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The "Sustainable" Intensification debate continues

News Section Icon Published 15/11/2012

The BBC Radio programme "Farming Today" (14th November) broadcast an interview with Professor Charles Godfray, a leading academic who chairs the UK government's Foresight project.

Professor Godfray believes that sustainable intensification means that we can produce more food by increasing productivity whilst reducing our impact on the environment. If applied to better methods of irrigation or fertiliser use, this makes complete sense.

Sadly, when applied to farm animals we run into problems. Most dairy cows, meat chickens and pigs are already paying a heavy price for having been bred specifically to grow faster and yield more.

Over a quarter of meat chickens go lame before they reach their slaughter age of just 5-6 weeks, unable to prop up their heavy bodies. Many dairy cows get culled at a quarter of their natural lifespan mainly due to the heavy toll of producing ever-larger amounts of milk. Even pigs are now bred to be so heavy, that they have become susceptible to lameness and a host of other health conditions.

So with farm animals the question is not, how can we get more out of them, but can we put less pressure on them and be satisfied with lower yields from more robust animals?

If we reduce the pressure on the animals - and reduce the number of animals produced, for environmental reasons - then there are consequences for the type of foods we eat. Compassion is thrilled to be working with other leading groups in the food and environment sectors to develop a coalition around the issue of sustainable diets.

As a recent Report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says: "There is broad agreement, for example, that consumers in developed countries should reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products and proportionately increase their consumption of vegetables and fruit products based on environmental and/or health considerations."

Professor Godfray himself has called for a debate around meat. Maybe this is something we can agree on.


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