"We need to up the pressure on companies to make the change to introduce robust animal welfare, climate or biodiversity criteria that will reduce investment into factory farms and invest more in humane and sustainable foods."
The other day, I had a similar feeling to watching a horror movie — the sort where you’re yelling at the TV that there’s danger behind, but they seem to carry on, looking in the wrong direction. Only this was a very real prospect — I was reading the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change.
We should know how close we are to danger — just look at all the countries that have been going up in flames or flooding over the summer. This report adds more weight to the stark warning of the urgent need to curb runaway greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. And this isn’t just something that we need to set targets for and plan to do within the next decade — it needs to be done now.
Sustainable food production
Our broken food system is a major driving force fuelling this crisis. Global meat production is five times higher than it was fifty years ago, and food production has fundamentally changed to prioritise quantity over quality. Our society has become addicted to cheap meat, but this comes with a price tag on the environment.
The agricultural sector, especially livestock, plays a lead role. Farmed animals produce methane and manure. But also, to raise the hundreds of billions of animals per year, huge amounts of resources are needed. For example, CO2 absorbing forests are cleared away for grazing. Fertiliser is needed to replenish the nutrient depleted soil to grow crops. And electricity is needed to light bulbs and keep the climate controlled in the vast barren sheds the animals are kept in.
Emissions from the production, processing, and transport of animal feed for factory farmed animals account for just under half of all agriculture emissions — over a tenth of the global total. Within that, the fertilisation of feed crops and moving manure accounts for about half of this. The trajectory is also concerning, as emissions from agriculture could increase by almost 60% by 2050.
Methane, a gas produced by cows, is known to be an issue, and the IPCC states that it is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. This builds a case to shift to other animal products such as pork, chicken or fish — seen as more ‘sustainable’ by this merit. But If you look at the big picture, factory farming plays a key part in the climate crisis overall, and this isn’t limited to just methane from cattle. In fact, the scale and growth rate of the emissions from factory farmed poultry and pigs is higher.
Ultimately, factory farming has no place in a transition to a climate-neutral economy. We need to bring emissions from agriculture down, and the only viable way to do this is to reduce our consumption of animal products.
When you compare plant-based products, particularly soy, to pork and chicken — the latter produce around 25 times more greenhouse gas emissions. One study even shows that ‘global calorie availability could be increased by as much as 70% by shifting crops away from animal feed and biofuels to human consumption’. It’s clear that transitioning to predominantly plant-based diets could be an efficient way of achieving global food security.
As we see the mercury on our thermometers gradually rise around the world, there is a knock-on effect with resources required to raise animals also getting higher. Crops will need more water, fertiliser, and the sheds used to house farmed animals will need more energy to maintain consistent temperatures.
There’s also a wider environmental and animal impact. When forests are cut down to be used for farmland — this also contributes to biodiversity loss and harms wildlife. Land is being snapped up for crops to feed animals, destined to end up on plates. So, while we know that billions of animals suffer immense cruelty in factory farms — it’s also coming at the expense of wild animals too.
Factory farming animal cruelty
It quite simply doesn’t need to be this way. We need a humane and sustainable food system — for the benefit of people, planet and animals. This means — no more factory farms being built; more of us taking up plant-based diets; and, for existing animal farms to transition towards higher-welfare practices. But this is no small feat and will require a step-change across multiple sectors, including the public and private.
We need to up the pressure on companies to make the change to introduce robust animal welfare, climate or biodiversity criteria that will reduce investment into factory farms and invest more in humane and sustainable foods.
We all have a role too as individuals. Eat fewer animal products, chose humane and sustainable foods, and keep on demanding a better life for farmed animals. Now is the time to come together to overhaul the current global food system and end the cruelty that is factory farming. We have no choice — our future depends on it.
Head of Campaign — Animals in Farming.
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