As we near COP26, governments need to act to end factory agriculture – saving our environment and wildlife habitats and saving billions from suffering.
The climate impact of the largest meat and dairy companies now surpassing that of many developed countries1, the greatest threat to our planet’s future is the expansion of factory agriculture.
The climate problem within agriculture is almost always overlooked by factory farming. Factory farming is responsible for destroying forests in order to plant animal feed crops, releasing carbon into our atmosphere. Factory farming is what destroys wildlife habitats and displaces communities. It also makes billions of dollars each year from the cruel treatment of farmed animals.
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Fossil fuels can be used to make fertilisers for animal feeds that are factory-farmed. These fertilisers can be applied to the fields and release greenhouse gases nitrous oxide harmful gasses. The greenhouse gases from animal feed processing and production at factory farms account for 45% of total agricultural emission2.
This footprint will continue to expand. The demand for meat is increasing rapidly, which opens the door to further expansion in factory farming. In 1970, the global beef production was approximately equal to that of chickens and pork. The production of pork and chicken, which are the most intensively raised species, is expected to triple by 2050.
This will have a greater impact on the climate and also mean that farmed animals are more likely to suffer. Factory farms often have animals kept in cramped conditions, sometimes in closed cages, and even mutilated. They are given antibiotics daily to help them cope with the cruel conditions they live in and to prevent them from getting sick. This is a risky practice that can lead to superbugs emerging and spreading to humans through the food chain and our environment.
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Factory farms can cause lung problems in animals that are kept together. Manure spread on the fields also releases more nitrous oxide greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
It is time to act
Factory farming is a must-have for policymakers if they are to be serious about climate change at November’s Climate Change Conference.
Misguided government policies, which confuse factory farming and food security, continue to hold the largest factory farming companies back from our food system.
The paradox is that large quantities of meat are sold at low prices through factory farming. As land is used to grow crops for animals, food security is compromised. Soy production has doubled in 50 years at twice the rate of human population growth. Over three quarters (77%) are now eating soy for animal feed, and not as human food. Local farmers are being taken advantage of by global commodity crop trade for factory farms. This means that local communities suffer hunger.
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Climate change is worsened by factory farming, and small farmers feel climate impacts more than large farmers. Their crops can fail, and their livestock may become ill from adverse weather. Wild animals are more likely to die from fires, floods, and droughts that occur at higher frequency and with greater severity. Animals are more susceptible to disease and habitat destruction caused by animal feed expansion. This increases the risk of disease spreading from animals to humans. The next pandemic could be triggered by intensive agriculture.
Failures of large businesses
Big factory farming companies are trying to hide their failings by increasing the number of ‘carbon-neutral’ commitments. These include promising to reduce the intensity of business as usual practices through technological breakthroughs like changing feed formulations. While overall meat production is growing rapidly, minor adjustments to reduce emissions will not be enough. Factory farming is carbon-intensive and heavily dependent on global animal feed trade. There is no way around it.
Companies are also buying out their obligation by calculating their climate impact and paying to offset the damage through schemes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is nothing but greenwashing. The ultimate irony of this is that land is being locked into crop production to feed factory-farmed animals.
It is clear that factory farming is winning, while wildlife and the climate suffer. Today, 71% of all bird species are now mass-produced by poultry. Wild birds account for only 29%.
What can governments do to help?
For the good of our climate and planet, a fundamental shift in our food system is required. The government should not ignore the issues before Glasgow.
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- Refuse to allow further factory farms to expand.
- Factory farming is a serious threat to the climate, environment and health.
- Incentives and subsidies should be changed to support a predominantly plant-based food system and a diverse livestock farming sector, with fewer animals overall.
- Combat big farming monopolies and provide support to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious, affordable protein, even those living in low-income areas.