Protecting People Means Protecting Animals Too

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One Health, One Welfare: Why we need healthy food systems for people, planet and prosperity

Out of these difficult Covid times, one thing we have learned is that the well-being of people, animals and the planet are interconnected. That there is ‘One health, One welfare’. At its core is the realisation that protecting people means protecting animals too.

Whilst Covid-19 has been widely linked to the ill-treatment of wildlife, a source of past and future pandemics is industrial animal agriculture, or factory farming.

Intensively farmed pig in farrowing crate | Credit: Compassion in World Farming

Keeping thousands of animals caged, crammed and confined is inherently unhealthy, producing the perfect breeding ground for disease. Highly pathogenic strains of disease can and do emerge; only a decade ago, swine flu from factory farms caused a pandemic killing about half a million people worldwide.

Industrial animal agriculture is not only the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet. It is also a major driver of deforestation and wildlife declines and uses a staggering two-thirds of the world’s antibiotics. 

It is also the biggest single source of food waste in the world. Forty per cent of our entire grain harvest is fed to industrially reared animals. If fed directly to people, it would be enough to sustain four billion people. Yet, as animal ‘feed’, much of the food value is lost in terms of both calories and protein in conversion to meat, milk and eggs.

At the same time, the global appetite for ever more meat means clearing more forests worldwide for farmland, coming into contact with new viruses.

Averting a Crisis

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

Instead, replacing it with future-fit alternative proteins such as plant-based, cultured meat and the products of modern fermentation, together with ensuring that any animal-sourced foods come from farming that is health-oriented and regenerative.

Free-range cows farmed in harmony with nature on the island of Lundy | Credit: Philip J Lymbery

The great thing about nature-friendly regenerative farming is that it has the power to be transformative; it not only builds back better soil health and biodiversity, but also provides for the very best animal health and welfare.

Transformational change is long overdue: In the words of the UN Secretary General, “Transforming food systems is crucial” to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

But how do we get there?

The answer lies in business, finance, governments, the UN and civil society, working in partnership to transform the food system.

It lies in food companies setting measurable targets for the reduction of livestock products, diversifying proteins with plant-based, fermentation and cellular meat alternatives.

It lies in the financial sector ensuring that agricultural funding only supports the transition toward health-oriented regenerative farming.

And, of course, in governments using policies for change: directives, incentives and subsidies to steer toward health-oriented and regenerative food and farming. Globally, governments provide $700 billion a year in farm subsidies, more than $1m per minute, much of which currently drives the climate crisis, wildlife destruction and ill-health. That money could be redirected toward regenerative farming and the uptake of alternative non-animal-sourced proteins.

This year’s UN Food Systems Summit offers a huge opportunity for a UN global agreement on food. One that recognises food’s central role in the success of addressing health, climate and biodiversity challenges. One that sets a course toward a healthier food system without factory farming and the over-reliance of animal-based diets.

One that truly embraces that essential principle that protecting people means protecting animals too.

Note: This blog is based on a speech delivered by Philip for a United Nations Food Systems Summit Dialogue on 4th June 2021

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