HUMANITY, HABITATS AND HOPE
On Endangered Species Day (15th May), I reflect on the role of one of the major drivers of wildlife declines worldwide: factory farming.
This year, Endangered Species Day occurs during the most extraordinary of times, as the world battles an invisible enemy, Covid-19, which is ruining lives and livelihoods across the board.
Consensus sees it as a pandemic that emerged from bats via pangolins in the most unnatural of man-made conditions in the wet markets of China.
However, the next pandemic, like that of Swine Flu in 2009, could well emerge from that global breeding ground of disease called factory farming. For too long we have treated animals with little compassion and respect. Confined them in cages, bent their will, and in many instances broken their spirit.
The abject cruelty to animals confined on factory farms is matched only by the destruction of wildlands and the wild creatures that live in them.
This truism was brought home to me during a visit to Brazil, where I saw for myself the true cost of cheap meat on some of the most precious parts of the natural world left on the planet.
I witnessed the devastating consequences of habitat loss first-hand on Brazil’s most iconic of big cats: the jaguar. Home to half of the world’s remaining jaguar population of 15,000, Brazil holds the fate of this beautiful big cat in the palm of its hand.
When people think of habitat loss through deforestation they tend to associate it with logging to make way for housing and crops for human consumption.
Combine harvesters crop soybeans in Campo Novo do Parecis -a former rainforest in Mato Grosso Brazil | Credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba
In fact, a real major driver is the farming of soya and corn on a huge industrial scale, much of it destined for factory farmed animals around the world. Vast areas of the rainforest and savannah are turned over to these industries and Brazil is now second only to the USA in soya production and is the world’s leader in soya exports.
The beautiful and graceful jaguars, once worshipped by the ancient Maya and other civilisations, are now considered vermin by farmers, who resent the loss of the occasional animal being reared for beef. As their habitats are destroyed, jaguars are being driven out and when they venture onto open land, they are often shot on sight.
Yet, it’s not soya per se that’s the problem, but the way it’s produced and what it’s used for. If those crops were produced without pesticides, without monocultures, with mixed rotational farming, on existing farmland rather than deforestation, then things would be better. If the land was producing food directly for people, it would be better still. Soya is a wonder-crop, a complete source of protein for humans, yet, the vast majority of soya goes for animal feed, 35 million tonnes of it a year to Europe, largely to feed factory farmed animals.
How many people imagine, when they eat factory-farmed meat, that their bargain-basement chicken nuggets and pork chops reach their plates via the felling of rainforest trees and the loss of iconic species?
How many people know that in the last 50 years, since the widespread adoption of factory farming, the total number of wild mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish worldwide has more than halved?
It’s a tragic situation, and a sad and sobering thought.
But it’s not too late.
Let’s come together and take a stand for animals, both farmed and wild; for our planet, and for the future of our families. As Covid-19 has so cogently demonstrated, the health of animals and people are so closely intertwined. Only by protecting animals and the environment can we properly protect people. And that means ending factory farming.
Compassion in World Farming is calling on the world’s most influential organisations, including The World Bank, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, to replace factory farming with a food system that respects animals, nurtures our planet, and reduces the risk of pandemics.
Please, use this link to sign our petition and join the call for a future without factory farming (www.ciwf.org.uk/pandemic).