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UN expert wants re-think of food system

News Section Icon Published 11/03/2014

The UN's expert on the right to food has highlighted the folly of factory farming in his final speech before stepping down, stressing the damage it does to our health and the environment.

In his final report, The transformative potential of the right to food, released today, Prof. Olivier De Schutter says action should be taken to mitigate the negative impacts of industrial livestock production, i.e. factory farming.

The Special Rapporteur says discouraging the ever-increasing consumption of meat where there is already clearly enough to "satisfy dietary needs" is a "first priority".

In his report, Prof. De Schutter, who recently received a "Food Revolutionary" award from Compassion, challenges the notion that our key need today is to increase production:

"Food systems we have inherited from the twentieth century have failed. Of course, significant progress has been achieved in boosting agricultural production over the past fifty years. But this has hardly reduced the number of hungry people, and the nutritional outcomes remain poor."

Compassion wholeheartedly agrees. The orthodox thinking that we have to exponentially increase meat production needs to be challenged. It is contributing to the intensification of farming, which takes its toll on the environment, the animals raised on factory farms, and on people's health.

Indeed, the report highlights the impact of the amount of meat being consumed in richer countries: "in high-income countries, the net health impacts of meat consumption are turning negative: at current levels, it is contributing to chronic diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer."

Prof. De Schutter also highlights the scandal of food waste, something which flies in the face of the argument that we should be increasing food production in order to "feed the world".

As Compassion's CEO Philip Lymbery explains in his book, Farmageddon: "...our planet already produces more than enough food for everyone, now and into the future, if only we didn't waste it. About 11 billion people could be fed on what the world currently produces, many more than today's 7 billion."

An often overlooked cause of food waste is feeding grain to industrially reared livestock that could be eaten by people, something which puts us in competition with farm animals and takes away from the global food basket, rather than adding to it.

The UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food tackles this issue head-on: "The unsustainable production of meat is another area of concern. An FAO study ... estimated that annual meat production would have to reach 470 million tons to meet projected demand in 2050, an increase of about 200 million tons in comparison to the levels of 2005-2007.

"This is entirely unsustainable. Over one third of the world's cereals are already being used as animal feed, and if current trends continue, this will rise to 50 per cent by 2050. Demand for meat diverts food away from poor people who are unable to afford anything but cereals. Concentrated animal feeding operations, in which industrial quantities of meat are produced, have widely reported negative environmental impacts. Continuing to feed cereals to growing numbers of livestock will aggravate poverty and environmental degradation."

Among Prof. De Schutter's recommendations is the idea that we should "review the existing systems of agricultural subsidies, in order to take into account the public health impacts of current allocations, and use public procurement schemes for school-feeding programmes and for other public institutions to support the provision of locally sourced, nutritious food."

It is a scandal that factory farming, which is a source of animal cruelty, causes unacceptable environmental damage and is contributing to an obesity crisis in the developed world, could benefit from government support.


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