Compassion in World Farming has long argued that factory farming of animals cannot feed the world. Programmes such as The Future of Food (BBC 2, August 09) echo our arguments. As the programme said: "The food chain is fit to break."
There is no shortage of shocking stats and facts which show just how harmful factory farming is for animals, people and the planet:
- We use 60 billion sentient farm animals each year for milk, meat and eggs. This number does not even include the huge amounts of fish we use. Yet this figure of 60 billion is set to double by 2050, giving rise to the appalling prospect of 120 billion farm animals, most of whom will be condemned to short and grim lives in factory farms. With its inherent disregard for the sentience of farm animals, factory farming cannot avoid causing animal suffering on an enormous scale.
- Animal agriculture (not just beef, as reported by recent BBC programmes) produces nearly a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity.
- Industrial animal agriculture is a heavy polluter of air and soil. It pollutes rivers and seas, yet livestock production also demands 15% of all irrigation water, while up to two billion people currently suffer from water scarcity. Producing 1kg of meat can use the equivalent of one person's basic water requirements for a whole year!
- By feeding over a third of the world's cereals and over 90% of soya to farm animals, we are in effect taking food from the mouths of the 1 billion people who go hungry to bed each night. On average, to produce 1 kg of high quality animal protein, livestock are fed nearly 6 kg of plant protein. In last night's edition of The Future of Food, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told viewers that each large steak we might eat is the equivalent of depriving 40 hungry people of food.
At Compassion in World Farming's 2008 lecture, Dr Pachauri also called on us to eat less meat, initially cutting down by one day a week. See Global Warning: The impact of meat production and consumption on climate change at ciwf.org/lecture08.
- Over-consumption of meat fuels the obesity crisis and increases risks of heart disease and certain cancers. Disease from industrial farming has been implicated in several significant human health challenges in recent years, such as BSE ('mad cow disease'), avian flu and possibly the latest human swine flu pandemic.
- Factory farming is dependent on cheap fuel to grow crops for animal feed. But the advent of Peak Oil (the point at which world oil and gas reserves begin to decline), challenges this reliance. We could move towards lower-input methods of farming. Yet we are attempting to struggle on with the same defunct old pattern of depending on cheap fuel: by diverting land and crops to bio-fuels, we are reducing still further plant crops available for people to eat directly. By taking this path, we become further than ever from ending global hunger.
- For a more equitable human food supply, wealthier countries must cut down on meat and dairy, so that people in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa can increase their consumption, with both converging at a level which is sustainable for human health, the environment and global resources.
We all have to face the facts and take robust action for truly humane and sustainable farming. Buying free range or organic will encourage higher welfare farming to help protect farm animals and the planet. For those of us who eat a lot of meat and dairy, eating less of it reduces the environmental impact of animal farming, can improve human health and gives a better chance for the world's 1 billion hungry people.
Policy makers, the farming industry, the food industry and consumers must work together - the only way to ensure a better future for people, animals and the planet.
"How can we feed the world and protect the environment?"
Compassion in World Farming's 2009 Peter Roberts Memorial Lecture (29 October) will address this crucial issue. Lester Brown, Head of the Earth Policy Institute and internationally renowned expert in food, farming and the environment, will discuss: "How can we feed the world and protect the environment?"
The Lecture takes place on 29 October 2009 from 6.45pm at Savoy Place, London WC2R 0BL. Booking is essential! Book your place online or call us on +44 (0) 1483 521 953