Memorandum submitted by Compassion in World Farming (SFS 05)

 

 

Executive Summary

 

1. Concerns about food security are leading to calls by some for further intensification of livestock production. Compassion in World Farming is opposed to this as it would lead to serious animal health and welfare problems. To take one example, moves to increase productivity could well exacerbate the health problems that already arise from genetic selection for production traits such as fast growth or high yields. Fast growing pigs and meat chickens suffer from leg disorders and cardiovascular malfunction[1] and high yielding cattle from lameness, mastitis and premature culling. We do not wish to see an escalation of such problems.

 

2. The question of food security is most helpfully examined from a global viewpoint as the FAO predicts that between 2001 and 2050 global meat and milk consumption will approximately double. It is likely that much of this increase will be provided by industrial methods of livestock production unless there is a clear policy decision to move away from such methods.

 

3. A strategy designed to substantially increase global meat and dairy output through farming animals industrially is simply not sustainable. Industrial livestock production not only pollutes the environment but is extremely wasteful in its use of land, water and fossil fuel energy. It also threatens food security as several kilos of cereals need to be fed to animals to produce 1 kilo of edible meat. People could be fed much more efficiently if those cereals were used for direct human consumption. In addition, the livestock sector is a major producer of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while western levels of meat consumption increase the incidence of certain cancers, heart disease and obesity.

 

4. Nutritional benefits would arise from a change from intensively produced chicken to birds reared free range. Chickens reared indoors are significantly more fatty than free range chickens.

 

5. Industrial livestock production systems fuel animal disease as they allow the rapid selection and amplification of pathogens and facilitate disease transmission among animals. The FAO points out that industrial livestock production plays an important part in the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza and other diseases.

 

6. Attempting to feed the growing world population by increasing industrial livestock farming is not a realistic strategy as it will place land, water and energy under increasing pressure. A more judicious approach is to re-orient the world's animal production away from industrial farming and towards lower-input, more extensive systems. This needs to be accompanied by a reduction in meat and dairy consumption in developed countries; this will lessen the need to produce increasing amounts of meat and milk and also help to prevent a rise in the GHG emissions produced by the livestock sector. A reduction of meat consumption in rich countries would allow poorer countries to increase their consumption according to their dietary needs.

 

Detailed submission

 

7. Concerns about food security are leading to calls by some for further intensification of livestock production. Compassion in World Farming is opposed to this as it would lead to serious animal health and welfare problems. To take one example, moves to increase productivity could well exacerbate the health problems that already arise from genetic selection for production traits such as fast growth or high yields. Fast growing pigs and meat chickens suffer from leg disorders and cardiovascular malfunction[2] and high yielding cattle from lameness, mastitis and premature culling. We do not wish to see an escalation of such problems.

 

8. In addition, we believe that industrial livestock production in reality undermines food security because it is wasteful of the increasingly scarce resources of land, water and energy.

 

9. The question of food security is most helpfully examined from a global viewpoint bearing in mind the FAO's prediction that between 2001 and 2050 global meat and milk consumption will approximately double.

 

10. It is likely that much of this increase will be provided by industrial methods of livestock production unless there is a clear policy decision to move away from such methods.

 

11. Already over 50% of global pigmeat and 70% of chickenmeat is industrially produced.[3] [4] Industrial systems have been increasing at six times the rate of traditional mixed farming systems.[5]

 

12. This submission seeks to demonstrate that a strategy designed to substantially increase global meat and dairy output through farming animals industrially is simply not sustainable. Industrial livestock production not only pollutes the environment but is extremely wasteful in its use of land, water and fossil fuel energy. It also threatens food security as several kilos of cereals need to be fed to animals to produce 1 kilo of edible meat. People could be fed much more efficiently if those cereals were used for direct human consumption. In addition, the livestock sector is a major producer of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while western levels of meat consumption increase the incidence of certain cancers, heart disease and obesity.

 

13. Much of the detrimental impact of industrial livestock production stems from the need to grow substantial amounts of crops, such as cereals and soya, to feed the animals. These feed crops are produced intensively with the aid of large quantities of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides.

 

Climate change

 

14. The FAO's 2006 report, Livestock's Long Shadow recognises that animal production is a major global contributor to GHG emissions. The report stresses that "the livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport." [6]

 

15. The FAO report states that livestock production is responsible for:

37% of global methane emissions (methane has a global warming potential (GWP) 23 times higher than CO2)

65% of global nitrous oxide emissions (with a GWP 296 times higher than CO2)

9% of global CO2 emissions.

 

16. In addition, 64% of ammonia emissions originate in livestock production and contribute to air, soil and water pollution, acid rain and damage to the ozone layer.[7]

 

17. In the UK meat and dairy products contribute around 8% of total GHG emissions.[8] Meat and dairy production and consumption account for about 13.5% of total EU-25 emissions.[9]

 

18. The predicted doubling of global animal production by 2050 will generate huge increases in livestock-related GHG emissions in the coming decades. Nitrous oxide emissions are projected to increase by up to 35-60% by 2030 due to increased manure production by animals and increases in use of nitrogen fertiliser;[10] at least half of nitrogen fertiliser use in industrial countries is for animal feedcrops. New industrial farms for pigs and poultry are predicted to raise global emissions of methane from pig slurry and nitrous oxide from poultry manure.[11]

 

19. Although the GHG intensity of livestock production varies as between the different species, all forms of livestock rearing produce more GHG emissions than the production of plant foods (provided the latter are produced locally and in season).[12]

 

Industrial farming's wasteful use of resources

 

20. Intensively produced meat is one of the most resource-inefficient methods of producing food for people.

 

Use of cereals and soya as feed

21. Around 40% of the world's cereal harvest is used as livestock feed[13] and over 90% of the world's soya crop is grown for animal feed. It is often argued that livestock produce protein, but in reality they waste protein. On average, to produce 1 kg of high quality animal protein, livestock are fed nearly 6 kg of plant protein.[14] According to the USDA, using typical intensive animal rearing methods, it takes up to 2.6 kg of feed to produce 1kg of chicken meat, 6.5 kg of feed to produce 1kg of pig meat and 7kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef.[15]

 

22. But in reality feed conversion from animals to meat is even more wasteful than this. The usual feed conversion calculations are either based on the weight of the live animal or on its carcass weight. Neither of these necessarily gives the true picture of the amount of feed necessary to produce 1 kg of edible meat (i.e. excluding parts of the animal that are normally not eaten, such as bone and hide). According to calculations from the University of Manitoba, if we consider the amount of feed required to produce 1 kg of genuinely edible product, the amount of feed required increases substantially. To produce 1kg of edible meat in the U.S. by industrial methods requires 20kg of feed for beef, 7.3kg of feed for pig meat and 4.5 kg of feed for chicken meat.[16]

 

23. The pressure on land to grow the feed crops needed for industrially farmed animals is set to intensify as a result of the growing world population and increasing demand for meat and dairy products in developing countries. In addition, rising temperatures caused by climate change could reduce crop yields.[17] Climate change is also likely to lead to a rise in sea level and a consequential loss of agricultural land.

 

Excessive use of water in meat and dairy production

24. The FAO points out that the world is moving towards increasing problems of freshwater shortage, with 64% of the population expected to live in water-stressed basins by 2025.[18]

 

25. Intensive livestock production places heavy demands on water resources. The production of feedcrops, mainly used for intensive animal production, takes 88% of all the water used for livestock.[19] According to the FAO "water use is strongly dominated by the more intensive livestock sector through the production of feedcrops".[20] A 2008 report from the International Water Management Institute states that "The production of meat from animals fed on irrigated crops has a direct impact on water resources, much more so than if the meat is derived from grazing animals and animals fed on residues".

 

26. The 'water footprints' of animal products are in general much higher than the 'water footprints' of vegetable products.[21] At a time when water for agriculture is at a premium and is expected to become scarcer, using water to expand intensive livestock production globally will be difficult to justify. Alternatively, the water may simply not be there to use.

 

Use of fossil fuels

27. The production of 1 kilocalorie (kcal)[22] of food energy obtained from intensively produced beef requires an input of 40 kcal of fossil fuel energy.[23] Similarly, it takes 14 kcal of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 kcal of food energy from intensively produced pig meat or liquid milk.[24] The production of plant-based food nearly always requires substantially less fossil fuel energy.[25]

 

Detrimental environmental impact

 

28. The FAO has stressed that "The livestock sector has such deep and wide ranging impacts that it should rank as one of the leading focuses for environmental policy".[26]

 

29. The fertilisers used to grow feed crops contain high levels of nitrogen as does the concentrate feed supplied to industrially produced livestock. Nitrogen is essential to plant and animal growth but excessive concentrations in ecosystems act as damaging pollutants. A large part of the nitrogen that is applied to crops or eaten by animals in feed is not absorbed. Pigs absorb only around 20% and poultry about 34% of the nitrogen in their feed[27]; the rest is excreted into their manure.

 

30. This non-absorbed nitrogen is washed into rivers and lakes and leaches from the soil into ground water, contaminating sources of drinking water and damaging aquatic and wetland ecosystems. The FAO states that the livestock sector is probably the largest source of water pollution. [28]

 

Healthy, nutritious diets

 

31. The 2008 Cabinet Office report Food Matters stresses that "some meat and dairy products can be high in fat, particularly saturated fat. High levels of saturated fat in the diet can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Some studies have also linked higher consumption of red and processed meat to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer."

 

32. The health benefits of reduced meat consumption are stressed in a recent report by the World Cancer Research Fund.[29] The report concludes that red or processed meats are convincing or probable causes of some cancers and that diets with high levels of animal fats often increase the risk of weight gain. It adds that most diets that are protective against cancer are mainly made up from foods of plant origin.

 

33. The Cabinet Office report concludes: "Evidence on health and the balance of environmental analysis suggests that a healthy, low-impact diet would contain less meat and fewer dairy products than we typically eat today".

 

34. Nutritional benefits would arise from a change from intensively produced chicken to birds reared free range. Research shows that intensively produced chickens contain more fat than protein whereas organic chickens have more protein than fat. Free range chickens are significantly less fatty than chickens reared indoors.[30]

 

Impact of intensive livestock production on animal and human disease

 

35. Intensive livestock production methods, where large numbers of animals are kept together in confined spaces, greatly increase the potential for infections to be spread between animals. Intensive farms provide pathogens with a large number of hosts in close proximity and conditions in which different strains of pathogen can co-infect one host and facilitate genetic mutation and recombination.[31]

 

36. A recent report by the FAO, Industrial Livestock Production and Global Health Risks, points out that industrial livestock production plays an important part in the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza and other diseases.[32] The US Council for Agriculture, Science and Technology has warned that a major consequence of modern industrial livestock production systems is that they potentially allow the rapid selection and amplification of pathogens.[33]

 

37. Intensively farmed animals are typically stressed - for example by overcrowding and lack of opportunity for natural behaviour - and therefore have weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to infections. Modern livestock intensively selected for high yield are more likely to suffer from ill-health than more robust traditional breeds.[34]

 

38. Antibiotics are used routinely in industrial farms to forestall the diseases that would otherwise be inevitable in the crowded conditions. Antibiotics are in effect being used as a substitute for good husbandry and hygiene. This irresponsible use of antibiotics in industrial farming has been a major factor leading to the emergence of bacteria that are resistant to some of the antibiotics used to treat serious human disease.[35]

 

Food for the future

 

39. It is clear that industrial livestock production is an inefficient way of feeding people. It uses excessive amounts of scarce natural resources of land, water and energy and is damaging to the environment. Attempting to feed the growing world population by increasing industrial livestock farming is not a realistic strategy as it will place the land, water and energy needed to support this approach under increasing pressure.

 

40. A much more judicious strategy, if we are to use these resources more sustainably, is to re-orient the world's animal production away from industrial farming and towards lower-input, more extensive systems. This needs to be accompanied by a reduction in meat and dairy consumption in developed countries; this will lessen the need to produce increasing amounts of meat and milk and also help to prevent a rise in the GHG emissions produced by the livestock sector.

 

41. In the interests of global equity, and in order not to disadvantage people in poorer countries who currently eat very little meat, we support a strategy of 'contraction and convergence'.8 A reduction of meat consumption in rich countries would allow poorer countries to increase their consumption according to their dietary needs. Wealthy countries such as those of the EU should aim for a well-managed and government-supported reduction in the production and consumption of animal proteins and animal fats. This would mean that fewer animals would be reared but in more extensive conditions, using slower growing and hardy animals that require lower inputs of concentrate feed and energy.

January 2009

 



[1] Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Animal Health and Welfare on a request from the Commission on

Animal health and welfare in fattening pigs in relation to housing and husbandry. The EFSA Journal (2007) 564, 1-14.

[2] Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Animal Health and Welfare on a request from the Commission on

Animal health and welfare in fattening pigs in relation to housing and husbandry. The EFSA Journal (2007) 564, 1-14.

[3] Steinfeld H et al., Livestock's Long Shadow: environmental issues and options. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Rome. 2006 http://www.virtualcentre.org/en/library/key_pub/longshad/A0701E00.htm

[4] WorldWatch Institute. State of the World 2004: The Consumer Society. http://www.worldwatch.org/node/1785

[5] FAO. Protecting Animal Genetic Diversity for Food and Agriculture. Time for Action. Animal genetic resources group, FAO, Rome. n.d.

http://dad.fao.org/cgi-bin/getblob.cgi?sid=230b173a68b7f2af6efeca2d4a86b12e,1

[6] As 2

[7] As 2

[8] Garnett T., 2008. Cooking up a storm: food, greenhouse gas emissions and our changing climate. Food Climate Research Network, Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey.

[9] EIPRO (2006). European Commission. Environmental impact of products (EIPRO). Analysis of the life cycle environmental impacts related to the final consumption of the EU-25. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ipp/pdf/eipro_report.pdf

[10] IPCC. Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change. IPCC 4th Assessment report, Working Group III. Chapter 8, Agriculture. Final Draft pre-copy edit version (for revision)

http://www.mnp.nl/ipcc/pages_media/FAR4docs/chapters/CH8_Agriculture.pdf

[11] United States Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA). Global Anthropogenic Greenhouse Gas Emissions: 1990 - 2020. EPA, 2006.

http://www.epa.gov/nonco2/econ-inv/international.html

[12] Williams AG, Audsley E and Sandars DL. Determining the environmental burdens and resource use in the production of agricultural and horticultural commodities. Main Report. Defra Research Project IS0205. Bedford:2006. Cranfield University and Defra. www.silsoe.cranfield.ac.uk and www.defra.gov.uk

[13] Lundqvist, J., C. de Fraiture and D. Molden. Saving Water: From Field to Fork - Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain. SIWI Policy Brief. SIWI, 2008 http://www.siwi.org/documents/Resources/Policy_Briefs/PB_From_Filed_to_Fork_2008.pdf

[14] Pimentel D et al. Reducing energy inputs in the US food system. Human Ecology 36:459-471. 2008. DOI 10.1007/s10745-008-9184-3

[15] Trostle R. Global agricultural supply and demand: factors contributing to the recent increase in food commodity prices. USDA ERS May/July 2008 http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/WRS0801/WRS0801.pdf

[16] Smil V. Feeding the world: a challenge for the twenty-first century. MIT Press, 2000.

[17] Warren R et al. Understanding the regional impacts of climate change. Paper prepared for the Stern Review. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. September 2006.

http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/publications/working_papers/twp90.pdf

[18] As 2

[19] As 2

[20] As 2

[21] Hoekstra A. Y. and Chapagain A. K. Water footprints of nations: Water use by people as a function of their consumption pattern. Water Resources Management 21:35-48. 2007. DOI 10.1007/s11269-006-9039-x

[22] One kilocalorie equals 1 000 calories

[23] Pimentel D et al. Reducing energy inputs in the US food system. Human Ecology 36:459-471. 2008. DOI 10.1007/s10745-008-9184-3

[24] As 22

[25] As 22

[26] As 2

[27] Van der Hoek K.W., 1998. Nitrogen efficiency in global animal production. Environmental pollution, 102:127-132.

[28] As 2

[29] Food, nutrition, physical activity and the prevention of cancer: a global perspective. World Cancer Research Fund. 2007.

[30] Wang YQ, Thomas B, Ghebremeskel K and Crawford MA (2004) Changes in Protein and Fat Balance of Some Primary Foods: Implications for Obesity, Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, London Metropolitan University. Presented at the 6th Congress of the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids, 27 June-1 July 2004, Brighton.

[31] Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. Putting meat on the table: industrial farm animal production in America. 2008.

http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/Industrial_Agriculture/PCIFAP_FINAL.pdf

[32] Otte, J., D. Roland-Holst, R. Pfeiffer Soares-Magalhaes, Rushton, J., Graham,J., and Silbergeld, E. 2007. Industrial Livestock Production and Global Health Risks. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Pro-Poor Livestock Policy Initiative Research Report.

[33]Council for Agriculture, Science and Technology. Global Risks of Infectious Animal Diseases. Issue Paper 28, February 2005; 15pp

[34] Rauw W M et al. Undesirable side effects of selection for high production efficiency in farm animals: a review. Livestock Production Science 56: 15- 33.1998.

[35] Shea K M. Antibiotic resistance: what is the impact of agricultural uses of antibiotics on children's health? Pediatrics 112(1):253-258. 2003