Why is animal welfare of any importance?

The new ‘Ask Philip’ section of my blog is a place for you to ask any questions you like, on any farm animal related topic. I’ll do my best to answer them. Many people are worried about asking ‘basic’ questions. But often these are the very ones that are on many people’s minds. So, having a place where they can be aired and discussed, I hope, is valuable. I also encourage questions that do not have ‘obvious’ answers. I hope that the blog will help engage and promote a greater understanding of the issues.

I was recently asked the question “How would you explain to a starving family in Africa that animal welfare is of any importance?”.

This particular question made me think, as it shows how much more work still needs to be done if we’re to convince people that action needs to be taken. At Compassion, we campaign daily for improvements in the welfare of farm animals, to improve their lives and well-being. It sometimes comes as a bit of a shock, however, to think that people see this one aspect as our ‘only’ concern.

I appreciate that animal welfare doesn’t come as a priority to many when humans are also suffering; but the way we farm our animals, even in the UK and Europe affects people too.

The production of cheap meat in big ‘factory’ farms undermines the livelihood of smaller farmers looking for a decent price for their produce, but unable to compete with such large-scale organisations. On top of this, animals that aren’t allowed to graze naturally must be fed grain and soya which could otherwise be fed directly to humans. But worse than this, farm animals aren’t protein factories, they are protein factories in reverse. They waste potential food protein. To produce a kilogram of grain-fed meat on a factory farm takes an average of six kilograms of grain. That’s a lot of waste. Especially when we realise that a third or more of the world’s entire grain harvest is being used this way.

Not only this, but using basic foodstuffs – grain and soya – in such a wasteful way on such a huge scale, helps push up food prices worldwide. It does this by inflating the demand for these basic food commodities, meaning that poorer people are less able to buy simple things such as bread.

Factory farming is not only hungry for grain, it is also hungry for new land to expand upon; every year an area of land equivalent to half the United Kingdom is deforested to provide room for the expanding livestock industry and its need to grow grain for animal feed.

So, to answer the question directly: the methods used to farm animals are intrinsically linked to human well-being and the ability of humanity to feed itself. And this is a growing problem in the face of an expanding human population that will stretch our food system still further over the coming years. It’s vital that we find more sustainable methods of farming, because sustainability and global food security go hand in hand. Not to mention other environmental issues such as pollution; as too does the wasteful use of antibiotics to ward off the diseases encouraged by the cramped and unhygienic conditions of factory farms. It has been estimated that half the world’s antibiotics are now fed to farm animals, causing problems of antibiotic resistance.

Putting an end to factory farming is of vital importance for all of the above reasons and more. Through this blog and my daily work, I’ll be looking to help cast further light on these issues. Compassion in World Farming isn’t ‘just’ concerned with animal welfare – we’re also concerned with the welfare of people and the planet too. Ending factory farming will benefit us all.

By Philip Lymbery