Today is Blog Action Day, when thousands of people across the world share their thoughts on one of the most pressing issues of our day. This year, it’s all about “inequality” – a challenge that’s inextricably tied to factory farming. Here’s why:
For one day every year, bloggers, vloggers, photographers, filmmakers, graphic designers and social-media fanatics – anyone, really, with a means of expressing their ideas online – come together to discuss an important ethical issue. It’s called Blog Action Day and it’s an exciting event that provokes fascinating discussion and debate.
Famously unafraid to embrace the most weighty of worldwide concerns, the event has covered everything from climate change to human rights since its inception in 2007. And we’re pretty excited to be joining in again this year – especially since the notion of “inequality” is so intimately related to intensive-livestock production.
The bottom line is that factory farming isn’t fair – for the animals trapped inside the system or for the millions of people who feel its damaging effects, day in, day out.
Below are just three inequalities fuelled by factory farming.
Overall, factory farming wastes food, rather than creates it, driving hunger and malnutrition throughout the world. Confined animals can’t graze, so are fed vast amounts of nutrient-rich cereals that could be eaten by humans. Currently, around one-third of our global cropland is being used to grow crops to feed animals. Adding insult to injury, the resulting meat and dairy from these systems contain far fewer calories than the crop inputs, because livestock uses up energy from the feed. In a world where nearly a billion people are starving, this is surely one of the greatest inequalities, as well as the cruellest ironies, of our time.
FACT: For every 100 calories we feed to factory-farmed livestock, we only get 12 back in the form of chicken meat, 10 in the form of pork and 3 in the form of beef (1).
Poverty is another monster by-product of factory farming. Intensive systems use up masses of land to grow feed crops; land that is often acquired in ruthless land deals in the developing world. These so-called “land grabs” – which are inherently unfair, as their name suggests – are notorious for displacing small-scale farmers, who provide much-needed food and jobs in their local communities. In other words, factory farming concentrates profits into the hands of a few and disempowers many. Check out our film to learn more about the devastating social and ecological impacts of big-ag’s soya industry in South America.
FACT: Around three-quarters of the world’s soya crop is destined for farm animals, most of whom live inside factory farms (2).
Factory farming, with its artificially “cheap” products, undoubtedly encourages people to eat too much meat. But it’s not just the quantity that’s an issue – the quality is, too. It’s now widely accepted that factory-farmed meat is higher in saturated fat and lower in key nutrients than higher-welfare alternatives, contributing to a spate of chronic illnesses, including obesity, heart disease, cancer and strokes. So there’s an inherent injustice in our food system: that people on lower incomes often only have access to lower-quality, less-healthy foods.
FACT: If the UK population switched to lower-meat diets, 31,000 early deaths from heart disease, 9,000 from cancer and 5,000 from strokes could be saved every year (3).
There you have it – just three of the many ways in which factory farming breeds inequality. And we haven’t even mentioned the dire conditions that most animals in factory farms face, crammed into inadequate cages or pens, with no daylight or fresh air. Of the 75 billion animals that are farmed for food each year, a staggering 70% are reared in factory farms (4). Find out more about the inequality of factory farming here.
What’s the solution?
However you look at it, factory farming is an illogical, unfair system. And although there’s no overnight fix, we can all be doing a huge amount to right its many wrongs.
First and foremost, we can eat less, but better-quality, meat – to send out a message, loud and clear, that factory farming is unacceptable; to prove that people everywhere are demanding more for animals, our planet and humanity as a whole.
We need to get animals back on the land to make the world a healthier, happier place and to keep poverty and hunger at bay. Where possible, we need our farm animals to be eating food that we can’t eat (i.e. grass) and to convert it into food that we can eat (meat, milk, eggs, etc.). This is particularly important in developing countries, where animal products provide vital sources of protein and micronutrients.
We should just end with a quick note that say that today is World Food Day, and this year, it’s all about supporting family farmers in the developing world – a theme that ties in perfectly with our message that small-scale farming should be part of the solution to achieving food security.
As the FAO says, it’s these more traditional livestock systems that “…are the major source of livelihood for 200 million rural families, and provide food and income for some 70% of the world's rural poor”.
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- Cassidy et al. (2013), Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare
- WWF (2014), The Growth of Soy: Impacts and Solutions
- Friends of the Earth (2010), Healthy Planet Eating
- CIWF estimate based on EUROSTAT and FAOSTAT data (2014)