Factory farming has to end

New Report Shows Intensification Drives Loss of Wildlife

In a world struggling to get to grips with Covid, you could be forgiven for perhaps thinking that changing the way we farm and eat would be the last thing on the agenda.

Left to right :- Top: Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE; James Lomax, UNEP (moderator); Professor Tim Benton, Chatham House | Middle: Philip; Lana Weidgenant, UN Food Systems Summit; Susan Gardner, UNEP | Bottom: Louise Mabulo, The Cacao Project

However, the message from an expert panel including globally renowned primatologist, Dr Jane Goodall, as well as Susan Gardner and James Lomax from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Professor Tim Benton from Chatham House was that because of Covid, reforming the food system is more urgent than ever.

We are facing a major crisis on the planet today… we are getting to a tipping point where things could get very gloomy indeed,” Dr Goodall told the audience at a China launch event for the Chatham House report, before arguing that the intensive farming of billions of animals should be phased out.

It was hugely encouraging to see publication of the new report by Chatham House, Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss, which shows so clearly that intensification of agriculture has decimated  wildlife and is affecting our ability to grow food in the future. The report finds that food is “the primary driver” of biodiversity loss, with agriculture alone threatening 86 per cent of species deemed to be at risk of extinction.

The ‘cheaper food paradigm’ is made up of vicious circles in our food system:  Increasing food production involves converting more land to agriculture, and further intensifying farming methods. Consumption rises as food prices drop – resulting in more environmental degradation and disruption of our natural ecosystems

It blames the “cheaper food paradigm”, with its goal of producing more food at lower costs through increasing use of fertilisers, pesticides and the keeping of animals caged, crammed and confined. The paradigm leads to what the Report’s lead author described as a “vicious circle” of increasing intensification that leads to more land clearance and destruction of wildlife habitats.

The biggest threats to biodiversity arise from “converting natural habitats to agriculture and farming land intensively,” Professor Benton said. This results in a “wasteful food system that fails to nourish us and undermines biodiversity and climate change”.

As a lifelong naturalist who lives on a farm, I see the impact of food production on biodiversity every single day.

I am acutely aware of how cutting down forests and ripping out hedges removes vital habitat for wildlife. It also reduces our ability to replenish oxygen supplies and take carbon out of the atmosphere.

As farming has become more intensive, so fields have got bigger, replacing natural soil fertility with artificial fertilisers, using chemical pesticides to kill off nature rather than work with her. All of this whilst removing farmed animals from the land – divorcing them from nature – and placing them in factory farms. Caged, crammed and confined. 

Far from sparing land for nature, the reality is that intensive farming means that nature is sprayed away and farmland continues to expand.

The jaguar is one of the iconic species suffering the effects of factory farming.

The bottom line is that our increasing global appetite for ever more meat from factory farms means clearing more forests worldwide for farmland, encroaching on wild lands.

Our diets have become out of balance, over-dependent on meat and dairy, putting ecosystems under ever greater pressure.

In this age of pandemic, climate and biodiversity emergency, there is an urgent need to end factory farming and reduce the consumption of meat and dairy.

As I said at this week’s launch events in the UK/Europe/USA and China, the time for change is now. Time is running out.

Which is why we need to seize the opportunity of this year’s UN Food Systems Summit to move toward a global agreement to end factory farming. To reset our food system towards regenerative, restorative ways of producing food. The UN summit presents an incredible opportunity to focus this debate in one place and form the catalyst for change on a global basis.

At Compassion in World Farming, we are determined to do all we can to ensure that the Summit is in no doubt about the pivotal need to end factory farming and reduce meat-heavy diets.

We will also continue to encourage people everywhere to take action three times a day through their food choices: eating more plants and less meat, making sure any meat comes from regenerative, agroecological sources such as genuinely pasture-fed, free range or outdoor organic. 

By respecting the sentience of animals, we will better respect ourselves by ending factory farming before it ends us.

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