Wales must face the ugly truth of factory farming and switch to regenerative methods
Anthony Field, Head of Compassion in World Farming UK
Recently, Aber in Wales lost its 53-year record for the hottest January temperature recorded in the UK to Kinlochewe in Scotland. However, I fear this record will fall again in the coming years due to the climate change. Last year was the hottest on record according to The Met Office.
We are also facing a wildlife crisis. Globally we have lost nearly 70% of our animal populations in the past 50 years. These crises have been recognised by the Senedd that declared a nature emergency in 2021 and a climate emergency in 2019.
What we choose to eat has huge implications on the environment and is a major driver for climate change. It can also be damaging to our health and can have horrific consequences for farmed animal welfare, especially those reared in factory farms.
In Wales, the River Wye has borne the brunt of pollution from chicken factory farms and their resulting muck being spread on fields and washed into the waterway. Having been devastated by intensive poultry production, the health rating of this once magnificent river ecosystem has now been downgraded by Natural England.
The ugly truth – factory farming
You won’t easily see factory farms and they are not often talked about. But they are there, spread across our countryside – sheds and buildings that confine around 85% of animals farmed in the UK each year.
These sentient creatures are unable to express natural behaviours due to overcrowded conditions and lack of enrichment. The way these animals are reared provides a perfect breeding ground for widespread illnesses and even pandemics to emerge – think bird and swine flu.
Feeling the pain, but we do it anyway
In the UK we have legally recognised farm animals as sentient – this means we know they can feel pain, joy, and suffering.
If you ever question whether farm animals have emotions, watch footage of dairy cows being released into fields, having spent the winter months in sheds.
Their joy and excitement is plain to see as they blissfully bound across their pastures. To me this makes it an issue we need to face as a society and government must take the lead.
Time for reform
Our food system is broken and needs major reform. The world’s current consumption of meat and dairy products is having a huge impact on human health and is destroying the planet.
It is also a major driver of climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming account for at least 16.5% of the global total caused by humans.
That’s more than direct emissions from the world’s planes, trains and cars. Yet, to date, livestock and diets have been climate change’s forgotten sector.
To meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, all sectors need to reduce their emissions – including food production.
Globally, one third of the world’s cereal crop goes to feed the 92 billion farm animals reared every year to produce meat, eggs and dairy products – the majority of them on factory farms.
With increasing strain on the world’s natural resources and millions of people unable to feed themselves it’s unsustainable and morally questionable to continue rearing so many farm animals in such intensive systems and feeding them crops which could be used for people.
A switch to regenerative farming
Across Wales, agriculture and changes in the way we manage our land for farming, as well as climate change, are the biggest causes of wildlife decline.
We’ve seen significant loss of plants, animals and fungi – and the UK is now one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth. According to the State of Nature report 2023, 16% of species in Great Britain are threatened with extinction.
It doesn’t have to be this way – we know the solution is switching to a regenerative farming system. This means using holistic farming methods that improve the land.
For example, moving towards mixed farming where you grow pasture for free-range cattle and sheep. This improves the organic matter in the soil and reduces need for chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
It’s also healthier for humans and encourages nature to be integrated into our farms. But for me best of all is it will give our farmed animals fulfilled, joyful lives where they can express their true behaviours.
Find out more about Compassion in World Farming here.
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