“Factory farming, like comparable evils throughout history, depends for its existence upon concealment.
It depends on people either not noticing or wilfully averting their gaze.”
– Matthew Scully
In early February 2021, Chatham House (a world-leading policy maker based in London) published a pioneering report entitled “Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss” which highlights the devastating impact that factory farming is having on our natural world. Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) hosted a fantastic webinar which highlighted the key points of this report and brought together leading experts in environment and agricultural research. If you missed it, you can watch the entire webinar at the end of this article.
The report explains that governments must urgently shift their focus away from increasing agricultural yields and instead incentivize environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, yield simply means how much food a farmer is able to produce from a given area of land.
As we read the report, we learn that traditional government incentives are extremely biased towards higher yields which have a disastrous outcome for nature, human health and farmed animal welfare. On top of this, the report notes that consumers absolutely must adopt a change in their perception and demand for cheap animal products if we are ever able to feed our global population.
Think of it this way: for decades now, we have grown accustomed to readily available animal products at bargain bucket prices. We have forgotten that the meat we see on supermarket shelves is a product of living, thinking, sentient animals which all deserve a life worth living. All we want is more meat… even cheaper. What we don’t realize is that it’s precisely this mindset that worsens our ability to produce enough food for everyone. This way of thinking is now referred to as the ‘cheaper food paradigm’.
This disconnection between our food and the animals that provide us with it, is ultimately driving rates of deforestation, biodiversity loss, zoonotic disease (capable of spreading between animals and humans), and shocking standards of welfare for farmed animals.
The cheaper food paradigm. Taken from Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss, Chatham House, 2021.
As policies and economic structures strive to produce more food at ever lower cost, we further intensify our agricultural systems. We rely heavily on synthetic inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides, and claim progressively more energy, more land, and more freshwater for agricultural purposes. This leads to significant habitat destruction and biodiversity loss around the globe. Which, in turn, accelerates rates of global warming and climate change which worsen our food production rates even further. To counter this, governments try to further intensify farming practices and adopt unsustainable methods such as monocropping (only growing one type of genetically identical crop), and heavy tilling (over-manipulating the earth and causing severe soil degradation).
It is worth mentioning at this point that around 80% of soya currently grown (and often attributed to deforestation) is allocated to feeding livestock for human consumption. Only around 10% is currently consumed as part of a plant–based diet – which just goes to show how inefficiently we are distributing our valuable sources of sustainable protein.
A representation of biodiversity loss linked to increased agricultural yield. Taken from a PowerPoint presentation led by Prof. T. Benton, New report: Food system impacts on biodiversity loss, February 2021.
What’s more, new evidence suggests that increasing our crop yields is intrinsically linked to higher rates of food wastage and even obesity. This means that even though we are pressuring our planet to produce more food and causing immense amounts of destruction to our environment whilst we do so, the food that we produce is not distributed and consumed in an efficient or healthy way. We are throwing out more food and eating higher amounts of unhealthy foods leading to health problems further down the line, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
It’s time to stop ‘wilfully averting our gaze’. Scientists know that our food systems are driving climate change and loss of global biodiversity, and without immediate reform, we will soon lose the ability to sustain human populations.
Well, the Chatham House report suggests a number of recommended actions to be taken at the global, national governmental, and consumer levels. The first key take-home point is that focusing on “growing ever more food” is detrimental to human health, biodiversity and climate change.
We need to focus on growing the right food in right amounts, as well as encouraging people to consume healthy diets sustainably sourced without waste. The report gives a really great example of how a consumer can eat healthy food in a sustainable manner by examining the different impact that a kilo of beef has on our environment vs. a kilo of tofu.
A kilo of beef emits on average 25x more greenhouse gases than a kilo of tofu, as well as requiring 75x more land to produce. When we contextualize this situation by saying that the land used to produce the beef consisted of Amazonian rainforest, for example, it becomes shockingly clear how much more detrimental it is for a consumer to eat excessive quantities of meat as opposed to plant-based products.
The second key point raised by the report is that demand is not “fixed” or linked to the overall population number: instead, it is driven by consumer demand. We need to empower the public to make environmentally-responsible choices when it comes to their food, particularly in wealthy Westernized societies where many of us are afforded the luxury of choice when it comes to what we eat.
The final key point that I want to highlight is that changing public demand and governmental incentives for nature-friendly farming is the only way that we will ever be able to sustain a calorie-rich diet for future populations not at the expense of biodiversity. To succeed in this, local action and international policy making need to be working towards a common goal, not at odds with each other.
At Goodheart, this is something that we aim to highlight through our sanctuary visitor programme. For us, it’s all about facilitating making the connection between the animal products on our supermarket shelves and the living, breathing creatures that we have come to know at our sanctuary. We believe that by acknowledging farmed animal sentience, many consumers will be encouraged to reduce their meat and dairy intake for a variety of beneficial reasons – including for their health, for the planet and for the animals themselves.
We have first-hand experience of the short- and long-term effects that factory farming has on the individual animals involved. We have rescued various individuals from industry during our time as a sanctuary; such as hens kept in barren cages to produce eggs, and sheep that have suffered extreme cases of neglect and cruelty. It is truly shocking and saddening to come to the realisation that this is the fate of thousands of animals around the world.
However, we take great joy in rehabilitating our rescued residents and finally offering them the care, space and compassion that they deserve. With time, our residents become true individuals, able to exhibit all of their natural behaviours and live the life that they deserve to live – and we love showcasing this transformation to our visitors.
If you’re interested in visiting Goodheart Farm Animal Sanctuary and learning more about our work, stay tuned to our social media pages for updates on our visitor programme.
You may be wondering what you can do to reduce your impact on the environment. We believe that changes starts with the individual: by choosing to reduce your consumption of animal products you are making a sustainable, compassionate choice.
You may also wish to lend your voice to CIWF’s petition to end factory farming.
You can also support the vital work that we do to rescue farmed animals and increase awareness of the problems associated with animal agriculture by donating to our cause.
If you missed Compassion in World Farming’s insightful webinar with Professor Tim Benton, you can watch the whole video here.