By Chris Gandy
There are thousands of Causes in the world and the population is blissfully unaware of the vast majority of them unless they impact personally on either themselves, a family member, friend or acquaintance. When affected in this way some people are moved sufficiently to become an evangelist for the Cause and encourage others to become involved.
Well I have reached my “evangelist point” and feel compelled to speak out about a Cause that if we act swiftly will have enormous positive benefits for the planet and the creatures that live on it – not the least us humans!
The Cause I am talking about relates to something fundamental – how we, as a human race, choose to feed ourselves.
As a very small-scale farmer I am a minuscule cog in the ginormous global food production industry. And this provides a window on to the industry and what I am currently seeing is pretty disturbing.
Since the Second World War we seem to have been hell-bent on maximising the number of tonnes we can produce per unit of land. This holy grail has led to high-input, high-output rearing of farm animals and an enormous growth in factory farms bringing the world to the point where we are now:
- Producing approx. 70 billion farm animals annually.
- Housing two out of every three of these animals in factory farms where they are kept permanently indoors; caged, crammed or confined and regarded as production machines.
- Producing 70% of poultry meat, 50% of pork, 40% of beef and 60% of eggs in these facilities.
A sad result of all this is that factory farming has become the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet. Apologists for the practice claim that people must come first and we need to refine our food production techniques to feed the world’s ever-growing population. Animal welfare is passed off as unfortunate collateral damage.
But here is the real rub. When looked at on a per farm basis (not withstanding the cruelty and other environmental considerations) these operations may seem highly efficient and profitable. From a global perspective, however, the picture is starkly different. Consider these facts:
- The diet’s of industrially reared animals are radically changed and they are typically fed human-edible food like cereals, soya or fish.
- There are 7 billion people currently in the world and according to the UN about 1 billion of us are hungry. By 2050 there will be about 9 billion of us running around and the way we are going, even more will be hungry.
- If the crops grown to feed industrially reared farm animals were planted in one field, it would cover the entire surface area of the European Union, or half the United States of America.
- A third of the world’s cereal harvest is fed to industrial livestock; if it were used directly for human consumption it would feed about 3 billion people.
- Almost the entire world soya harvest is fed to industrially reared animals in the form of soy meal; if it were fed directly to humans, it would feed a billion people.
- As much as a third of the world’s fish catch never reaches our plate; much of it diverted to feed farmed fish, pigs and poultry.
- And here is a clanger – Factory farms don’t actually add to our global food stocks, they diminish them. For every 100 calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 30 calories in the form of meat and milk; a 70% loss. The UN Food Security Report 2011 acknowledges that “intensive systems… reduce the food balance” of the world.
So what is the answer? Well quite simple really. We need to put people and the planet before profit and revert to the “extensive farming” practices of our for-fathers. As Philip Lymbery describes it, we need to rear “ ..farm animals on the land, as it should be; converting things that people can’t eat, like grass, into things which people can eat; meat, milk and eggs. In this way, farm animals contribute to the global food basket. When they’re locked in factory farms, the hard truth is that they take food away”.
And we too can all help the world the get back to this position by acknowledging, encouraging and rewarding farmers for the number of human beings they nourish per hectare rather than the tonnes they can grind out per hectare!
To learn more about the global impact of industrial farming grab a copy of Farmageddon by Philip Lymbery and Isabel Oakeshott. Hate to say it but it really does provide food for thought!
About Chris: Chris Gandy is the founder and director of Cause and Effective – a provider of contingent resourcing and leadership search services to cause-based organisations. He is also a small, but committed, “extensive farmer”.