“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” Frank Lloyd Wright
As a keen naturalist and birdwatcher, I spend a lot of my spare time exploring the British countryside, enjoying the abundance and variety that mother nature has to offer. I love to see each wildlife species carrying out its own important and unique role in our ecosystem — whether it’s bees and butterflies pollinating crops and wildflowers, farmland birds helping to disperse seeds, or badgers and foxes helping farmers by preying on rodents.
Yet, over the last few decades, many wildlife species have been quietly disappearing from our countryside and factory farming is a major driver of those wildlife declines. As agriculture has intensified, farmland birds that were once commonplace have reduced to an all-time low; bees have declined below what is needed for the proper pollination of crops, and farm animals have been moved off the land into ever bigger indoor systems.
The more industrialised agriculture has become, the more we have pushed nature to its very limits, with increased use of chemicals and the overuse of precious natural resources like water.
Biodiversity — or the variety of plant and animal species living in our environment — is the foundation of a healthy planet and a healthy population. Yet thousands of species continue to become extinct every year, and the intensification of agriculture is one of the main causes.
It’s a sobering fact, but in the last 50 years — since the widespread adoption of factory farming — the total number of wild mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians and birds worldwide has plummeted by 50 per cent.
Today, 22nd May, is International Biodiversity Day — an event dedicated to raising awareness and understanding of biodiversity loss. Around the world today, individuals, groups and organisations will be holding virtual events to shine a light on this important and urgent issue.
What many people don’t realise is the role that factory farming plays in biodiversity loss. All over the world, farm animals are being taken off the land where they graze naturally to be confined in indoor factory farms where their food has to be provided.
And it is the worldwide demand for soya and cereals, such as wheat and maize, to feed to factory farmed animals that is shaping landscapes around the globe. Take Argentina, where a staggering 65% of all farmland is now soya fields — much of it for export to Europe. Astonishingly, 200,000 acres of woodland are believed to be lost there every year to make way for more soya. And the European Commission admits that almost two-thirds of EU cereals are grown to feed farm animals. What madness!
It’s a similar issue with fish. Compassion’s recent major exposé of the Scottish salmon industry revealed suffering on an industry-wide scale, with parasite infestations and shocking mortality rates in farmed fish. Many of the chemicals released into the environment from these farms also threaten biodiversity. They are known to be toxic to fish, birds and mammals.
A report published in February 2021 by Chatham House, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Compassion in World Farming, showed that nature is under pressure like never before. Unless we act now, we will not only lose many of our most iconic wildlife species, like elephants and orangutans, but we will put the very future of our planet at risk.
Time is running out, the time for transformational change in our food system is now.
Which is why we need to seize the opportunity of this year’s UN Food Systems Summit to move towards a global agreement to end factory farming. To reset our food system. To regenerative, restorative farming, with nature, not against her. The Summit has been convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
The Summit is perfectly timed: it has never been more important for humanity, for animal welfare and for all life on Earth, to manage our food systems in a genuinely sustainable way.
Please join the debate and make sure your voice is heard by becoming a food systems hero, or take part in the public forums being organised or perhaps one of the global, national and independent dialogue events.
Let’s make everyday Biodiversity Day, and come together to make a simple pledge through our food choices; by choosing to eat more plants and less meat and dairy; making sure any animal products we do eat comes from non-factory farmed sources like pasture-fed, organic and free-range. In so doing, we can all make a genuine and significant difference that will help regenerate our planet’s vital and beautiful life-support system.