George Monbiot's article in The Guardian on modern farming systems should be applauded for two key reasons.
Firstly, anyone who changes their views, based on a reasonable deconstruction of facts from leading organisations such as the FAO , should be congratulated for being so open-minded.
Secondly, the views that he puts forward as a result of his epiphany about the moral perils of eating meat, are more pragmatic and globally sustainable than his previous stance of total abstinence from meat and dairy products. We are not, via policy making or public pressure, going to convince people in the West to cut out meat and dairy completely and it would be morally suspect for us to suggest that the developing world should do so when the need for a better diet that consists of both protein and vegetables is so important to their progress out of relative poverty.
As Monbiot says, cows and pigs should be eating foodstuffs that they can naturally turn into meat for us to eat and especially foodstuffs that we couldn't directly eat such as grass and food waste.
Further to these points, Compassion would also bring attention to the suspect ethics that are an intrinsic part of modern intensive farming systems in Europe and the US.
These are borne from the completely unreasonable expectations that the West has developed for its meat and dairy producing animals. Breeding cows to yield far more milk than they can healthily produce on a natural diet of grass and other vegetation (up to ten times more milk than a beef cow would produce to feed her calf) produces a litany of welfare issues and suffering.
Around 20% of all dairy cows suffer from painful lameness and intensively-kept cows are more prone to painful mastitis. Increasingly, they are not free to wander on pasture like 'normal' cows and, instead, are kept indoors on a concentrated and precisely formulated diet in order to reap the highest yields of milk.
Many dairy cows are so physically exhausted after just three to four lactations, sometimes even fewer, that they become infertile and are killed at 5-6 years of age; their natural life span being up to 20 years.
Monbiot's own ethics are certainly laudable and Compassion in World Farming just add that any discussion about ethics and the food we eat should also focus on the animal welfare dimension.
- Read George Monbiot's article at The Guardian
- Compassion's Joyce D'Silva has launched a related book: The Meat Crisis: Developing more sustainable production and consumption.