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The food crisis and too much meat

News Section Icon Published 01/06/2011

The links between farm animal welfare and the food price crisis

Today (1 June) Oxfam has published its hard-hitting report, ' Growing a better future'. Oxfam's research forecasts a food price rise of 70-90 percent by 2030 - and when the predicted effects of climate change are included, those price rises could double again.

There are many contributing factors behind this food crisis, which is already a tragic reality in poorer countries and a looming threat for wealthier ones. One of the scandals of our global food system is that nearly 1 billion people suffer from hunger and malnutrition.

Compassion in World Farming believes a significant factor is the massive global growth in meat production and consumption. As Oxfam's report points out, "higher incomes and increasing urbanization leads people to eat less grains and more meat, dairy, fish, fruit, and vegetables. Such a 'Western' diet uses far more scarce resources: land, water, atmospheric space."

We use 67 billion animals a year for meat, milk and eggs, and of these, three quarters have to endure miserable lives in barren factory farms. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to dangerous climate change - and as we see above, climate change is predicted to double the price of some foodstuffs. So there is clearly an urgent need to address growth in global meat consumption:

  • Over 30 percent of global grains (including wheat and maize) and 90 percent of soya are used to feed farm animals, of whom the majority are in factory farms.
  • Converting plant protein into animal products is wasteful. It takes 20 kilos of feed to produce one kilo of edible beef, 7.5 kilos of feed for a kilo of edible pork and 4.5 kilos for a kilo of edible chicken.
  • If global demand for animal products continues to escalate, ever-increasing amounts of precious grains, and water to irrigate those crops, would be needed to fatten up ever-increasing numbers of factory farmed animals. Such a system is clearly unsustainable for animals, people and the planet.

Compassion believes that one of the easiest solutions to help remedy the situation is for those in high meat-eating populations to reduce their intake of meat and milk overall, and to choose animal products only from higher welfare systems which have paid more regard to environmental protection and animal welfare.

This would help farm animals, as reduced demand would enable a much-needed rise in animal welfare standards across the board. It would benefit human health; the World Cancer Research Funds advises a mainly plant-based diet with an upper limit of 70g of meat per person per day. It would benefit the environment too, as factory farms are highly polluting of air, land and water. And it should benefit the hungry, allowing a more equitable food supply for everyone on the planet.

Read more

Eating the Planet: Feeding and fuelling the world sustainably, fairly and humanely
This research, specially commissioned by Compassion in World Farming and Friends of the Earth, shows that we can indeed feed the world using humane and sustainable agriculture without further deforestation, without massive land use change - and without factory farming. But our options for doing so are greatly increased if high meat-eating populations reduce their consumption.

Beyond Factory Farming
This report examines the impacts of the massive global scale of livestock production. Each year we use 67 billion farm globally for meat, milk and eggs, the majority in industrial-scale farms. At the same time, the livestock population is set to double in the face of growing demand for meat and dairy products, particularly from developing countries such as China and India. The report presents solutions for a humane and sustainable farming system and provides policy recommendations for achieving this change.

The Meat Crisis: Developing more sustainable production and consumption edited by Joyce D'Silva (Director of Public Affairs, Compassion in World Farming) and John Webster (Professor Emeritus, Bristol University Vet School), Earthscan, 2010

The Meat Crisis brings together chapters from global experts to address the major issues around industrial animal farming. In brief, these are:

  • industrial animal farming's contribution to anthropogenic climate change and the pollution of land and of rivers, lakes and seas
  • industrial animal farming's demands on precious global resources of water, grains and soya, risking increased food insecurity for the hungry
  • the suffering imposed on the animals themselves
  • the impacts on human health of a diet high in animal products
  • the predicted doubling of demand for meat and dairy by 2050, which could mean roughly a doubling of the number of farm animals used for meat, milk and eggs per year to 120 billion, the majority of whom would be reared in confinement systems.

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