm animals?
Well, intensively reared farm animals consume huge quantities of grain. What’s worse is that they act as protein factories in reverse. On average, to produce 1kg of animal protein takes nearly 6kg of grain and other plant proteins in the form of livestock feed. Whilst factory farms may appear to save land by cramming thousands of animals into small spaces, what cannot be ignored are the ‘ghost acres’ needed to grow the feed, usually oil-intensively.
The world’s grain harvest has tripled since 1950. As the Earth Policy Institute puts it, “new grain demand has been met primarily by raising land productivity through higher-yielding crop varieties in conjunction with more oil-intensive mechanisation, irrigation and fertilizer use”. A third of the world’s grain harvest is fed to livestock.
So, the bottom line is that factory farming is highly dependent on cheap fossil fuel energy, mainly because of the huge quantities of feedstuffs, particularly grain, it consumes. And with 60% of the cost of a chicken, for example, made up of feed, we can see that ‘cheap’ grain-fed meat relies on relatively low feed price, which in turn, relies on fertilisers and pesticides produced fossil fuel-intensively.
Most energy experts agree that the era of cheap or ‘easy’ oil is over. Estimates suggest that we have 10-20 years left in which to respond to declining supplies. Intensive agriculture uses much more energy than low-input farming. As the head of British company, Duchy Originals puts it, the day is coming when alternatives to intensive farming methods, with their reliance on oil, will have to be found.”
What is needed is an urgent move toward more humane and less energy-intensive farming methods. As a forthcoming report from Compassion argues, the future of the world’s food security increasingly rests on this simple truth.
This theme will be the focus of our Peter Roberts Memorial Lecture on 29th October this year. I will be deeply honoured to introduce Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, who will be delivering our lecture and addressing the question, how can we feed the world and protect the planet? You are warmly welcome to join us – click here to book your tickets.
It would be all too easy for an organization like Compassion to focus only on what’s wrong. We’re all guilty of pointing the finger of blame at someone sometime. But we live in different times. We brought our world to a critical point. We share the blame for global warming, world hunger, unhealthy lifestyles, animal cruelty and much more. We know what’s wrong. We know who to blame. Us. But what can we do about it?
That’s why Compassion not only focuses on the problem of factory farming but also on the solution to feeding the world. We work strategically toward a whole food system that is truly kind, caring and honest – kind to animals; caring for the environment and consumer health; and honestly labeled. That’s why we work with, for example, farmers, producers, elected representatives and colleagues in like-minded organizations toward holistic solutions to international problems.
For example, this year’s Peter Roberts Third Memorial Lecture will be given by Lester Brown, the visionary global figure in farming, food security and environmental policy. His talk, “How Can We Feed the World and Protect the Environment?,” is on Thursday, October 29 at the Savoy Place in central London. Tickets are £25 and booking is essential. Book online or call +44 (0)1483-521953.
Last year’s speaker, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, asked people to reduce their meat consumption starting with one day per week.
Have you noticed a groundswell of interest in what we have known all along? For example, TIME’s magazine’s recent cover feature, Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food, states:
“With the exhaustion of the soil, the impact of global warming and the inevitably rising price of oil – which will affect everything from fertilizer to supermarket electricity bills – our industrial style of food production will end sooner or later.”
It’s one thing, of course, to see the problem. It’s another to look for the solution. The real challenge is bringing them together to move beyond factory farming. Toward a humane and sustainable farming future. For those of us who live in developed countries we can start now.
- Reduce by 30 per cent below current levels our consumption of intensively-produced meat, milk and dairy products by 2020 and by 60-80 per cent by 2050
- Institute targets and incentives for farmers and consumers to support the transition to sustainable livestock production
- Recognize meat and milk as under-priced in relation to their real environmental and carbon costs and their impact on public health and animal welfare
- Work with farmers to move from intensive to more extensive, finest free-range methods of animal production thereby encouraging rural livelihoods
- Voluntary action and regulation of food manufacturers, retailers and caterers to improve product availability and educate consumers on wise choice.
The world we want is possible. Here’s how we can start now.