Philip Lymbery interviewed by Maria Tonelli
This is the full length video of the interview with Philip Lymbery, interviewed by Maria Tonelli.
Transcript of the Interview
Intro: The industrialisation of farming has long been linked to concern for the welfare of animals. More recently, wider issues have come to light, that many would not consider. Today I am talking to Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming, about the impact of factory farming and the aims of the organisation.
Compassion in World Farming was set up in 1967, could you tell us how and why it was set up?
Well, Compassion in World Farming was set up by a dairy farmer called Peter Roberts in 1967, mainly because he became extremely concerned at the rise of factory farming – that is, keeping animals caged, cramped and confined, in conditions that can only be described as utter deprivation. That concerned him; it’s concerned many people since and Compassion’s mission today, as it was then, is to see an end to factory farming, and to see animals treated with decency and respect.
So what were the initial challenges that Compassion faced during the early years?
Well, one of the big challenges at the beginning for Compassion was that factory farming was – and still is – taking place behind closed doors. So being able to show people what is going on, the way animals are being treated, the way they are being kept, and what that does to food and the environment; it was a big challenge. But that is something which we overcome consistently. Another challenge was getting people in those days in the 60s getting other organisations to take up farm animal welfare as a serious animal welfare issue. In the 60s animal welfare was largely concerned with cats, dogs, horses. Thankfully now, farm animal welfare is seen as a central cause for concern that is taken up by many organisations of all sizes and descriptions across the globe.
For anyone not aware of Compassion, could you briefly outline your main animal welfare concerns in factory farming?
Well, factory farming is essentially producing animals on an industrial scale, it’s mass farming. It’s about keeping the animals often in close confinement, often in cages where battery hens, for example, can’t stretch their wings, or where pigs can’t even turn around. Or it’s keeping them in huge numbers in windowless barren sheds. It also involves making the animals grow – or produce, milk for example in the instance of dairy cows – making them grow or produce beyond their natural limits: using breeding techniques, using feeding techniques that takes them beyond their physiological limits. And all too often, the animals break down as a result.
What would you say have been Compassion’s biggest achievements so far?
Well, Compassion in World Farming is very proud of its track record; never satisfied but very proud of our record to deliver. I think the things that we have been instrumental in driving through include Europe-wide bans on some of the worst factory farming systems, such as the keeping of calves in tiny veal crates where they can’t even turn around; keeping pregnant pigs in sow stalls, again where they can’t turn around for months throughout their pregnancy; and the EU ban on barren battery cages for laying hens is perhaps the most iconic, the most well-known and the most despised of the factory farm systems. Those I would say are Compassion’s biggest achievements. But also the institutionalising of concern around animal welfare, and the fact that they feel pain and suffer. We’ve persuaded the European Union, for example, to legally recognise animals as sentient beings; recognising that they do have welfare needs, that they do feel pain and suffer, and that these things should be taken into account in formulating European law.
People are becoming more aware of what they eat and where it comes from. Can you explain how Compassion’s message ties in with this?
Well, keeping animals in decent conditions, in higher welfare conditions also improves food quality. You know, people recognise free range eggs, for example, not only as eggs that have come from hens that have had access to the outdoors and therefore haven’t been caged, but they also perceive a quality indicator from that term. But I think that keeping animals in higher welfare conditions can improve the quality of the food. One of the best examples that food from factory farming can often be cheap and cheerless is the case of the broiler chicken the mass industrialised way that we produce chicken meat. When this was launched onto the market in the 70s as a healthy product, it was launched on the basis that it was lower in fat. Well, actually, if you take that same factory-farmed chicken off the shelf, now it has nearly three times more fat content than it did when it was first launched. Its protein is considerably lower; in fact your average standard factory-farmed chicken – which is ubiquitous on our supermarket shelves – is higher in fat than it is in protein these days. If you buy an organic product where it has been kept in higher welfare conditions, then you will find that that bird has 25% less fat that the factory-farmed equivalents. So, animal welfare does often equate very closely with better food quality.
There are always going to be sceptics, around the whole price issue. Many would say that responsibly farmed food is an expensive lifestyle choice. How are Compassion addressing this?
Well, I think that factory farming is an issue that we should all be concerned about. That factory farming produces food that on the face of it looks cheap – but when you take into account the public health disadvantages and the impacts on health associated with factory farming – the environmental impact the huge grain drain that is associated with the wastage of vital food resources from factory farming… not to mention the huge, unimaginable scale of the cruelty. Then you can see that there is a huge cost to that apparently cheap piece of meat. The other point there – is that you get what you pay for. If you buy cheap factory-farmed meat then what you’re giving up is a better quality product. I think that people would be surprised if they went into a supermarket and compared a factory-farmed product with the higher welfare equivalent, and would find that in fact the two don’t differ hugely in price. So the factory-farmed option really isn’t the one to choose for if you want a better, healthier lifestyle that is better for the people on the planet.
More and more links are being made between eating responsibly farmed foods and the benefits to human health. What’s your view?
Well, I think that what is clear is that factory farming puts too many animals in too small a space and acts as a breeding ground – a pressure cooker for disease – that has got to have a public health impact. Cutting corners about the way we treat livestock has already thrown up public health threats such as Mad Cow Disease – BSE – or high pathogenic avian influenza for example, which jumped the species barrier and threatened the lives of people. These have been the products of intensification so we can see that factory farming does threaten public health. And we talked about with the example of higher fat factory farmed broiler chickens, that it can affect the quality of the food on our plate.
Why would you say that the alternative kind of farming you promote is more sustainable?
Our vision is of a humane and sustainable way of producing food that looks after the welfare of the animals, and ensures that everyone can be fed well, and fairly – not just in this country but across the world. Factory farming cannot and does not achieve that. Factory farming uses a huge amount of resources at great cost, wastes a lot of food, and actually drives up food prices worldwide to the disbenefit of the poorest people in developing countries. So it really isn’t the solution – what we do need to do is move away from factory farming which has fuelled the stock explosion, which has contributed hugely to greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to go to a more humane and sustainable place. We’ve looked into this, we’ve done the research – and yes, the leading experts have confirmed that we can feed the world fairly and properly without factory farming
Tell us about how you work with other charities and organisations?
The job of ending factory farming worldwide is so huge that Compassion recognises that it can’t do it all on its own. We do believe wholeheartedly in partnerships, and working in intelligent collaborations with other organisations in the animal welfare movement – in the environmental sector – in the development sector. We look to inspire other organisations, other individuals, to take up the cause of ending factory farming.
Moving away from the UK, what is your plan for Europe?
Well, Compassion is very much a European wide organisation. We have people in other European offices outside the UK. We see running our campaigns on a Europe-wide basis as being very important. In addition to our own offices and people, we co-ordinate, we lead a coalition of kindred societies across the European Union. And I think that has been the root of our success in getting key bans on some of the worst factory farm systems like the veal crate, like the battery cage for laying hens in Europe. The EU is a key battleground for us and is one where we’ve had some very major successes.
How can you ensure that legislation in Britain and in Europe takes into account animal welfare issues?
Compassion continues to put a great emphasis on connecting with, engaging with, and lobbying key decision makers in Britain, across Europe and at intergovernmental level. So the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, for example, so that the voice of animal welfare is heard; so that the voice of sane, sustainable farming and to ensure that when policy is being drawn up, that factory farming is ruled out and that a fairer, humane and sustainable farming future is seen as the best way.
You mentioned Compassion’s relationship with the UN. Could you explain your position as an international authority on animal welfare issues?
Compassion is an international organisation. We have our headquarters in the UK, we have offices and people working throughout Europe, we have an office in South Africa and in China. So we work with partners throughout the world and we are lobbying international bodies, UN bodies for example, to ensure that the voice of animals is truly recognised internationally.
What does Compassion hope to achieve in the long term?
Our vision is a world where farm animals are treated with compassion and respect, and we want to see an end to factory farming worldwide. We want to see that in our lifetime, we want to see that by 2050 – at the latest – worldwide factory farming ended in favour of humane and sustainable food and farming.