Guest Post by Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming, the leading international farm animal welfare organisation, and author of Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were
When you close your eyes and imagine where the very best food comes from, what does it look like?
In my experience, most people imagine rolling pastures sprinkled with cattle or sheep grazing under the warmth of the sun; orchards with chickens; patchworks of fields; golden swaying crops of corn, wheat or barley; the buzzing of bees. They think of diverse landscapes, the kind of place you wouldn’t mind visiting, a view to admire.
The reality though is that despite labels with phrases such as ‘farm fresh’ and ‘100% natural’ most of our food comes from factories.
The vast majority of farm animals – more than 80% in the EU and two-thirds globally – are factory farmed: kept indoors, in confined, cramped spaces, where they are unable to carry out important natural behaviours.
The devastating impacts of factory farming on farm animal welfare are now well-documented. From mother pigs kept in crates so narrow they can’t turn around to hens confined to cages for most of their lives, awareness is growing that this is a cruel and outdated way of farming that needs to be consigned to the history books.
What is less well-known is the impact intensive farming has on the environment and in particular, the wildlife that we share this planet with. I have spent years researching these negative effects, and have exposed them through my books, Farmageddon, and Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were.
In the last 40 years the total number of wild mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish worldwide has halved. It’s a shocking statistic and even more shocking to realise that it’s the food on our plates that is responsible for two thirds of wildlife loss.
Industrial countries often use half or more of their farmland and inputs such as water and fertiliser to grow animal feed crops that could otherwise be used much more efficiently for direct nutrition of people. Staggeringly, a third or more of the entire global cereal harvest, and nearly all of the world’s soya is devoted to feeding animals – this is enough food for more than 4 billion people.
I have crossed continents discovering how huge swathes of wildlife habitat is being destroyed to make way for crops to feed intensively farmed animals. From jaguars in Brazil to elephants in Sumatra and penguins in South Africa, wildlife is suffering immensely.
There is another way and I’ve met farmers around the world, who are working to mend our broken food systems by restoring animals to the land – in well-managed, mixed rotational farms. By restoring animals to pasture landscapes start coming back to life. There can be a cascade of positive benefits for farmers, consumers, the local environment, forests both near and far, and for animal welfare too.
“Cheap, factory-farmed meat is killing us and killing the planet – in terms of its
impact on our water, forest, soils and biodiversity. ‘Dead Zone’ lays bare those
ecocidal connections – in a way that I can guarantee even more
environmentalists and animal welfare campaigners will not have thought
Jonathon Porritt, founder and director Forum for the Future
Free-ranging animals on pasture can run and jump and stretch their legs and wings. They can scratch and graze and peck and root, express their nature and enjoy freedom to behave normally.
And this gift of freedom matters so much to them. I can see just how much every morning when I let our hens out at home by the way they burst out of the coop with a flurry of excitement.
And at the same time we gain healthier, more nutritious food. Animals fed on grass – the fruit of a timeless interaction between sun, rain and soil – provide meat lower in saturated fats and higher in health-giving nutrients like omega-3s.
Helping to revive a living countryside can be as easy as choosing to eat more plants, having meat-free days, and choosing less and better meat, milk and eggs from pasture-fed, free- range or organic animals. Through our food choices three times a day, we can support the best animal welfare and bring landscapes to life.
Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were