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Can Animal Farming Ever Be Sustainable?

Words by Emma Hawkes. Emma is a Postgraduate student studying International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law. She loves travelling and learning more about climate change. You can find her on Instagram @emmahawkesx.

Animal farming and agriculture is the intensive breeding, raising and slaughter of certain animals for human consumption. Animals like chickens, cattle, pigs and sheep are bred purely to be slaughtered for food. Other animals can also be farmed in the same way for luxury items such as fur and leather. Factory farming is a financially desirable option as it can produce a huge supply of products and can also drive down production costs; this means that animal products are becoming cheaper because supplies can be produced quickly and easily. Whilst this seems great for a business and for human satisfaction, intensive animal farming has huge negative effects on the animals, the environment and human health.

Social media in recent years has become a trigger for change in the intensive farming industry. More people are becoming aware of the consequences of such practices and are choosing to take action against this; for example, a poll conducted in the UK showed that the number of vegans is set to double to 2.2 million people by the end of 2020 with a rise of 62% in the last 12 months. The global meat-alternative market is also set to reach $5.2 billion by 2020 which highlights how meat and other animal products are becoming less desirable. As people begin to take action against factory farming, the industry will be put under pressure to become more sustainable and kinder to animals.

How is animal farming bad for the planet?

Many studies have shown that animal factory farming is contributing to the acceleration in climate change. Farming on this scale unfortunately requires a lot of land and this land needed will be cleared to make way for factory farms. This means that all-natural biodiversity including plants and animals are extremely affected.

Infact, so much land is used for factory farms that it is responsible for 75% of the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. Rearing livestock and eating meat makes up a huge percentage of overall greenhouse gas emissions - currently 14.5%. If land continues to be used in this way, native animals to these kinds of rainforests, including primates and mammals, will also die out because their homes and food sources are being taken away.

The farmland is also used to produce soy, corn, grains, and legumes to feed livestock rather than the general population. These all require a lot of water and land to grow. The deforestation to clear the land on this scale can cause, a number of problems, including soil erosion, soil infertility, flooding, and negative repercussions for indigenous populations.

To try to slow down and reverse the acceleration of climate change, factory farms should work to become more sustainable and there are several ways they can do this.

How can factory farming become more sustainable?

A sustainable food system is described as one that does not require the use of chemicals, energy or water; highlights the importance of local production; minimises input and uses onsite resources more effectively and realises the importance of biodiversity.

For something to be considered sustainable, the following points must be integrated into farming practices: the needs of people, profit and the needs of the planet and environment. There are actually many ways farming can become more sustainable, find out more about them below!

1. Ditch the production of animal products altogether

It may seem obvious, but moving from producing animal products to making dairy and meat-alternative products could make a much better use of the animal farming land. One Swedish farmer has made the gradual move from farming organic animal products to producing oat milk. This particular farmer began selling off the oats grown on his farm for human consumption as opposed to feeding it to the livestock, through the brand Oatly. Doing this will have a huge impact on food availability and combats unnecessary land and water use

2. Permaculture

This is a type of farming that allows humans to live in harmony with nature and develops human settlements using things already found in the environment. The principle behind this method is to “work smarter, not harder” in a bid to reduce or banish waste and have good working systems in place. These designs will aim to mimic how ecosystems function in the natural world. Some examples include fruit and nut trees, herb spirals, growing grain without tillage and building swales to hold in water in high parts of the landscape.

3. Biodynamic Farming

This type of farming is based on the philosophy of ‘anthroposophy’ where the farm is considered as one living organism where species are able to live among one another and support each other’s health. Animals will be raised in a way that soil fertility can be replenished and encourage plant growth. Composting is one example of along with applying animal manure, cover cropping or rotating complementary crops. These practices can quite easily be introduced in farms that grow a variety of produce, gardens and vineyards.

4. Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture is being encouraged more and more areas continue to develop into large towns and cities. Developing food sources more locally means that less CO2 emissions will be emitted from transporting produce from farms to supermarkets and then to people’s homes. Many cities have already introduced urban agriculture into everyday living by having backyard farms/gardens, community gardens, growing crops in urban greenhouses and growing food inside urban farm towers.

5. Raising Animals Naturally

This means that animals will be raised in their natural or preferred environment rather than being kept in claustrophobic and stressful factory settings - a world so far away from what they are born to live. It has been argued that animals can have better social interactions and are given the freedom to express natural behaviours such as rolling in mud.

Raising animals in this way strengthens the relationship between grazing livestock and the land. Vital nutrients will be returned to the soil and natural nutrient systems are fulfilled. This type of farming also means that animal welfare is considered a priority and species are not forced to endure stressful and unethical environments. Happier and healthier animals ultimately increase the quality of the products we get including meat, eggs and dairy.

What has been made clear in the last few years is that the planet needs us to change our ways in order to combat climate change. Sustainable farming is just one way that we can help to do this. However, there are also so many things that we can do on an individual level such as adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle; walking more or taking public transport; shopping locally and reducing our use of single-use plastics. All of these little changes can help to create a much kinder future for our planet, which is what The Climate App is all about!


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