Animal husbandry

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In order to meet increasing demand, factory farms are developping all over the world. The meat industry then becomes a major contributor to environmental degradation worldwide. In parallel, the conditions of animal treatment raise ethical issues.

Between 1990 and 2007, meat consumption in the world went from 143 million tons to 271 million tons. It therefore nearly doubled in 15 years (1). It could double again by 2050 (2) Consumption is particularly increasing in developing countries because their populations are rising and because their diet is evolving – populations that are sometimes undernourished or malnourished now have access to richer diets. Today, it can go up to about 30 kg of meat a year per inhabitant, compared to 80 kilos in industrialised countries. (3)

Environmental degradation

Animal husbandry requires large surfaces: it is the human activity which uses the most land. According to the FAO, pastures take up 26 per cent of the Earth’s land surface whilst fodder production requires about a third of arable land. (4) In arid areas, overgrazing particularly favours soil erosion.

Extensive animal husbandry is the main cause of deforestation in America. The FAO estimates that between 2005 and 2010 the forest surface will go down by 1.2 million hectares in Central America and by 18 million hectares in South America. By 2010, 62% and 69% of South American and Central American cultivated land respectively will be turned into pastures. (5)

Soya culture is the other main cause for deforestation in Latin America. Yet, it is mainly meant for export to feed the intensive Western animal husbandry.

The FAO also claims that animal husbandry is an important source of water pollution which releases animal waste, antibiotics and hormones into watercourses. Tanneries dump chemical products. The sector also generates two thirds of anthropogenic ammonia which contributes to acid rain. It is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. This is even more than the transport sector. (6)

The disappearance of small rural breeders

The animal husbandry sector feeds and provides a livelihood for a billion people in the world, particularly in arid areas where livestock often one of the few ways of making a living. For many others, it represents indispensable complementary earnings.

But with the development of intensive animal husbandry in Southern countries, meat production has moved from the countryside to urban and suburban areas. Today in the world, 80% of the increase in the animal husbandry sector is a consequence of industrial systems.

Pastoral farming is also disappearing despite the fact that it plays an important part in maintaining certain environmental balances. It structures landscapes, helps to clear the undergrowth from land and thus helps prevent fires. In the West, it benefits from green tourism (but not very much).

Intensive animal husbandry and animal suffering

Intensive animal husbandry creates animal suffering. They are piled in closed buildings, are sometimes mutilated and live in dreadful conditions. Piglets that are weaned too fast eat their congeners’ tails. To avoid this, it is cut off. Chickens that are bred for their meat are piled into overcrowded buildings. They never see daylight and they grow too fast. Their legs cause them suffering and they suffer cardiac arrests, to name but a few examples. (7)

Intensive animal husbandry and health risks

Large amounts of antibiotics and antimicrobials are mixed with the food of animals living in overcrowded buildings to cure them but also to prevent them from getting ill and to help them grow. This encourages the appearance of treatment-resistant microorganisms which can then spread to Man and pose a health threat. (8)

Threats to biodiversity

Intensive animal husbandry leads to the selection of certain animal races that are more productive than others. Thus, over the last 6 years, 62 races of livestock have disappeared: that is practically one a month. (9)

To supply the increasing demand of their populations for animal products, it is tempting for developing countries to copy developed countries by replacing their local races with more productive species thus threatening domestic race diversity in the world a little more.

Organic animal husbandry

If one takes into account the cost incurred by the fight against pollution and the illnesses developed by animals raised the industrial way then organic animal husbandry, which takes the animal’s well-being into account, is not necessarily more expensive than an industrial livestock farm. The animals are in better health; less money needs to be spent on medicines and there is a lower mortality rate.

The meat of animals raised in these conditions is said to taste better. In France, the ‘Agriculture Biologique’ (AB) (Organic farming) label gives consumers the guarantee that these animals were raised in decent conditions. (See Food sheet)

Animals not raised for food

The living conditions of animals not raised for food are not any better than those of animals raised for their meat. In France, for example, about 90% of fur comes from farms. The 40 mink farms produce about 500 000 hides each year. Minks and foxes are raised in small wire net cages whilst in the wild their territory spreads over several kilometres.

As a result of their suffering, the animals raised for their fur develop abnormal self-mutilating behaviour and aggressiveness towards their congeners and their offspring. In Holland, breeding foxes and chinchillas for their fur was banned following campaigns by animal defence groups. The same thing happened in Switzerland for minks. (10)

In China and Asia, animals are raised for Chinese medecine. Thus, thousands of Asian black bears raised in insalubrious farms are held in captivity for their bile to be extracted. A catheter is pushed into their gall bladders and these bears spend their lives suffering. (11) In December 2006, the European Parliament asked Pekin to ban this type of farming but China refused. (12)

Producing beef requires a large amount of resources. So, to produce a kilo of beef, one needs about seven kilos of cereal – only two kilos for chicken. And as between 1000 and 2000 litres of water are needed to produce a kilo of wheat, this means that more than 10 000 litres of water are needed for a kilo of beef.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, a kilo of beef from intensive animal husbandry is equal to about 30 kilos of CO2 ; almost 10 times less than for a kilo of poultry (the figures vary depending on the calculations). This is why Rajendra Pachauri, president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and recent Nobel prize winner has encouraged people to eat less meat and particularly, less beef.

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