The divide between a utopian vision of food production and the realities of modern, large-scale agriculture grew ever wider this week as Worldwatch Institute released a report on global meat production and consumption. Offering little more than a rehash of unsubstantiated claims regarding livestock production, Worldwatch fails to add serious discussion to the debate about food production, and their actions don’t serve the world’s population that are poor and hungry.
“Much of the vigorous growth in meat production is due to the rise of industrial animal agriculture, factory farming,” said Worldwatch’s Danielle Nierenberg, senior researcher and director of Nourishing the Planet. “Factory farms pollute the environment through the heavy use of inputs such as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used for feed production.”
Worldwatch says meat production worldwide has tripled over the last four decades and increased 20 percent in just the last 10 years. Of course, Worldwatch sees that as a bad thing, not progress toward feeding hungry people.
“Livestock provide 40 percent of the value of the world’s agricultural output and support the livelihood and food security of nearly 1 billion people, according to the FAO (the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization),” says Tom Field, executive director of producer education for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
And Washington State University assistant professor of dairy science Judith Capper says we shouldn’t assume that greater livestock production also increases environmental impacts. “Global meat consumption has increased, yet improvements in efficiency in developed countries have led to a reduction in both resource use and waste output (including greenhouse gases) over the past century. It is a misnomer to assume that more extensive or historical systems have lower environmental impacts.”
Worldwatch’s report attacked modern food animal production in various ways. For instance, the report says, “Dirty, crowded conditions on factory farms can propagate sickness and disease among the animals, including swine influenza (H1N1), avian influenza (H5N1), foot-and-mouth disease, and mad-cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). These diseases not only translate into enormous economic losses each year----the United Kingdom alone spent 18 to 25 billion dollars in a three-year period to combat foot-and-mouth disease----but they also lead to human infections.”