Philip Lymbery | Battle for the Planet: Why Ending Factory Farming is Key
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Battle for the Planet: Why Ending Factory Farming is Key

Image Credit: Ronnie Chua

Compassion at the heart of a new breed of ‘animal welfare environmentalists’

The world received a timely reminder of the perilous state of nature recently, with the launch of a new Global Assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services by the intergovernmental panel, IPBES.

Speaking at the launch of the report prepared by 150 leading experts from 50 countries, former chair of IPBES, Sir Bob Watson, said: “The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being. Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come.”

This latest warning throws into sharp relief the need for urgent action. Things are now so serious that solutions have to fit together to address multiple problems, with solving climate change and the imminent collapse of the natural world emerging as key to humanity’s very future.

The Future for Animal Welfare

So where does this leave animal welfare? – As a central component in the overall battle to save the planet, that’s where.

Farm animal cruelty and the collapse of the natural world are rooted in a fundamental disconnect between humanity and nature. By turning living sentient creatures into animal machines on factory farms, we have created both the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet and a major driver of wildlife declines worldwide. Cruelty to farm animals and nature’s demise go hand-in-hand.

Factory farming drives declines in wildlife like jaguars

It therefore follows that to truly address widespread environmental collapse, a key step has to be an end to factory farming. More than that, we need to replace it with animal rearing systems that genuinely protect nature as well as the sentient needs of animals. Respecting the very nature of farm animals requires us to keep them in ways that allow them to express their natural behaviours and interact with the natural world, whilst at the same time providing for thriving ecosystems and restoring soil fertility naturally. Here, we’re talking about genuinely light-on-the-land rotational systems that incorporate pasture-fed, free range or organic principles. Food production that is regenerative – that instead of incessantly drawing down on natural resources like soil fertility, puts things back into nature’s bank account.

And there also needs to be less meat and dairy produced. Much less.

Diets high in meat and dairy are placing huge strain on the Earth’s resources and endangering human health, with factory farming acting as the upstream driver of yet more consumption. We now have a situation where agriculture covers nearly half the useable land surface of the planet; four-fifths of it is devoted to producing animal products. Yet meat and dairy contribute little more than a quarter of humanity’s protein needs and less than a fifth of our calories. Whichever way you look at it, the return on investment is pitifully small. In a world of increasing demand (more people) and shrinking resources, it simply no longer makes sense. 

Common Cause

What is becoming increasingly clear is that we are all in this together; farm animals, the natural world and humanity’s own future are interwoven. As nature retreats, so she stops providing essential services, like pollination, soil replenishment and carbon sequestration.

The health of the natural world on which we all depend can be seen by the state of the world’s wildlife.

In the last 50 years, since the widespread adoption of factory farming, the total number of wild mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish worldwide has more than halved. 

And much of this decline is down to the two sides of factory farming.

The first side is where the animals are kept. Chickens taken from bushes and rangelands to be kept in cages. Mother pigs who prefer to raise their piglets in woodland edges, kept in crates so narrow they can’t turn around. Cattle taken from pastures to be confined in mega-dairies or feedlots where they are fed grain instead of grass.

What looks like a space-saving idea actually isn’t. By keeping them caged, crammed and confined, we then have to grow their feed elsewhere, on scarce arable land, using chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Factory farming’s second side.

As crop fields expand in the wake of industrialisation, so the trees, the bushes and the hedges disappear, along with wildflowers. And when they disappear, so too do the insects and the seeds; and the birds, the bats, the bees that depend on them.  Even the worms disappear, along with soil fertility, leaving little else but the crop.

Then we take this crop and feed it to factory farmed animals, losing most of the food value of that crop, in terms of calories and protein, in conversion to meat, milk and eggs. In this way, we waste enough food to feed an extra four billion people on the planet. That’s not to say an extra four billion people would be a good idea. It wouldn’t; it would be an environmental disaster. It is to say that without industrial agriculture, we could feed everyone on less farmland, not more.

In this coming age of planetary crisis, it is no longer good enough to deal with just one side of an increasingly obvious equation: animal welfare and the environment. We need new approaches. Those that look at how the whole food system needs to change to satisfy the wholly compatible needs of both animal welfare and the environment. And in so doing, we have the key to beautiful, visionary solutions. Ones that provide ample scope for animals to experience the joy of living. Landscapes that are bursting with life. Landscapes that also provide healthy, nutritious food in ways which preserve our ability to grow food for the future. By rethinking our relationship with animals in agriculture, we hold the key to protecting animal welfare within a thriving environment that provides better food for all. 

Solution

With factory farming a key reason for nature’s decline, the obvious solution is to end it. To stop farming in this way. To question why we ever thought it was acceptable to cause unimaginable cruelty to animals through using cages, copious chemical pesticides, fertilisers and crop monocultures.

Yet somehow this inefficient and deeply damaging way of producing food has become the norm, the ‘modern’ way; even though it was conceived by our grandparent’s generation. In reality, it is now old thinking. Reflecting outdated practices. That we now need to call time on, for all our sakes.

A New Breed

The drive for bigger, bolder, more urgent solutions is transforming the way we see animal welfare; placing it as a key part of an essential ecosystem of concerns, giving rise to a new breed of animal welfare environmentalism. And in so doing, the whole sorry business of animal cruelty is being repositioned as not only an urgent ethical issue, but one that has the power to help overcome one of humanity’s biggest impending challenges: the collapse of the natural world on which we all depend.

Through common cause with shared interests and new narratives, we are seeing animal welfare emerge into the mainstream of societal concern. Just in time for it to help save society itself.

As a part of this newly emerging breed of animal welfare environmentalists, Compassion in World Farming remains at the forefront of the battle to end the suffering of billions of farm animals, whilst safeguarding the world’s wildlife and the prospect of a decent future for our children.

Success in ending factory farming will be crucial to winning the battle for the planet, a defining cause upon which, our generation will be judged.