Factory farming breaks our food systems, taking grain and other precious resources from those that need it most.
There is a huge gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' when it comes to the distribution of food around the world; around 1 billion people do not have enough to eat and this crisis currently kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined1. In stark contrast, around 1.5 billion people in the Western world are classified as overweight, around a third of whom are obese2. The situation is challenging efforts to achieve the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger3. Although small-scale livestock farming plays a vital role in developing countries, contributing to the wellbeing of more than 800 million poor smallholders4, large-scale factory farming is actually compounding the food crisis.
Raising the demand for feed
Around two thirds of farm animals worldwide are currently factory farmed, reared in systems that are dependent on cereal and soya feeds for fast growth and high yields. Although dairy cows are naturally adapted to grazing and eating grasses, they are now being bred to be more dependent on cereal and soya feeds too. This demand for feed essentially means that we are putting humans in competition with farm animals; we're literally taking high-quality, nutrient-rich foods that people could eat and feeding them to our farm animals.
Over 90% of soya meal and 60% of maize (corn) and barley are grown for animal feed.
The resources needed to produce this feed
Competition for food isn't the only problem. In order to grow the feed crops, large swathes of land are cleared, both in developed and developing countries. Take soya, for example, which is mainly grown in developing countries. The demand for this crop has been cited as being particularly damaging6, resulting in land being taken from people and even causing violent clashes between indigenous peoples, multinational companies and the government7. It's not just land use that's the problem though; according to the World Economic Forum8, livestock farming is a "key player" in water use, accounting for 8% of all the water that we use worldwide. Most of this is for the irrigation of feed crops. A letter published in Nature9 stated that in China, "changing food-consumption patterns are the main cause of the worsening water scarcity. If other developing countries follow China's trend towards protein-rich Western diets, the global water shortage will become still more severe."
Producing 1kg of beef requires 15 times as much land as producing 1kg of cereals, and 70 times as much land as 1kg of vegetables.
Center for Energy and Environmental Studies (2005)10
Priced out of the market
It doesn't end there. In 2011, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) stated11 that food prices were driven upwards in recent years, in part, by 'longer-term economic growth in several large developing countries that (a) put upward pressure on prices for petroleum and fertiliser because of the resource-intensive nature of their economic growth and (b) led to increased demand for meat, and hence animal feed, as diets diversified.' This upward trend in food prices may make it increasingly hard for those who need it most to access vital food stuffs.
Increased demand for grains to feed livestock…is likely to push future food prices further beyond the limits of affordability for the world's poorest people.
But don't just take our word for it
With… a fundamental shift in the functions of livestock, there is a significant danger that the poor are being crowded out...and global food security and safety compromised.
World Bank (2001)13
Major increases in the consumption of meat, particularly grain-fed meat, would have serious implications for competition for land, water and other inputs.
UK Government Office for Science (2011)14
Imagine a canal 10 meters deep, 100 meters wide, and 7.1 million kilometers long - long enough to encircle the globe 180 times. That is the amount of water it takes each year to produce food…
Factory farming breaks our food systems. By taking action against factory farming, we are not just creating a food and farming revolution; we are also helping everyone to have the food they need.
- WFP (2011), Hunger Stats
- WHO (2011), Obesity and Overweight
- UN (2011), Millennium Development Goal 1
- World Bank (2009), Minding the stock: Bringing Public Policy to Bear on Livestock Sector Development
- UNFAO (2006), Livestock's Long Shadow
- Friends of the Earth (2008), What's Feeding our Food? The Environmental and Social Impacts of the Livestock Sector
- The Ecologist (2009), Killing Fields. The True Cost of Europe's Cheap Meat
- WEF (2009), The Bubble Is Close to Bursting: A Forecast of the Main Economic and Geopolitical Water Issues Likely to Arise in the World during the Next Two Decades
- Nature (2008), Correspondence: China's Move to Higher Meat Diet Hits Water Security
- Centre for Energy and Environmental Studies (2005), Food and Land Use. The Influence of Consumption Patterns on the Use of Agricultural Resources
- UNFAO (2011), The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011
- Oxfam (2009), Changing Food Consumption in the UK to Benefit People and Planet
- World Bank (2001), Livestock Development: Implications for Rural Poverty, the Environment and Global Food Security
- UK Government Office for Science (2011), The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and Choices for Global Sustainability
- UNFAO (2007), Water for Food, Water for Life