Industrialized animal agriculture is one of the biggest epidemics plaguing the planet. Not only is the broken system based on animal exploitation and cruelty, but giant livestock farms are a leading cause for mass deforestation, depletion of freshwater sources, the extinction of species, gross air and water pollution, and climate change. As our planet’s population continues to rise, expected to explode to a whopping 9.8 billion by 2050, there simply will not be enough space or resources to upkeep the current system ruled by industrialized animal agriculture. Despite this, research has shown a significant shift towards industrialized animal agriculture in the UK.
Last year, it was uncovered that 800 large-scale poultry and pig Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) were in the British countryside, with some having more than a million chickens or around 20,000 pigs. This came as a shock to many who envisioned British farms to be idyllic grassy pastures with happy, healthy animals. In response to this, UK’s environment secretary, Michael Gove, expressed he did not want industrialized animal agriculture to continue to spread in the UK. Gove said in a parliamentary statement, “I do not want to see, and we will not have, U.S.-style farming in this country.”
However, as recent research and drone footage has shown, giant feedlots continue to grow in the UK, with larger operations holding up to 6,000 cows each and keeping them confined, away from any sort of grassy pasture, for about a quarter of their lives before being slaughtered.
Chris Mallon, director of the National Beef Association (NBA), said this shift towards large-scale meat production is to match consumer demand. He stated to The Guardian, “What we’re talking about here is commercial production, for feeding people. It’s not niche market. A lot of this will be on supermarket shelves – that’s where it’s coming into its own. In the catering side as well, they’ll be doing it.”
Mallon added, “One of the things we’ve seen over the years is supermarket domination of the beef trade. What they want is specification, size of cuts, size to fit certain packaging, size of roasts – this has all become incredibly important … The difference is we’re getting some larger units now and that will be because of economies of scale … if you can give the people you’re supplying a constant supply of cattle that are in the right specification, that makes you more valuable. And that’s one of the reasons we’ve seen a move towards it.”
The inefficient system is riddled with irony and contradiction. Suppliers say they are producing more beef to feed more people, but the plants fed to cows on feedlots (typically grain) could be fed directly to the millions of people who are starving in the world. Rather than meet the growing population’s demand by creating more beef via the traditional route, UK suppliers would be wise to take a note from meat giants Tyson and Cargill and begin to focus on the production of lab-cultured meat and plant-based meat alternatives. With an increasing number of consumers saying they would prefer slaughter-free, animal-free meat, a move away from typical meat production will surely be met with approval by consumers, and it will also have a significant impact on animal welfare and the environment.
To learn more about how your food choices affect the health of the entire world, check out the Eat for the Planet book!
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