Something is happening to the food industry. Are you aware? Not only are big agricultural farms putting small family farms out of business, they are devastating the environment by planting mono crops, using heavy amounts of fertilizers and pesticides and by raising livestock in unsanitary, inhumane conditions at a large scale. In fact, regarding the latter, a new investigation has revealed there are more than 800 livestock mega farms in the UK, which spells “disaster” not only for consumers’ health, but for the well-being of animals.
According to the report conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in nearly every country in England, there is at least one industrial-scale livestock farm. As a result, there are now close to 800 US-style mega farms, which are described as “cruel and unnecessary,” due to the fact that animals which are raised for their offerings are increasingly being treated as soul-less commodities. Additionally, there are now only 12 counties in the UK that host no pig or poultry farms which are not classified as “intensive,” meaning they contain less than 40,000 birds, 2,000 pigs or 750 breeding sows.
The Guardian reports: “Herefordshire has more than 16 million factory-farmed animals, mainly poultry – which means the county has 88 times more factory-farmed animals than it does humans. Shropshire and Norfolk follow closely, with more than 15 million and 12 million animals respectively. Nearly every county in England and Northern Ireland has at least one mega farm, and they are also scattered across Scotland and Wales.”
According to the report, poultry farms are by far the biggest, with seven out of 10 largest farms housing more than 1 million birds. The biggest pig farm holds about 23,000 pigs and the biggest cattle farm houses about 3,000 bovine.Large scale farms have been controversial for quite some time due to the smells, noise and potential for pollution or disease outbreaks which result from the means in which livestock are raised. Animal welfare campaigners, as well, argue that factory-style farming prevents livestock from being permitted outdoors which is unnatural. Raising large amounts of animals in a close proximity also presents health issues, as unsanitary conditions and an increased potential for diseases to spread means farmers must inject more antibiotics into livestock. Not only does this make their products less healthful, it is resulting in “superbugs” which some fear may make simple surgery too dangerous in the future. One of the only pay-offs of large-scale industrial farms is that consumers can receive products for a reduced cost than family farms.
Said Emma Slawinski, the director of campaigns at CIWF: “There is a worrying trend towards intensive farming. Bringing animals off the land and cramming them into squalid, inhumane factory farms is not only cruel to animals but also has far-reaching effects on human health, wildlife and the planet. Moving animals away from the countryside into cages and crowded sheds may seem like a space-saving idea, but this ignores the fact that vast amounts of land are used elsewhere to grow feed for them.”
Slawinski added that animals are kept in “often barren, overcrowded and frequently filthy” conditions despite landowners having enough available space to keep them in a natural environment. “North Yorkshire has the highest number of indoor-reared pigs, with over 220,000 of them confined to the inside, unable to forage and explore. This is cruel and unnecessary when we can simply bring the animals outside and rear them on the land,” she said.
On the other hand, Charles Godfray, director of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, argues that modern agricultural practices don’t hinder animal welfare and provide cheaper food for consumers. He said, “It’s much more about how you do it. There are intensive operations which are horrible, and others which are good examples of how to look after animals well and get good outcomes.” Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, added that pressure from consumers means it is impractical to keep birds in a free range or organic conditions. “Last year, we grew almost a billion birds, 95% indoors and 3.4% free range and 1% organic. If we tried to grow a billion birds a year organically, that would be a lot of land. It’s a balancing act, and it’s demand-driven. I don’t think we’ll see a change in systems without consumer demand. At the moment, that demand isn’t there,” he said.
Those who defend large-scale agriculture farms maintain this opinion, despite repeated evidence that animals raised in factory farms oftentimes endure inhumane treatment and are placed in traumatizing situations.
Because it is possible to obtain all essential nutrients, fat, protein and carbohydrates from plant matter which is less detrimental to the environment and cruelty-free, the world needs to embrace plant-based living and phase out large-scale agriculture farms. This is the only way to reduce the collective’s carbon footprint, ensure there is enough food for all (as a large majority of crops produced goes to feed livestock), and reduce the amount of suffering on the planet.