Few issues are more contentious these days than debates about the impact of so-called “factory farming.
Well, maybe “sequestration” raises a few more hackles at the moment, but certainly, the emerging criticism of animal agriculture as it’s practiced in the 21st century more and more tends to revolve around its environmental impact.
Central to the argument that activists roll out when they attempt to broad-brush the problems for which meat and poultry production is allegedly responsible is its eco-footprint. According to this argument, raising livestock, providing them feed, housing and ultimately transportation to a processing plant is a huge waste of energy, land, water and just about every other input that can be quantified.
The attack connects seamlessly with the notion of sustainability as it relates to food production, and alternative agriculture enjoys lots of traction simply by positioning themselves as “we’re not factory farming.”
Prof. Hongwei Xin, Iowa State University Director of the Egg Industry Center Enter Prof. Hongwei Xin, director of the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University. Among other projects, Xin has conducted a detailed comparison of the efficiency—and thus sustainability—of egg production today versus 50 years ago.
Think about that for a moment. Isn’t the basic message of most natural, organic “sustainable” food production alternatives based on an unspoken (and highly romanticized) version of farming way back when? Consumers are told unequivocally that going “back to Nature”—ie, back in time—is intrinsically more sustainable.
That’s why Prof. Xin’s research is so important, in that it provides strong support for the idea that modern production helps—not hurts—efforts to mitigate resource depletion, improve land-use efficiency and maintain the sustainability of food production overall, and animal agriculture specifically.
To explore the data that Prof. Xin has compiled, and to better understand the implications of his research, he spoke with Dan Murphy, Contributing Editor for Vance Online Networks (Drovers/CattleNetwork).
Q. First, professor, can you explain in more detail about the specific sources you relied upon in compiling comparative 1960 egg production figures? Do you feel those data were reliable?
Prof. Xin: That is a good question. When we researched [production] back in the 1950s and 1960s, there were quite a few books, studies in journals and various industry publications that we feel gave us an accurate idea of production levels back then.