29 Apr The Lies and Half-Truths That Keep Factory Farming Afloat
As the United Nations Food Systems Summit approaches in September this year, Peter Stevenson OBE, our Chief Policy Advisor, shares his thoughts on why factory farming so dominates animal agriculture.
Peter has worked in the animal welfare movement for almost three decades, and played a leading role in winning the EU bans on veal crates, battery cages and sow stalls as well as a new status for animals in EU law as sentient beings.
How did we get to the point where factory farming so dominates animal agriculture?
The opening lines of the programme Chernobyl resonate here:
“What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.”
So what are the lies, half-truths and obfuscations that prop up factory farming?
The UK Government loves to say: “We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world”. Yet 42% of UK hens are kept in enriched cages, while other countries have prohibited this system. Austria’s ban is already in force, Germany’s ban comes into force in 2025, the Czech Republic’s in 2027 and Slovakia’s in 2030. France has banned the installation of any new cages.
Over 50% of UK sows are confined in farrowing crates. However, these crates are banned in Switzerland, Norway and Sweden. Germany has banned them from 2035, Austria from 2033.
The term ‘humane slaughter’ is designed to reassure us that animals are properly treated at slaughter. But the reality is far from that. Animals are hustled through abattoirs at breakneck speed. Animals experience pain, fear and terror at slaughter.
We then have the twin myths of necessity and efficiency. We are told that food production must increase by 70% to feed the growing world population and so further industrialisation of livestock production is essential.
But we already produce much more food than is needed to feed the growing world population. The problem is that around 60% of this food is lost or wasted through post-harvest losses, by being discarded by consumers or retailers, through overconsumption beyond one’s nutritional needs. Crucially, huge amounts of human-edible cereals and soy are wasted by being fed to farm animals who convert them very inefficiently into meat and milk.
If all the above forms of food loss and waste were halved, an extra 3.55 billion people could be fed. This is more than the anticipated increase of 2.2 billion in world population by 2050.
We are told factory farming is efficient, but it is not. It is profoundly inefficient. For every 100 calories of human-edible cereals fed to animals, just 17-30 calories enter the human food chain as meat or milk. For every 100 grams of protein in human-edible cereals fed to animals, just 43 grams of protein enter the human food chain as meat or milk.
We are told ‘we have to meet consumer demand’ as if that demand had risen unbidden within consumers rather than having been shaped and manipulated by decades of seductive advertising.
We are also told factory farming gives us cheap food. Industrially produced meat and milk are indeed cheap at the supermarket checkout. But the low price of these products is achieved only by an economic sleight of hand. We have devised a distorting economics which takes account of some costs, such as housing and feeding animals, but ignores others including the detrimental impact of industrial agriculture on the environment and health.
This problem has been recognised by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation which has said: “In many countries there is a worrying disconnect between the retail price of food and the true cost of its production. As a consequence, food produced at great environmental cost in the form of greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, air pollution and habitat destruction, can appear to be cheaper than more sustainably produced alternatives.”
And all these lies and half-truths lock us into the status quo making it appear like it’s the only way of doing things. But it is not.
Compassion in World Farming is calling on the world’s most influential organisations, including the World Bank, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, to replace factory farming with a food system that respects animals, nurtures our planet, and reduces the risk of pandemics.
Please use this link to sign our petition and join the call for a future without factory farming
For more information on the United Nations Food Systems Summit please use this link https://www.un.org/en/food-systems-summit
I would urge anyone who wants to help restore our planet to make sure their voice is heard by becoming a food systems hero. You can take part in the public forums being organised or one of the global, national and independent dialogue events.