Why the Time is Right for Transformational Change

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Orphaned orangutan in Borneo | Credit: Paulina L. Ela BOSF

As the world braces itself at the news that a new virus with ‘pandemic potential’  has been discovered in pigs, the role of factory farming as a breeding ground for disease comes back into sharp focus. Covid-19 has demonstrated the fragility of society and that the way we treat animals today can have a huge bearing on the wellbeing of humanity tomorrow.

There is a gathering openness to recognise that cruelty to animals in farms, wet markets and slaughterhouses has the potential for serious repercussions that can shake the very foundations of human society.

Similarly, the devastating impact of factory farming on the natural world is also starting to be recognised as a major driver of declines in wildlife, forests, soil and water, all of which are necessary for the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat.

In other words, factory farming presents an existential threat to life on Earth.

Since its inception over 50 years ago, Compassion in World Farming has been advocating a total end to factory farming for the sake of animals, people and the planet.

The urgency of that message has never been greater.

Factory farmed sow with her piglets | Credit: Chayakorn Lotongkum

For some decades, ours was a voice in the wilderness; we had to find ways to make ourselves relevant in the eyes of policy makers, attacking the most vulnerable parts of the factory farm machine, like veal crates, sow stalls and battery cages. We did that successfully. Even to the point of getting legal recognition of animals as sentient beings. Stripping away that tired, age-old repost of ‘do animals really suffer?’. Now, in law at least, and in the minds of the general public, that battle has largely been won. Animals are sentient. No question. Yet, the suffering still goes on.

Cause for Optimism

We now have the opportunity to amplify our messages through the greater openness from policy makers and the general public to join the dots; to see the linkages between factory farm cruelty, human health and a liveable future.

Our strategy clearly charts a course for bringing the multiple harms of factory farming together to make our case; an approach that we’ve chosen to call, animal welfare environmentalism’. Very firmly for the animals. Positioned at the centre of the wider policy stage of climate, environmental decline, public health and social justice. Ours is a unique voice within this broad ecosystem of activism and policy debate.

Covid-19, climate change, the collapse of the natural world and the disease risks of factory farming all converge into a powerful argument for ending cruelty to animals.

This is the moment to move forward with strength and rapidity as animal welfare environmentalists, as a catalyst for change. To demand far-reaching transformation of the food system. To reset the way society treats animals.

By bringing these issues together around the central challenge of factory farming, we have the most powerful of propositions. 

As animal welfare environmentalists, we consider animals in the environment, rather than simply looking at animals in their environment. Looking at both the impact on the animal herself of not addressing her wants and needs and what it means to society and the wider environment.

Expansionist Animal Welfare

As an approach, it contrasts with reductionist animal welfare, which is about reducing suffering rather than promoting the joy of living. And this reduction of suffering can often be marginal. Like putting a perch into a battery cage. It might help a bit. But it won’t solve the problem; that the animal is kept in an inherently cruel system. Simply adding a bit of what is missing to their environment, be it a perch in a cage, chains as toys in crowded barns or straw bales in a confinement lot, will neither solve the animal welfare problem nor the environmental impact.

Sow and piglets at Knepp Wildland, Sussex | Credit: Philip J Lymbery

A more expansive approach to animal welfare is one that focuses on the positive joy of life, which speaks to farming in harmony with nature and a more balanced food system with much reduced reliance on products from farmed animals. 

In this way, we bring together the needs of the animal met by the environment – which done well can be a harmonious, symbiotic relationship – rather than solely minor adjustments in their environment. So, considering animal welfare and the environmental interconnectivities, such as enhanced health, reduced pollution and climate impact and flourishing biodiversity is a proposition so much better than simply making their environment a little less bad?

Solutions for Saving the Planet

All of which begs the question of how we keep animals in the environment in a way that leverages a better future for us all?

Well, by keeping them in harmony with nature in regenerative farming systems, where animals are restored to the land in the right way, within their ecological niche. In the case of ruminants, this will be as rotational grazing animals. In the case of pigs and poultry, as waste recyclers, foragers and clean-up merchants. In harmony with their surroundings.

Which, to do this as a general policy, requires a serious reduction in the amount of animals kept and a consequent reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy.

Which is required anyway if we are to stave off the existential threat to humanity of increased disease threats, climate change and diminishing environmental life-support systems.

Far-reaching Vision

Our strategy at Compassion is very much about gaining greater leverage for animals through the power of policy change. Showing the multiple benefits to animals and humanity of a fundamental transformation of our food system. Covid-19 has been a potent demonstration of what will happen if we don’t heed the warning signs. 

This big picture vision – considering animals in the environment, rather than simply their environment, be it a cage, barn of feedlot – is what we mean by ‘animal welfare environmentalism’.

Credit: Richard Dunwoody / Compassion In World Farming

In focusing squarely on our mission of ending factory farming and reducing meat and dairy production, our work as animal welfare environmentalists comes to the forefront of all we do. It provides clear blue water for us as an organisation: a unique voice, a clear position. Strategically, it gives us the power to elevate animal welfare to the next level: from simple sympathy for other creatures to a big solution to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

By putting our newly emboldened vision front and centre of all we do, we become so much stronger in advocating a total move beyond factory farming. For all animals. For all our sakes.


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.

Thank you.

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