Category: Factory Farming


The nature of evolution is speciation — to produce diversity of life, even in the harshest and most challenging conditions. Indeed, after the five previous major extinctions events on earth, nature responded not only by restabilizing ecological dynamics, but by proliferating even more life and enhancing biodiversity such as happened during the Cambrian Explosion.

The diversity of life involves not only the proliferation of plant and animal species, but also of unique human cultures and languages. At all levels, we are currently losing the rich diversity of biological, cultural, and linguistic forms; in a profound sense, we can no longer speak of “evolution” but rather must understand that planet earth is undergoing a profound devolutionary process in the sense that diversity of all kinds is rapidly receding not advancing.

Thus, in the midst of the sixth extinction crisis in the history of this planet that is currently underway, we are also witness to the precipitous loss of cultural and linguistic diversity as well, as we leave the prior Holocene epoch and enter the new Anthropocene era. This new and emergent geological epoch is  defined by the dominant role played by humans, not the natural world, in altering the planet, and clearly not in desirable ways. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the combined forces of the modernization, the Industrial Revolution, fossil-fuel addiction, a grow-or-die metastasizing system of global capitalism, the spread of agribusiness and rising world meat consumption, human overpopulation, mass culture, rampant consumerism, and other forces have brought about habitat loss, rainforest destruction, desertification, climate change, and species extinction.

In fact since the emergence of agricultural society 10-15,000 years ago, the now dominant mode of production began a war of extermination against hunting and gathering tribes that preserved traditional nomadic and non-hierarchical life ways, as opposed to the growth-oriented, hierarchical farming societies based on domesticating nature and animals, obsessive concerns with control, expansion, war, and conquest.

The war still being waged against indigenous peoples, first nations, and other non-modern/non-Western cultures certainly fully advanced with colonialism five centuries ago, but ultimately is a continuation of the exterminism agricultural society launched against all peoples who did not conform to the pathological imperatives of “civilization” and “progress.”

While from the standpoint of the earth and nonhuman animal species, the ideal would be for Homo rapiens as a whole to die off as rapidly as possible. But the alternative to what most humans find repugnant and nauseating, for those who believe we still have a right to inhabit this planet even if we prove we do not have the ability to harmonize our societies with animal communities and the natural world as a whole, is to do everything possible to resist global capitalism and its war against tribal and indigenous peoples everywhere.

For not only is it vital that indigenous peoples and ancient lifeways be preserved in their own right against the genocidal onslaught of global capitalism, and that we have more diverse languages, cultures, and lifeways than market societies and forces of cultural homogenization will tolerate. It is also crucial, if we want to preserve what biodiversity is left, that we protect and preserve premodern and non-traditional peoples.

One obvious reason — although this has often been overstated in romanticized ways — is that they retain a more reverential ethic toward the earth, they have a far deeper connectedness to life and land, they value tradition over novelty and create far more sustainable cultures, and that they are far more capable of caring for the earth and animals that predatory and rapacious capitalist societies.

Despite the fact that indigenous peoples (such as the Clovis Indians who first inhabited North America) have often throughout history overshot ecological limits and driven animals into extinction, they nonetheless are clearly more suited “custodians” of the earth than the IMF, World Bank, WTO, ExxonMobil, Shell, Monsanto, Cargill, Maxxam, Du Pont, Japanese whalers, NGOs, ignorant narcissistic Western consumers, and so on. 

As the essay below makes clear, the areas now highest in biodiversity are the same areas inhabited by indigeous peoples (and this is partly so because plant and animal species are struggling to adjust to escape the ravages of climate change). Thus, the key to preserving what biodiversity remains amidst the rapidly unfolding sixth extinction crisis in the history of the planet is to preserve the remaining cultural and linguistic diversity — to support, help defend, and sustain the indigenous peoples inhabiting the areas with the most dense and diverse plant and animal species.

Thus, here we see yet another vivid example of the politics of total liberation, and how the multiple struggles to save humans, animals, and nature from the devastating effects of the capitalist-dominated Anthropocene era are ultimately one struggle ad must be formulated in theory and practice accordingly.

So there are two main options to save biodiversity: either through the collapse of “civilization” and the extinction of the human species, or through advancing the only politics suitable for the twenty-first century and era of global social and ecological crisis — a politics of total liberation that preserves biodiversity by preserving cultural and linguistic diversity. And this, unavoidably, demands a total war against global capitalism and the sundry institutions and forces of destruction bound up with advanced market societies and this nihilistic world system.

*********************************************

By  NEWS JUNKIE POST, Oct 11, 2012

An unprecedented study of global biological and cultural diversity paints a dire picture of the state of our species.

Like the amphibians that climb to ever tinier areas at higher altitudes to avoid being extinguished by global warming, most of the world’s species currently huddle in a tiny fraction of the Earth’s surface, and most human cultural diversity — as measured by the number of languages — occupies essentially the same tiny fraction of the planet.

We are dying.

A scientist would never say it quite this way. Instead, he would tell you that the world’s animal and plant species are disappearing 1,000 times faster than ever in recorded history. He might add that some areas of the world have lost 60% of their languages since the mid-1970’s, and 90% of the world’s languages are expected to vanish by the year 2099.

In Haitian Creole, we would yell “Amwe!” (Help!), and this would be right and proper.

As ever, the best scientific studies merely quantify what everybody has known all along. Life, in general, has suffered horribly from the runaway spread of European values and the notions of progress that began with the Industrial Revolution. A sharp bit of mathematics finally brings forth the maps that expose the poverty of the world’s major carbon emitters and the little wealth that remains in those parts of the world where the indigenous are making their final stand.

High-biodiversity wilderness areas

There currently exist very few places on Earth that could be considered intact. The researchers found only five such areas, which are numbered 36-40 on the biodiversity map and colored in shades of green.

These are, by number: 36: Amazonia; 37: Congo Forests; 38: Miombo-Mopane Woodlands and Savannas; 39: New Guinea; 40: North American Deserts.

Together these intact spots amounted to only about six percent of the terrestrial surface but were home to 17 percent of vascular plants and eight percent of vertebrates that could not be found anywhere else. The same areas were the refuge for 1,622 of the world’s 6,900 languages, with little New Guinea topping the chart at 976 tongues.

The only glimmer of hope from the study was the discovery that, contrary to what conservationists might presume, a place does not have to be untouched by humans to serve as a refuge for the world’s plants and animals. Instead, habitats must be handled in the right way, and more than anything, they must be protected from the kinds of blows dealt by industrialization.

Biodiversity hotspots

The researchers additionally identified 35 “biodiversity hotspots” (numbered 1-35 and colored in shades of yellow to red on the biodiversity map), defined as places with a high density of endemic species despite having lost over 70% of natural habitat.

These were, by number: 1: Atlantic Forest; 2: California Floristic Province; 3: Cape Floristic Region; 4: Caribbean Islands; 5: Caucasus; 6: Cerrado; 7: Chilean Winter Rainfall-Valdivian Forests; 8: Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa; 9: East Melanesian Islands; 10: Eastern Afromontane; 11: Forests of East Australia; 12: Guinean Forests of West Africa; 13: Himalaya; 14: Horn of Africa; 15: Indo-Burma; 16: Irano-Anatolian; 17: Japan; 18: Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands; 19: Madrean Pine-Oak Woodlands; 20: Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany; 21: Mediterranean Basin; 22: Mesoamerica; 23: Mountains of Central Asia; 24: Mountains of Southwest China; 25: New Caledonia; 26: New Zealand; 27: Philippines; 28: Polynesia-Micronesia; 29: Southwest Australia; 30: Succulent Karoo; 31: Sundaland; 32: Tropical Andes; 33: Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena; 34: Wallacea; 35: Western Ghats and Sri Lanka.

The biodiversity hotspots amounted only to about two percent of the Earth’s surface, but they were home to a whopping 50% of plant species and 43% of vertebrates that could be found nowhere else. Again, there was a stunning correlation of biodiversity with culture, with the hotspots being home to 3,202 of the world’s languages.

Biodiversity is being lost, but what’s far worse is that the ability to express this loss is vanishing. For example, 1,553 of the languages in hotspots were spoken by only 10,000 or fewer people, and 544 were spoken by fewer than 1,000 people. Ironically, the American researchers who did this study are now regarded as experts on biodiversity, although the only real experts on how to maintain biodiversity in places occupied by humans are the world’s indigenous.

The logical conclusion to take from this study is that modern science, with all its sophisticated technology, is completely trumped by the thousands of years of experimentation by the world’s indigenous, although their findings have been transmitted by oral tradition and other simple means. To be fair, it isn’t so much the fault of modern science as the fault of the industrialized world, which worships power, greed, and the absurdity of exponential growth.

One cannot disdain all other living beings, grind mountains to extract minerals, build roads without a thought for habitat fragmentation, design gardens to please only human aesthetics, or harvest monocultures that serve solely human needs, and expect one’s world to continue for long. There is room for humans at Earth’s banquet, but only those who have lived in place long enough to have learned the contours of their terrain, the language of their plant and animal neighbors and, more than anything, the needs of non humans.

When a shaman leaves a lock of his hair where he has uprooted a medicinal cactus, it is not a bit of imbecility, but a humble acknowledgement that, for each living thing taken, one must give a bit of oneself, however small. For centuries humans have spilled their most beloved animals’ blood to the earth to acknowledge the cyclical aspects of life in preparation for battle and celebration of life’s milestones. These are not concepts that a pharmaceutical corporation could ever understand.

As for every other scientific report, this one concludes that yet more study will be needed, but what is needed, and urgently so, is more humility, because as the world’s indigenous cultures go, so does all humanity.

Quammen’s article below provides a powerful and relevant example of the continued biological fallout of the revolutionary shift to agricultural society ten thousand years ago, and the decision to “domesticate” animal species to exploit for human purposes. Since that decisive historical watershed, human “evolution” in fact has been a long co-evolution with other animals. Animals shape our lives and history as we shape theirs. But as the victims of human domination, they have borne a tragic toll and catastrophic cost due to the implacably violent nature and hyper-alienated mindset of Homo rapiens. Yet in the vast web of ecology and the infinite dialectic of action-reaction, the debt of destruction is soon to be paid in even more astronomical terms. For all our scientific, technological, and cultural brilliance, humans have yet to learn that they can never overshoot their ecological boundaries, disrupt and destroy animal communities, or relentlessly assault the earth without catastrophic consequences. Here is just one such known example of biological “karma,” vividly demonstrating that hubristic humans have “mastered” nothing on this planet and that violating the laws of ecology carries the most severe penalties.

************************************************************

David Quammen, Yale Environment 360, October 4, 2012,

The Next Pandemic: Why It Will Come from Wildlife

Experts believe the next deadly human pandemic will almost certainly be a virus that spills over from wildlife to humans. The reasons why have a lot to do with the frenetic pace with which we are destroying wild places and disrupting ecosystems.

Emerging diseases are in the news again. Scary viruses are making themselves noticed and felt. There’s been a lot of that during the past several months — West Nile fever kills 17 people in the Dallas area, three tourists succumb to hantavirus after visiting Yosemite National Park, an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo claims 33 lives. A separate Ebola outbreak, across the border in Uganda, registers a death toll of 17. A peculiar new coronavirus, related to SARS, proves fatal for a Saudi man and puts a Qatari into critical condition, while disease scientists all over the world wonder: Is this one — or is that one — going to turn into the Next Big One?

By the Next Big One, I mean a murderous pandemic that sweeps around the planet, killing millions of people, as the so-called “Spanish” influenza did in 1918-19, as AIDS has been doing in slower motion, and as SARS might have done in 2003 if it hadn’t been stopped by fast science, rigorous measures of public health, and luck. Experts I’ve interviewed over the past six years generally agree that such a Next Big One is not only possible but probable. They agree that it will almost certainly be a zoonotic disease — one that emerges from wildlife — and that the causal agent will most likely be a virus. They agree that sheer human abundance, density, and interconnectedness make us highly vulnerable. Our population now stands above seven billion, after all, a vast multitude of potential victims, many of us living at close quarters in big cities, traveling quickly and often from place to place, sharing infections with one another; and there are dangerous new viruses lately emerging against which we haven’t been immunized. Another major pandemic seems as logically inevitable as the prospect that a very dry, very thick forest will eventually burn.

That raises serious issues in the realm of health policy, preparedness, and medical response. It also suggests a few urgent questions on the scientific side — we might even say, the conservation side — of the discussion. Those questions, in simplest form, are: Where? How? and Why? Addressing them is crucial to understanding the dynamics of emerging diseases, and understanding is crucial to preparedness and response.

First question: From where will the Next Big One emerge? Answer, as I’ve noted: Most likely from wildlife. It will be a zoonosis — an animal infection that spills over into humans.

Everything comes from somewhere. New human diseases don’t arrive from Mars. Notwithstanding the vivid anxieties of The Andromeda Strain (1969) and other such fictions, lethal microbes don’t arrive on contaminated satellites returning from deep space. (Or anyway, knock wood, they haven’t so far.) They emerge from nonhuman animals, earthly ones, and spill over into human populations, catching hold, replicating, sometimes adapting and prospering, then passing onward from human to human.

According to one study, 58 percent of all pathogen species infecting humans are zoonotic. Another study found that 72 percent of all recently emerged zoonotic pathogens have come from wildlife. That list includes According to one study, 72 percent of all recently emerged zoonotic pathogens have come from wildlife. everything from Ebola and Marburg and the HIVs and the influenzas to West Nile virus, monkeypox, and the SARS bug.

In Malaysia, a virus called Nipah spilled over from fruit bats in 1998. Its route into humans was indirect but efficient: The bats fed in fruit trees overshadowing factory-scale pigsties; the bat droppings carried virus, which infected many pigs; the virus replicated abundantly in the pigs, and from them infected piggery workers and employees at abattoirs. That outbreak killed 109 people and ended with the culling of 1.1 million pigs.

Second question: How do such pathogens get into humans? The particulars are various but the general answer is: contact. Contact equals opportunity, and the successful pathogens are those that seize opportunities to proliferate and to spread, not just from one host to another but from one kind of host to another.

Wild aquatic birds defecate in a village duck pond, passing a new strain of influenza to domestic ducks; the ducks pass it to a Chinese boy charged with their care, after which the boy passes it to his brother and sister. A man in Cameroon butchers a chimpanzee and, elbow deep in its blood, acquires a simian virus that becomes HIV-1. A miner in Uganda enters a shaft filled with bats carrying Marburg virus and, somehow, by ingesting or breathing bat wastes, gets infected. Contact between people and wildlife, sometime direct, sometimes with livestock as intermediaries, presents opportunities for their infections to become ours.

Third question: Why do such spillovers seem to be happening now more than ever? There’s been a steady drumbeat of new zoonotic viruses We are interacting with wild animals and disrupting the ecosystems they inhabit to an unprecedented degree. emerging into the human population within recent decades: Machupo (1961), Marburg (1967), Lassa (1969), Ebola (1976), HIV-1 (inferred in 1981, first isolated in 1983), HIV-2 (1986), Sin Nombre (the first-recognized American hantavirus, 1993), Hendra (1994), the strain of influenza called “avian flu” (1997), Nipah (1998), West Nile (1999), SARS (2003), and others. These are not independent events. They are parts of a pattern. They reflect things that we’re doing, not just things that are happening to us.

What we’re doing is interacting with wild animals and disrupting the ecosystems that they inhabit — all to an unprecedented degree. Of course, humans have always killed wildlife and disrupted ecosystems, clearing and fragmenting forests, converting habitat into cropland and settlement, adding livestock to the landscape, driving native species toward extinction, introducing exotics. But now that there are seven billion of us on the planet, with greater tools, greater hungers, greater mobility, we’re pressing into the wild places like never before, and one of the things that we’re finding there is… new infections. And once we’ve acquired a new infection, the chance of spreading it globally is also greater than ever.

We cut our way through the Congo. We cut our way through the Amazon. We cut our way through Borneo and Madagascar and northeastern Australia. We shake the trees, figuratively and literally, and things fall out. We kill and butcher and eat many of the wild animals found there. We settle in those places, creating villages, work camps, towns, extractive Evolution seizes opportunity, explores possibilities, and helps convert spillovers to pandemics. industries, new cities. We bring in our domesticated animals, replacing the wild herbivores with livestock. We multiply our livestock as we’ve multiplied ourselves, operating huge factory-scale operations such as the piggeries in Malaysia, into which Nipah virus fell from the bats feeding in fruit trees planted nearby, after the bats’ native forest habitats had been destroyed. We export and import livestock across great distances and at high speeds. We export and import other live animals, especially primates, for medical research. We export and import animal skins, exotic pets, contraband bushmeat, and plants, some of which carry secret microbial passengers.

We travel, moving between cities and continents even more quickly than our transported livestock. We eat in restaurants where the cook may have butchered a porcupine before working on our scallops. We visit monkey temples in Asia, live markets in India, picturesque villages in South America, dusty archeological sites in New Mexico, dairy towns in the Netherlands, bat caves in East Africa, racetracks in Australia — breathing the air, feeding the animals, touching things, shaking hands with the friendly locals — and then we jump on our planes and fly home. We get bit by mosquitoes and ticks. We alter the global climate with our carbon emissions, which may in turn alter the latitudinal ranges within which those mosquitoes and ticks live. We provide an irresistible opportunity for enterprising microbes by the ubiquity and abundance of our human bodies.

For decades, deadly outbreaks of cholera were attributed to the spread of disease through poor sanitation. But recent research demonstrates how closely cholera is tied to environmental and hydrological factors and to weather patterns — all of which may lead to more frequent cholera outbreaks as the world warms.

Everything I’ve just mentioned is encompassed within this rubric: the ecology and evolutionary biology of zoonotic diseases. Ecological circumstance provides opportunity for spillover. Evolution seizes opportunity, explores possibilities, and helps convert spillovers to pandemics. But the majesty of the sheer biological phenomena involved is no consolation for the human miseries, the deaths, and the current level of risk.

There are things that can be done — research, vigilance, anticipation, fast and effective response — to stave off or at least mitigate the Next Big One. My point here is different. My point is about human ecology, not human medicine. It behooves us to remember that we too are animals, interconnected with the rest of earthly biota by shared diseases, among other ways. We should recall that salubriuous biblical warning from the Book of Proverbs: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” The planet is our home, but not ours only, and we’d be wise to tread a little more lightly within this wonderful, germy world.

Italian Facebook Steve Best Rome Lecture Tour Event Page

Per Animalia Veritas Steve Best Event Page

“Interview with Steve Best,” Asinus Novus

“Steve Best in Italy: From Philosophy to Action,” by the blog (and more), Asinus Novus. The writers provided a nice summary of my talks and main ideas.

A Key Meeting,” Arielvegangfashinblogspot.com; a refreshingly intelligent, fair, and incisive essay on my work, thank you Ariel.

“Now Enough,” Barbara Balsalmo

 

***************************************************************************

I wish to thank everyone in Italy for inviting me to speak again this year, and for being such gracious hosts, fantastic activists. and amazing people. There are dozens, perhaps over a hundred of people who made this tour possible and joyful. I cannot possibly name them all. I do however, wish to offer a very special thank you to:

Kostia Troinia and Barbara Balsamo for inviting me and being the principal organizers of my talks in Rome. You are the best!

Marcos Aragao for your excellent photos.

VeggieChannel.com for your tremendous effort in interviewing me, taping my lectures in Turin, Rome, and Latina, and for having the courage to post my talks on your channel.

The kind women at Asinus Novus for showing enough interest in my work to summarize my talks and interview me; it was a pleasure, thank you.

Per Animalia Veritas; thank you for your activism, support, and bold defense of militant direct action!

The ReWild Cruelty Free Club; you guys rock and make the best vegan food!

Paolo Trono and his club, Vegan Città di Latina (a former abattoir transformed into a space for music, lectures, and culture!) in which I gave my final speech in the Rome area before moving north to Brescia; thank you for your kindness, the great audience, and the great free food and beer!

Piercarlo Paderno for inviting and hosting me in Brescia. You are a great new friend and did amazing work to help liberate the Greenhill dogs.

The Occupy Greenhill movement (see here and here) for their bold act of liberation that will go down in history as one of the most important actions of this century. In their post-Greenhill reorganization, the group is now called Animal Amnesty, and will keep opening chained fences and locked doors!

A long analysis, but well worth the read. Williams makes the connections between the ongoing, mutually reinforcing crises in the social and natural worlds, as brought about by capitalism, class society, corporate globalization, and animal agriculture — by which of course I mean the industrialized, profit-driven, chemicalized system designed principally to produce feed (for animals) not food (for humans), and which unconscionably treats animals as flesh/dairy/egg machines and spares them no discomfort in the use of intensive confinement and violent murder. This piece demonstrates how market anarchy leads to social struggle and chaos, how the impersonal profit imperative results in mass suffering and death, and how veganism and animal liberation are central to any sane, humane, and ecologically sustainable future — a future I personally have an increasingly difficult time imagining systemic change is possible, given the indifference of social movements to veganism and animal liberation and the insular, marginalized, elitist, single-issue, consumerist, and corporatized and/or paralyzed state of vegan and animal advocacy “movements” worldwide. The combination of increasingly aggressive corporate plunder policies, the growing crisis of climate change, and the inability of various social movements to grasp the big picture and unite to overturn corporate hegemony, global agribusiness, and slaughtering hundreds of billions of land and sea animals to feed seven billion people (often barely for two billion of these) portends utter disaster for humanity, animals, biodiversity, and an inhabitable planet.

************************************************

Chris Williams, Counterpunch, August 3-5, 2012

More than 50% of counties in the United States are now officially designated “disaster” zones.  The reason given in 90% of cases is due to the continent-wide drought that has been devastating crop production.  48% of the US corn crop is rated as “poor to very poor”, along with 37% of soy; 73% of cattle acreage is suffering drought, along with 66% of land given to the production of hay.

The ramifications of the drought go far beyond what happens to food prices in the United States.  With the US producing half of all world corn exports, as corn and soy crops wilt from the heat, without coordinated governmental action we can expect a replay of the disastrous rise in food prices of 2008, which caused desperate, hungry people to riot in 28 countries.  In that instance, food was available, but hundreds of millions of people couldn’t afford to buy it.  Should food prices increase to anywhere near the levels of four years ago, it will be a catastrophe for the two billion people who are forced to scrape by on less than $2/day.

The poor in developing countries spend 80% of their income on food, much of it directly as grain, rather than as manufactured products like bread or cereal, and so any increase in the price of basic necessities immediately puts them in dire food distress.  In the US, prices for a loaf of bread or a corn muffin are unlikely to see major increases because, in a nod to capitalist priorities, the cost of those products is largely determined by packaging, advertizing, transportation and storage costs – and ultimately the labor that is embodied in those activities, not the cost of growing the corn or other natural base material.

However, because about one third of corn in the US goes to feed animals, the US dept. of agriculture predicts that the price of animal products such as beef, dairy products, chicken, eggs and turkey will increase by 4.5% or more, depending on just how bad the harvest turns out to be.  There will be a similar impact on vegetable oil due to the dire predictions on soy production, though these effects will likely not be felt until early 2013.  The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) publishes its monthly Food Price Index figures on August 9th.  Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the FAO commented, “It will be up…How much up is anyone’s guess”, ominously, he adds; “It would really surprise me if we didn’t see a significant increase.” Continue reading

Still another report for the “Vegan Victory!” cult to bury in their pathetic denialist hole …. The rationalizations given below for the global “need” to shift toward industrialized, intensive confinement, factory farm, agribusiness models, however, are transparently ludicrous, and clearly driven by the profit and efficiency imperatives, while animals are regarded as insentient objects or machines, and skyrocketing demands for flesh consumption continue to drive production of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) to meet rising demands.

****************************

The Guardian, June 5, 2012

Some of the 1,200 sows and 400 piglets at a farm in Suffolk. The NFU wants farms that hold many more animals than this.

The president of the National Farmers Union believes the UK needs more and bigger “super farms” to keep food prices from rising too high and to maintain high animal welfare standards.

Peter Kendall gave his views as figures reportedly showed that the lack of farmland in Britain was now as acute as the shortfall in China.

Proposals for the first livestock farms that would breed thousands of animals have been dubbed mega farms by critics who claim they will create mass herds in sterile conditions where injuries will go unnoticed, disease will spread quickly and the environment will struggle to cope with the slurry and pollution.

But, as planning experts continue to consider at least two planning applications for large-scale pig and dairy farms, Kendall said that more super farms would be created and the government should make adjustments to allow some farms to keep several thousand animals and be part of a trial aimed at helping Britain feed its population as food demand rises around the world.

The problem thought to be facing Britain is highlighted by figures from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board showing that, though Britain has about 5% of China’s 1.3 billion population, it has less than 3% of its land area.

An independent report by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (Post) found that much larger farms than those in Britain could be “both good and bad” for animal welfare and the environment, arguing that they could “potentially” improve conditions for animals and the protection of the environment.

“The challenge of feeding everybody with the constraints of climate change and weather shocks is so great we’ll need a complete rethink,” said Kendall.

Although livestock farms in the UK have been consolidating for many years, Post’s report, entitled Livestock Super Farms, found that typically the units held 100 to 150 head of cattle or pigs.

Even the biggest UK farms are dwarfed by the mega farms of other countries. In the US, farms with 10,000 pigs are not uncommon and Saudi Arabia has a super dairy with a herd of 37,000.

In Britain last year, there was a move to house 8,000 dairy cows at Nocton, Lincolnshire. This application from Nocton Dairies was withdrawn because of official concerns about water pollution and the animal welfare protest that took place at Westminster in 2010.

Two more scaled-up proposals are being considered. These are a farm for 2,500 sows and their piglets at Foston, Derbyshire, and another for 1,000 cows in Powys, Wales.

Last year, too, a government report on the future of food and farming stated that “the global food supply must be increased through sustainable intensification” to cope with population increase, climate change and other factors. Ministers are now waiting to hear from a working group on the subject.

Post records large farms in the UK, but perhaps because they have grown piecemeal, or been split between various land holdings, they have not attracted any high-profile attention from animal rights and environment campaigners.

Concerns about large-scale animal farming fall into four categories: of animal welfare; of super units destroying small farms and rural communities; of farms straining soil and water resources and requiring mass transport of chemicals, generating more greenhouse gas pollution; and of such units being unsightly and emitting foul smells.

Kendall said the UK was about 62% self-sufficient in the food it could produce overall and 40% self-sufficient with regard to pork – so there was “plenty of scope” for big producers while still leaving room for smaller ones.

At the heart of Kendall’s defence of super farms is his belief that bigger farms are more profitable (or less loss-making) so can afford better equipment, more space and experts able “to protect the environment and animals”.

He highlighted the Foston application, from Midland Pig Producers, which proposed building an abattoir near the farm so the pigs would not have to travel far to slaughter.

The plan was also to fit equipment to trap ammonia and other gasses to protect local residents and to generate “renewable” electricity and heat. The applicants had promised to achieve the RSPCA’s Freedom Food accreditation for animal welfare.

Kendall argued that farmers running large units would generally be able to afford to employ veterinarians and other experts such as nutritionists, and to attract other operations to local areas, such as ethanol plants generating high-quality protein waste that could be used as feed.

“I want to make sure we’re not importing food that’s produced to lower welfare standards and therefore driving our farmers out.”

He envisaged more farms on the scale of Foston or the Powys proposal. Much bigger operations, similar to the withdrawn Nocton scheme, could be tried out, he said, though he did not think that would become the norm, principally because it was hard to find locations far enough away from population centres.

“This is about a few experimental versions, so we can see whether it lowers greenhouse gas emissions, see whether it’s welfare friendly, see what the impacts are on the environment.”

Compassion in World Farming (CWF) said it was deeply uncomfortable about mega farms, particularly since they usually relied on animals being kept indoors.

Joyce D’Silva, CWF’s director of public affairs, said there was “good scientific evidence” showing it was better for farm animals to go outside, and that it was harder for workers to pick out lame or ill animals kept in the thousands.

“We see each animal as an individual sentient being,” D’Silva said. “The market would put animals in thousands: it’s hard to treat them as individuals.”

Farming in numbers

110: average dairy herd in the UK

8,000: cows in original application for Nocton super dairy

37,000: size of herd at a mega dairy farm in Saudi Arabia

148: average number of sows on a UK pig farm

2,500: pigs that would be housed in new farm at Foston

10,000: pigs at a US mega farm

Britain urged to ape countries such as the US and Saudi Arabia and build farms housing tens of thousands of cows or pigs.

***************

Also see:

Mega-dairy factory farms are economically unsustainable

%d bloggers like this: