by Janice Cox
The many ways in which the development of industrial animal agriculture harms humans, animals and the environment in developing nations have been subjects of concern to far-sighted thinkers for more than a century.
The lineage of intellectual concern about such issues includes Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), E.F. Schumacher (1911-1977), Barbara Ward (1914-1981), Lester Brown (1934-), Frances Moore Lappe (1944-), and many others, but recognition of the relevant issues by international development agencies has a much shorter history, indeed practically none at all.
I became aware of the lack of attention to animal welfare in international development schemes relatively recently, in 1999-2000, when I worked with fellow researchers Sari Varpama and Wim de Kok of World Animal Net on a major project for Compassion in World Farming, supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The livestock revolution
Our work produced a set of research reports entitled The Livestock Revolution: Development or Destruction, which included in-depth analysis of the detrimental impacts of industrial livestock development in Brazil, Thailand, India, South Africa and China.
Many of the findings from this research were subsequently included in CIWF Trust’s 2002 report by Leah Garcés, entitled The Detrimental Impacts of Industrial Animal Agriculture: A case for humane and sustainable agriculture.
The detrimental impacts we identified––and witnessed––affected both animal and human health; the environment, biodiversity and natural resources; and food security, livelihoods and poverty alleviation.
Our work affected me personally, in a deep and abiding way. I had witnessed industrial animal farming in Central and Eastern Europe back in the 1990s, but researching factory farming full-time and repeatedly looking at factory farms in different countries took a toll.
“Pain in my heart”
I can still recall the heavy feeling in my stomach (and pain in my heart) as I looked into the eyes of sows in stalls, cows in cramped sheds or feedlots, and squalling chickens crammed in cages or carpeting the floors of broiler sheds.
To me, the cruelty and injustice of using sentient beings in such systems was self-evident.
Further, in a development context, where rural communities are struggling to survive, feed themselves, and find productive work, it simply does not make sense to introduce industrial systems which require high investment and material inputs. There is no magical trickle-down effect from economic growth, big business will not feed the poor, and small farmers cannot compete with well-heeled corporations that pay nothing for the external impacts of their operations.
I was further shocked and horrified to witness how such cruel systems could be promoted and supported by international development organizations from the global north, when they were already known to be unsustainable, and to have such detrimental impacts.
This feeling was reinforced during the following year, which I spent on related advocacy, including building relationships with major international development agencies. Most recognized the problems inherent in promoting factory farming, but the prevailing view among the decision-makers was that industrialization was an inevitable part of the development process, driven by consumer demand which would be met by business.
The most they felt inclined to do was to examine ways of lessening the impacts of industrialized animal husbandry. There was little change in the policy advice that development agencies gave to developing nations, while some representatives of European governments, and of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, attended livestock trade fairs in developing nations in order to help promote their own nations’ products.
Development theory has traditionally considered industrialization to be the most relevant indicator of national economic progress. An agrarian economy has been considered the hallmark of the first stage of development, while the degree of industrialization in any given nation has been taken as indicative of national economic strength.
Livestock’s Long Shadow
Fortunately, in recent years, there has been an increasing focus on the well-being of people and their environments, as well as an increased realization of the importance of small-scale farming to poverty alleviation, increasing employment and alleviating local food insecurity.
The 2006 United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization report Livestock’s Long Shadow offered a benchmark assessment of the many significant impacts of animal agriculture on the environment. It concluded that the livestock sector was one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems worldwide, with impact “so serious that it needs to be addressed with urgency,” requiring “decisive measures at the technical and political levels.”
But there has been little political will to address the problems identified by Livestock’s Long Shadow in an effective way. Talk is still at the level of “mitigating impacts,” instead of identifying and promoting useful systemic change.
Subsequent reports from various agencies have underscored the findings of Livestock’s Long Shadow, to little avail. For example, a 2013 report on Smallholders, Food Security, and the Environment, prepared for the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the United Nations Environment Programme under the guidance of senior management of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, concluded that “Growth in agricultural production to meet rising global needs using prevailing farming practices is unsustainable.”
A move away from the unsustainable, toward a more equitable, environmentally sustainable, resource-efficient, and kinder food future is urgently necessary.
In 1959 British authors William Russell and Rex Burch proposed that in science the “3R” concept should be “Refine, Reduce, Replace,” meaning that the numbers of animal experiments done should be drastically reduced, and that painful and invasive experiments should be refined to use fewer sentient animals and/or less painful methods, and ultimately replaced by non-animal methods. These principles have subsequently become internationally accepted not only in application to science, but also to many other aspects of animal welfare.
They are equally applicable to the use of animals for food.
Reduction of animal use might begin with addressing our current unconscionable volume of food waste. More than enough food is already produced to feed the anticipated world population in 2050 of 9.6 billion. The real challenge in feeding the world lies not so much in producing more, but in wasting less, and ensuring a more equitable distribution of food and agricultural resources.
This includes ensuring that more of the crops we grow end up in human stomachs, instead of being used to produce meat, dairy products and eggs, where only a fraction of the calories in feed given to livestock make their way into the animal products that we consume (with an average of 4 kcal of crop products being used to generate 1 kcal of animal products).
We need to influence consumption patterns. At the moment, people in developing countries typically view increased meat consumption as a hallmark of a developed lifestyle. They emulate the perceived opulence of citizens of the global north in their unhealthy and unsustainable eating patterns. Educational and marketing approaches are needed to address this – in both developed and developing countries.
Reduction could also be supported by taxing animal products enough to cover mitigating the environmental damage done by meat production. Meat prices set realistically high could positively influence healthier food choices.
Factory farming methods need to be refined, including phasing in bans on close confinement systems, promoting alternatives to industrial animal husbandry, and improving attention to animal health and welfare in all livestock and aquaculture systems.
Investment in the development of cultured meat and vegetarian meat replacement products is needed, along with increased promotion of existing vegetarian and vegan recipes and products.
A radical change in food and agricultural policies around the world must be implemented if we are not to have an acute food crisis. The impacts of climate change related events are likely to intensify in coming years, while rising temperatures are expected to reduce agricultural productivity in much of the developing world.
“Sustainability is not optional”
It is time to stop bandying around the term “sustainability” and instead work towards it, with a new focus and political will. Sustainability is not optional. We must introduce food consumption and production systems that deliver food security and good nutrition, while preserving the well‐being of future generations, and promoting a kinder life for the animals.
Within this context, I find it unconscionable that consideration of animal welfare and human/animal relationships are not yet routinely considered in development policy and international development work.
Time for meeting of minds
More than a decade ago, when I worked for Compassion in World Farming, the need to consider animal welfare in development was already being discussed by organizations including the World Bank and the British Department for International Development. Hilary Benn, the son of staunch animal defender Tony Benn, who sadly passed away in March 2014, was at the time the United Kingdom’s Secretary for International Development, and his department had already sponsored a scoping study on animal welfare and development. Hilary Benn himself had agreed to chair a proposed World Bank meeting on the subject. However, the meeting collapsed after a cabinet shuffle within the British government.
A decade later, the United Nations is poised to agree on a new development framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals that were established in 2000. Sustainable development is to be central to the new framework but the Sustainable Development Goals now on the table still do not explicitly include concern for animal welfare, and make just one mention of biodiversity.
Further, most international development organizations have made no attempt to include animal welfare within agendas. Worse, many have carried out programs affecting animals with little or no consideration of the impact on their welfare.
This has left animal welfare lagging behind other social issues, in part because “development” is mostly still assessed quantitatively, instead of qualitatively, measured through economic criteria such as Gross Domestic Product, instead of through an evaluation of overall wellbeing or quality of life.
In pursuit of quantitative development goals, some agencies still promote and encourage the introduction of intensive livestock and aquaculture systems in developing nations, despite these systems’ known detrimental impacts affecting animal and human health and welfare, the environment, resource use, and the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.
Some agencies continue to support and encourage consumptive use of wildlife, despite the impact this has on wildlife populations.
Many development agencies encourage building roads and infrastructure, and making changes in land use, with scant attention if any to the impact on animals and habitat.
Yet the World Organization for Animal Health has since 2001 produced some international animal welfare standards and regional strategies, which now need to be implemented in developing countries, as well as the rest of the world.
The International Coalition for Animal Welfare (ICFAW) has recently written to the OIE suggesting various ways in which animal welfare could be included in development, as well as suggesting an international meeting on Animal Welfare & Development.
Janice Cox, a co-founder and a director of World Animal Net, has held a variety of management and advocacy roles in the international animal welfare movement over the past 25 years. Working from South Africa, she has assisted the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)’s Southern African office with strategic planning for animal welfare. She was the recipient of the 2014 Humane Society International award for “extraordinary commitment and achievement for animal protection.”
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, reviewed by Merritt Clifton, https://www.animals24-7.org/2015/03/01/cowspiracy-the-sustainability-secret/;
“How factory farming, livestock disease, & vaccination evolved together,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-1ls;
Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geo-Politics of Food Scarcity, by Lester R. Brown, reviewed by Merritt Clifton, http://wp.me/p4pKmM-1lB;
Food Security & Farm Animal Welfare, by Sofia Parente [WSPA] and Heleen van de Weerd [CIWF], reviewed by Merritt Clifton, http://wp.me/p4pKmM-1ly;
Veg or Non-Veg: India at the Crossroads, reviewed by Merritt Clifton, http://wp.me/p4pKmM-1lL;
“Factory farming & food security in Brazil, China, & Ethiopia,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-1lG.