Rethinking Industrial Animal Production
The chorus of voices against industrial animal production grows larger by the day, and this report from Food Tank is further evidence that factory farming is seen as both environmentally destructive and an ethically horrific practice. The report takes a snapshot of the scale of factory farming in 2014, and offers a number of suggestions as to how individuals and advocacy groups can respond to it. Though the overall picture may not be surprising to many animal advocates, some of the recommendations are novel and thought provoking.
Industrial animal production has long reached epidemic proportions, and this 2014 report from Food Tank describes its extent: “Industrial animal operations already account for the vast majority of animal production in the United States, and are responsible worldwide for 67 percent of poultry production, 50 percent of egg production, and 42 percent of pork production.” Yet the spread of factory farming is still growing. “80 percent of growth in the global livestock sector is from industrial animal operations or factory farms,” the researchers say, acknowledging that “its sheer size and intensity are key drivers behind a whole range of environmental problems.” Taking a welfarist approach, the authors say that “there are environmentally and socially responsible ways to produce meat, eggs, and dairy products,” and this report outlines their thoughts on how this can be done. The publication is focused largely on an approach where donors support large NGOs to do work on a macro level. The authors’ message is clear: “Right now, industry has the deep pockets necessary to maintain the status quo, but groups working to create solutions and farmers wishing to change their methods lack the capital infrastructure necessary to move forward.” According to Food Tank, fighting factory farming will not just take ethics and effort, it will require a lot of money.
The report outlines a grim picture of the current situation, however, the authors stress that “there are concrete effective solutions to the hazards of factory farming. Ultimately, what’s needed is greater investment in alternative forms of livestock production that protect animal welfare, the environment, worker safety, and public health.” This investment-based approach is structured in such a way that the role of many advocates would be to support larger NGOs to lobby for changes. Some of the recommendations of the report are familiar, such as the assertion that we must end the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farming, and adopt higher animal welfare standards. Included in this category of familiar recommendations is the idea that we must “petition for stricter environmental regulations” and enforcement, as well as curbing animal product consumption more generally. On the more innovative side, the report encourages “supporting farmers through informative labeling,” which could include a far broader range of descriptors than we currently use to label food, describing the real conditions in which animals are raised, instead of the buzzwords currently in use. In addition, the report encourages “empowering communities to fight corporate interests” in different ways. Though this could mean a whole range of things, many animal advocates will certainly see the value in this notion, as so many farming communities have been devastated by the environmental and social fallout of industrial production. A coalition-based approach supporting communities could do wonders to help curb the spread of industrial production.
Though the report does not condemn animal production per se – there are repeated references to “socially responsible” animal production as an antidote to factory farming – some of the recommendations outlined could be taken up and modified by activists who want to see an end to animal farming in general. Overall, however, the authors lean heavily towards a legislative and bureaucratic approach where changes are made at a higher level – places where many advocates are not able to access or take part. The report is a worthwhile read for advocates who are interested in an approach that looks at big picture, macro issues, with solutions that might be applied more readily on the ground.
Recently, Food Tank published a quick guide, “Rethinking Industrial Animal Production,” detailing the significant and far reaching consequences of a food system dominated by industrial animal production. Industrial animal operations already account for the vast majority of animal production in the United States, and are responsible worldwide for 67 percent of poultry production, 50 percent of egg production, and 42 percent of pork production. A rapidly growing industry – 80 percent of growth in the global livestock sector is from industrial animal operations or factory farms – its sheer size and intensity are key drivers behind a whole range of environmental problems. In this new guide, we note this complexity, explaining the multifaceted and numerous consequences to factory farming.