Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by Compassion in World Farming


Compassion in World Farming welcomes this inquiry by the Environmental Audit Committee. We believe that, given the global and inter-connected nature of agriculture, policy actions by the UK need to be considered in the global context. This also provides an opportunity for the UK government to take a lead in calling for concerted global action on agricultural and dietary change.

The industrial model of animal agriculture is presenting serious conundrums which need to be urgently addressed. Clearly, the world’s agriculture is not meeting the world’s needs. The scale of industrial animal production and consumption is taking a heavy toll on the climate and the wider environment, as well as on biodiversity, animal welfare, scarce global resources of water and grains, and on food security and human health.

Compassion in World Farming believes that one of the quickest and easiest solutions for these conundrums is a reduction in meat and dairy production and consumption by high-consuming populations.

But powerful commercial interests make it difficult for policy makers to endorse this logical solution, However, a number of authorities in a range of countries are endorsing it with schemes such as meat-free days or advice to cut down, including advice from the UK’s Department of Health to reduce red meat consumption.

Compassion believes that the urgency of taking action outweighs this challenge. As stated in our response to the investigation by the UK Committee on Climate Change on ‘Land Use Change and GHG implications of Consumption Change’, we would be happy to support any government policy to reduce consumption of animal products, providing of course that such policies posed no threat to the health or welfare of farm animals and hopefully could provide real benefits in these areas.

Question 1. How can the environmental and climate change impacts of the food we choose to eat best be reduced?   What are the land-use trade-offs that affect food production and supply and how should these be managed?

1. Regarding climate change and the environment, current knowledge tells us that livestock production is responsible for nearly a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions (Steinfeld et al, 2006).

2. Industrial animal farming’s wider e nvironmental and water ‘footprint’ is unsustainable. The industrial model is highly demanding in its use of land, energy and water, largely due to the need to intensively produce crops to feed the animals.

3. Around 40% of the world’s cereal harvest - 70% in most rich countries - is used as livestock feed. (Lundqvist, 2008). Over 90% of soya beans and 60% of maize (corn) and barley are grown for animal feed (Steinfeld et al, 2006).

4. 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 (Smil, 2000). (These figures appear higher than the usual feed conversion calculations quoted, because the latter tend to include parts of the animal that are normally not eaten, such as bone and hide).

5. Proposed technical fixes to reduce GHG emissions from farm animals are not the whole answer. The well-publicised emissions of methane from ruminants are one of the first apparent targets for reduction. If cattle are given grain rather than grass, they emit less methane. However, a diet high in concentrates can also mean an increase in laminitis, leading to painful lameness. High-yielding dairy cows are already prone to lameness because of selective breeding for high milk yield. Therefore changes to animals’ diets or their genome could well have adverse welfare and health implications. This also applies to proposals to keep them permanently indoors in order to scrub their methane emissions. Such proposals or practices are unacceptable on animal health and welfare grounds.

6. Regarding land-use change, according to The Ecologist; "vast plantations of soy, principally grown for use in intensively-farmed animal feed, are responsible for a catalogue of social and ecological problems, including the forced eviction of rural communities, landlessness, poverty, excessive use of pesticides, deforestation and rising food insecurity" (The Ecologist, 20 09 ). One should add to this the devastating effects on wildlife.

7 . The use of land for farming clearly needs to respect the environment and biodiversity. Agro-ecology, including woodland can yield multiple benefits. Importantly it would provide a suitable outdoor ranging environment for livestock, and could be combined with growing fruit and nut trees, the products of which would support positive dietary change. Well-managed permanent pasture can act as a valuable carbon sink and research continues into its full potential.

8. The new APPG on Agro-ecology is a good forum for raising awareness and MPs should be encouraged to attend .

9. Compassion believes that the greatest advances in delivering sustainable food can be made through a reduction in farm animal production and consumption. Research undertaken by researchers at The Institute of Social Ecology in Austria, and at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact in Germany, found that it would be possible to feed the world in 2050 without using intensive animal or crop production and without further deforestation or much expansion of agricultural land. However, options for providing sufficient fuel and food are greatly increased if developed countries adopt diets lower in animal products. The research report "Eating the Planet: Feeding and fuelling the world sustainably, fairly and humanely" was commissioned by Compassion and Friends of the Earth (Compassion in World Farming and Friends of the Earth UK, 2009).

10. Debate about sustainable agriculture must include at its centre consideration of farm animal welfare.

Farm animals are sentient beings who have the capacity for suffering and for well-being. European Union Member States are obliged by law to pay full regard to "full regard to the welfare requirements of animals" (Lisbon Treaty, 2008).

11. For animal agriculture to be sustainable, it must also be sustainable for the animals themselves.

12. In the drive for cheap animal protein, animals have been subjected to selective breeding for high yield of meat, milk and eggs. But the unintended consequence of such breeding is widespread animal suffering. Pressure from the biotechnology industry for animal cloning and genetic engineering now threatens to exacerbate that suffering. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that "the health and welfare of a significant proportion of clones… have been found to be adversely affected, often severely and with a fatal outcome" (EFSA 2009). We urge Defra to re-consider its refusal to oppose cloning.

13. Billions of animals have to endure the barren confinement of the factory farming system, in which they have little or no opportunity to carry out important natural behaviours. In the case of sow stalls or the narrow veal crate, they cannot even turn around. (Both of these systems are illegal in the UK).

14. The profoundly unnatural environment of the factory farm gives rise to harmful animal behaviours. Painful mutilations to try and prevent these are routinely carried out without analgesia or pain relief. Procedures include tail-docking of young piglets (routinely carried out across the EU, despite the fact that routine tail docking is illegal) and beak-trimming of laying hens.

15. Measures such as better-quality feed for under-nourished animals in developing countries, would increase their productivity and reduce emissions in ruminants (very fibrous plants, such as those on which ruminants in developing countries may have to subsist, may result in higher methane emissions). But the use of very high-yielding, non-indigenous breeds should be avoided.

16. Positive solutions to our environmental problems are available but require joined-up thinking between national and intergovernmental organisations, and a change in incentives for commercial interests. A useful model to follow may be ‘contraction and convergence’ as proposed by public health experts (McMichael et al, 2007), where "those on western diets cut back their consumption of meat and dairy, whilst allowing people in the poor developing areas … to increase their consumption, with both converging at a level which is sustainable for human health and the planet’s resources and the environment." (D’Silva, 2008).

Question 2. How can the Government help to deliver healthy food sustainably, whilst also delivering affordable food for all?
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Question 3. How can consumers best be helped to make more sustainable choices about food?  


17. Jonathon Porritt, renowned environmental expert, suggests that government set up a ‘90g Advisory Council’ to identify how we can reduce individual meat consumption from 300g to 90g per day. He suggests governments move to set ‘personal meat quotas’ (PMQs), along the lines of personal carbon quotas. Although he acknowledges the reaction such a suggestion may provoke, if the need for it is backed by robust science, then that provides a good defence. PMQs would also be equitable and reduce quotas down to 90g (total of red and white meat) over a ten-year period, allowing plenty of time for people to adapt (Porritt, 2010).

18. Solutions may include "public health awareness programmes, government sponsorship of healthy food programmes and selective taxes on unhealthy foods" (D’Silva, 2011).

19. There is an urgent need for Government policy to promote a balanced, mainly plant-based diet, as recommended by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF/AICR, 2007). Information such as that provided by the Department of Health in its article ‘Red meat and bowel cancer risk’ (Department of Health, u.d) is a good start.

20. However, we suggest additional information could usefully be added regarding the fat content of industrially-produced chicken meat. The ‘Portion sizes and cutting down’ section suggests replacement of red meat with chicken in some instances, but does not specify the type of chicken. There is evidence that free range chickens are significantly less fatty than chickens reared indoors:

· An intensively reared chicken today contains proportionally 2.7 times as much fat as in 1970 (8.6g per 100g in 1970 compared with 22.8g today) (Wang et al, 2004).

· Today’s intensively reared chicken contains around 30% less protein than in 1970 (24.3g per 100g in 1970 compared with 16.5g today).

· Intensively reared chicken now contains nearly 40% more fat than protein. In contrast, organic chickens contain more protein than fat and have 25% less fat than intensively reared chickens (17.1g per 100g for organic compared with 22.8g for intensive).

· Free range and organic systems also have a far higher welfare potential than ‘standard’ indoor rearing.

21. Additionally, "milk and meat from grass-fed animals has higher levels of benefical conjugated linoleic acid and of many other antioxidants and micronutrients" (Young, 2010).

22. The relatively low price of animal products from industrial farming conceals the real costs of production. At the policy level for helping consumers make more sustainable choices, governments should end subsidies for intensive agriculture and instead promote low-impact farming. The CAP should be reformed to properly incentivise practice which is good for the environment and animals.

23. Perhaps governments should turn the tables and lobby food businesses to urgently bring in sustainable practices. To quote Jonathon Porritt again: "Alternatives to meat could be marketed much more aggressively, and there’s considerable scope for further innovation here. For an industry that brings out more than 19,000 new products every year, the opportunities for a whole new family of ‘I can’t believe it’s not meat!’ products must be enormous!" (Porritt, 2010).


24. Regarding the sustainability of the global food supply, much of the land, energy and water used for growing feed for factory-farmed animals could be more efficiently used to grow food that is directly consumed by people. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted in 2001 that "A shift from meat towards plant production for human food purposes, where feasible, could increase energy efficiency and decrease GHG emissions" (IPCC, 2001).

25. Reqarding equity of the global food supply, Tara Garnett notes that "distribution and access are socio-economic, not just biological, challenges" (Garnett, 2010).

26. Regarding sustainability for farm animals: due to selective breeding for high yield, Defra-commissioned research found that over 25% of ‘standard’ commercial broiler chickens suffer from painful lameness (Knowles et al, 2008). The UK alone produces over 800 million broiler chickens a year. Research has shown that, given the choice, lame broiler chickens choose a feed which contains painkiller, indicating that they are aware of their pain (Danbury et al, 2000). Selective breeding has caused such ill-health in fast-growing strains that the chicks would struggle to survive to puberty without severe feed restriction, which in turn, causes distressing hunger for the breeding birds.

27. High-yielding Holstein-type cows now usually have to be culled at around 5 years of age due to lameness, mastitis or infertility related to their high productivity. Indeed, selective breeding for milk production has so skewed their metabolism that high yielding cows are "milked beyond endurance" (Compassion, 2009). EFSA say that: "Cows are in negative energy balance during early lactation, when functional body tissues may be metabolised to excess, causing poor welfare. This risk is particularly severe in high-producing genetic strains."


28. Male calves of high-yielding dairy cows are not considered economically viable to raise for beef, and may be shot at birth or exported to be raised in systems inferior to those in the UK. It may be helpful to connect the footprint of dairy farming with that of the beef industry. This may provide incentives for breeding ‘dual purpose’ animals. The males are considered suitable for beef and females can join the milking herd, but have lower milk productivity, which is better for their health, and so they are more robust than high yielding Holstein-type cows.

29. Intensively farmed animals are typically stressed – for example by overcrowding and lack of opportunity for natural behaviour - and therefore 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 (Rauw et al, 1998). Antimicrobials are widely used in industrial farms, and the inappropriate use of these invaluable medicines to prop up this unsustainable system is now believed to have played a major role in the growing global problem of antimicrobial resistance.

30. To help raise consumer awareness, Compassion believes that there needs to be clear labelling to show method of production – factory farmed, free range, or organic – following the model of egg labelling in the EU, where eggs are labelled by method of production.

31. In a number of countries, national governments or health agencies or cities have felt able to take action regarding reduced meat consumption. In 2009, the Belgian city of Ghent declared that it would be promoting meat-free days every Thursday, under the banner ‘Donderdag: Veggie Dag’ to combat obesity, global warming and animal cruelty. The Swedish National Food Administration (NFA) and the country's Environmental Protection Agency have also set out draft guidelines asking people to reduce their carbon footprint by eating less meat (NFA 2009). Also in 2009, it was reported that Germany’s federal environment agency called for meat reduction (Guardian, 2009). The Chief Executive of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), Marion Guillou, has said: "We need to ensure food availability of 3,000 kilocalories a day per person, of which only 500 kilocalories is from animal products" (Nature, 2010). Last year, the city of Cape Town announced its support for a meat-free day per week (City of Cape Town, 2010).

32. Public health expert Professor Tony McMichael advises: "Promoting actions at personal, city-wide or national levels can help to promote awareness of the issue at global level – and, eventually, effective response to it at that level" (McMichael, 2010).

Question 4. Which aspects of the food production and supply chain are presenting the biggest problems for the sustainability of the food industry?  


31. As outlined in our response to question 1, industrial animal farming has a huge environmental footprint.

32. R egarding the sustainability of the global food supply, industrial animal farming is highly polluting and intensively produced meat is one of the most resource-inefficient methods of producing food for people (paras 1 – 7 and 24). Selective breeding for high yield and factory farming are unsustainable for farm animals (paras 10-14 and 26-29).

33. Globally, one billion people suffer from hunger or malnutrition. 35% of the deaths of children and 11% of the world’s burden of disease are caused by under-nutrition (Nature, 2008). But around a further billion people are overweight or obese. In the UK alone, obesity has a financial cost to the health service of £4.2 billion (Department of Health, u.d) and an unquantified cost in human welfare. High levels of saturated fat in the diet can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Because of links between red meat and bowel cancer, people are advised to limit their intake to 90g per day. Other experts advise an upper limit of meat consumption in total per day of 90g, of which no more than 50g should be red meat (McMichael, 2010). Because of links with some types of cancer, the World Cancer Research Fund advises people to avoid processed meat (WCRF/AICR, 2007).

Question 5. How might the changing powers of local authorities and the localism agenda hinder, or be used to encourage, more sustainable production and supply of food?  


Question 6. How could Government procurement practices be improved to promote better practice across the food sector?  


34. The ‘Good Food for our Money’ campaign run by Sustain, argues that "both EU law and UK government policy strongly support sustainable food procurement [including good animal welfare] in the public sector." They have a useful factsheet with backing evidence at

35. All government and other statutory bodies’ procurement should reduce the amount of animal products in catering, and only source those products from animals kept in high-welfare systems. For example, government canteens could have a meat free day or two per week and the NHS could reduce animal products in its catering.

36. The background inputs to local food also need to be considered when we are wishing to reduce our food footprint. If one considers all the impacts of industrial animal farming on animals, people and the planet, and the inputs (grain and soya for feed and the water needed to grow these), as outlined in our submission above, Compassion would argue that a ‘local’ factory farm would be a complete contradiction in terms.

37. Good animal welfare is consistent with the other core objectives of food policy. Moving from intensive to more humane extensive forms of animal husbandry would help us to improve animal welfare, with healthier animals having reduced vulnerability to disease; it would procure more nutritious meat in the case of chicken; it would help achieve reduced environmental pollution and a less wasteful use of resources of land, water and energy.

38. A reduction in meat and dairy consumption would allow more extensive rearing with its associated welfare benefits and would facilitate a reduction in certain diet-related diseases and a fall in the greenhouse gas emissions generated by food production.

R eferences  


City of Cape Town (30.7.2010) ‘City launches meat-free day’.

Compassion in World Farming (2009) ‘EU: Cows are milked beyond endurance’. Response to EFSA scientific reports on the welfare of dairy cows.

Compassion in World Farming and Friends of the Earth (2009) Eating the Planet: Feeding and fuelling the world sustainably, fairly and humanely.

Danbury T C et al. 2000. Self selection of the analgesic drug carprofen by lame broiler chickens. Veterinary Record 146: 307-311

Department of Health (undated) ‘Obesity’.

D’Silva J (2008) Sustainable Agricultur e

D’Silva J (2011) ‘Policies for sustainable agricultural production and consumption’ in Behnassi M, Draggan S and Yaya S (Eds) Global Food Insecurity: Rethinking agricultural and rural development paradigm and policy, Springer.

EFSA (2010) Update on the state of play of cloning. EFSA Journal 8(9) :1784

Garnett T (2010). ‘Livestock and climate change’, in D’Silva J and Webster J (Eds) The Meat Crisis: Developing more sustainable production and consumption, Earthscan, ch. 3

Guardian (23.1.09) Schnitzel off the menu as Germans are told to cut down on eating meat.

IPCC (2001) Climate Change 2001: Mitigation of climate change. Technical summary. A report of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Section 3.3.4.

Knowles T G et al (2008) Leg Disorders in Broiler Chickens: Prevalence, Risk Factors and Prevention. PLoS ONE 3(2): e1545. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001545

Lisbon Treaty: ‘Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union’. Official Journal of the European Union C 115, 09.05.2008.

Lundqvist J, de Fraiture C and Molden D (2008). Saving Water: From Field to Fork – Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain. SIWI Policy Brief, SIWI

McMichael A J et al (2007) Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. Lancet 370: 1253-1263

McMichael A J and Ainslie J (2010) ‘Environmentally sustainable and equitable meat consumption in a climate change world’, in D’Silva J and Webster J (Eds) The Meat Crisis: Developing more sustainable production and consumption, Earthscan, ch. 11

Nature (2008) Feasting and fasting. Nature 454:1

Nature (2010) What it will take to feed the world. Nature 464, 969

NFA (2009) ‘Livsmedelsverkets miljösmarta matval’ (‘Eco-smart food choices’). National Food Administration, Sweden

Porritt J (2010) ‘Confronting Policy Dilemmas’, in D’Silva J and Webster J (Eds) The Meat Crisis: Developing more sustainable production and consumption, Earthscan, ch. 17

Rauw W M et al (1998) Undesirable side effects of selection for high production efficiency in farm animals: a review. Livestock Production Science 56: 15- 33

Smil V (2000) Feeding the world: a challenge for the twenty-first century. MIT Press

Steinfeld. H. et al (2006). Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental issues and options. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome.

Sustain (2009) European food law is on our side! How the EU Public Procurement Directive supports sustainable food in the public sector . Factsheet.

The Ecologist (13.10.09) Killing fields: the true cost of Europe's cheap meat.

Young R (2010). ‘Does organic farming offer a soultion ?’ In D’Silva J and Webster J (Eds) The Meat Crisis: Developing more sustainable production and consumption, Earthscan, ch.5

WCRF/AICR (2007) ‘Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective’, World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research, Washington, DC.

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

4 April 2011