Compassion in World Farming


June 2000



All over the world today, right now, millions of farm animals are enduring lives of misery, pain and deprivation. The science of genetics has given these animals bodies that are mutant reflections of their wild ancestors. Modern broiler chickens now grow so quickly – getting to 2 kg. slaughter weight in just 6 weeks – that their legs become unable to support their huge, fast-growing bodies. Right now, millions of these super-fast growing chickens are painfully staggering across their crowded sheds to find food and water. Right now, millions of dairy cows are in agony, due either to mastitis – udder infection – or lameness, both of which have been worsened by the breeding and use of cows which yield more milk, but at the expense of good health and longevity.

Not only has science produced animals with unsustainable, fast-growing, high-yielding bodies, but it has taught us how to rear them in systems of massive and unnatural overcrowding. How? You could not keep 60,000 chickens in one shed without a vast array of vaccines and antibiotics, kindly provided at a price by the agri-pharmaceutical companies. Moreover, feed scientists have taught us how to turn nature’s herbivores – cattle and sheep – into carnivores. We may not now be allowed to feed actual meat back to these animals, because of BSE, but we can and do feed them blood.

When factory farming got underway 50-60 years ago, there was a genuine belief that this was the way forward, that meat was essential to good health and that factory farming was the best way to put meat and eggs on everyone’s plate.

Sadly, the impact of selective breeding and confined or overcrowded rearing systems on the animals themselves was ignored.

I’d like here just to pause and pay tribute to Ruth Harrison, a WSPA Director, as it was Ruth’s book Animal Machines, published in 1964, which for the first time revealed the appalling scale of suffering on the factory farm. We are all indebted to her. Since then, slowly at first, but very rapidly in the last decade, we have been hugely successful, first in the UK, and now in the European Union as a whole, in getting some of the cruellest factory farming systems banned.

In 1984, the founder of Compassion in World Farming, Peter Roberts, took a veal farm to court. On this farm in Sussex, the calves were unable to turn round throughout their lives, as they were chained by the neck in narrow veal crates and fed a liquid-only diet to keep their flesh pale. Although unsuccessful in the courts, this case gained enormous publicity and was the climax of a huge campaign to get veal crates banned. Just a year after the case, the UK government announced it would ban the veal crate system – which has been illegal in the UK

since 1990. Just 6 years later, after a huge pan-European campaign, the Agriculture Ministers of the European Union voted to phase out the veal crate throughout the EU and the system will become illegal in 2006.

Further amazing victories have been won. Only last year the keeping of breeding pigs in narrow stalls or tether chains throughout their 16-week pregnancies was banned in the UK. We are now working hard to achieve a similar ban throughout the EU.

Last summer, after a huge European campaign, the EU voted to phase out barren battery cages, the cages in which billions of hens live most of their lives, standing on a sloping wire mesh floor, unable to perform nearly all their natural behaviours, unable to perch, fly, scratch at the ground or nest comfortably and quietly to lay their eggs.

It seems that the UK, and now the European Union, are leading the world in achieving real changes to stop farm animal suffering. There are still huge farm animal welfare problems to be solved – the problems of broiler chicken suffering, the dreadful trade in millions of live farm animals all across Europe, the subsidised trade in live cattle for slaughter in the Middle East and North Africa. So there is still much to do here, but the tide has turned.

I believe the future for farm animal welfare is now at a crossroads. In spite of our successes, I believe it is facing major threats.

The first threat comes from the GATT and its enforcing body, the World Trade Organisation, the WTO. The doctrine of the WTO is unfettered global trade. It pays lip service to the claims of the environment, or human and animal welfare. In reality, to the WTO, an egg is just an egg, whereas you and I say this is a free-range egg – that is a battery egg. To the WTO, a shipload of timber is just wood – they are not concerned if it was produced from a fragile and threatened forest in the Tropics. To the WTO, a carpet is just a carpet – they are not concerned if it was produced by slave or child labour. So the WTO limits the rights of countries to refuse to import products which involve exploitation of the environment or exploitation of humans or animals.

This means that all the farm animal welfare achievements of the EU could be overturned. The EU law on phasing out battery cages, agreed just one year ago, has a provision which requires a reassessment of the phase-out in 2005 and specifically mentions the WTO. If we cannot achieve radical reform of the WTO by then, the European egg industry will call for a halt to the ban, as their profits would be affected if they got rid of battery cages but the EU imported its battery eggs instead from countries where cages are still legal.

Just last November at Seattle, the EU went to the WTO negotiating table with animal welfare on its list of items for discussion. Apparently under pressure from the United States and some developing countries, animal welfare was quickly crossed off the agenda.

There is no denying the global power of the United States, and so far the US has been an impregnable fortress of the factory farm. In the US still, nearly every breeding sow is caged, unable to turn round, every veal calf is in a narrow crate, every laying hen in a cage. I believe that to move things forward at the WTO we must nurture and inspire a really strong campaign against factory farming within the US itself. Only when farm animal welfare becomes a hot national issue in the US, will its government open its ears to the arguments of the EU and of welfarists worldwide.

But, beyond the WTO, there is another, possibly greater threat to the future of farm animals – the global increase in meat consumption. In the last 20 years meat production in developing countries has increased by 127%, egg production by 331%. (1) It is estimated that global demand for meat will be 63% greater in the year 2020 than in 1993, with most of that increase in developing countries – half of it in China. (2)

While the affluent West has had the time and opportunity to reflect on the cruelties of the factory farm, and to campaign successfully for reform, people in developing countries very understandably see meat as a symbol of a better quality of life for them. Whilst we know that high amounts of meat and animal products in the diet increase our risks of certain kinds of heart disease and cancer, (3) people in developing countries may see meat as an essential nutrient to help their children grow big and strong. So while many of us abandon meat, or eat less of it, people in developing countries hope to eat more of it – although they are still eating much less, per capita, than we do.

Traditional farming in such countries used to be mainly animal-friendly, a backyard household pig or a couple of cows, producing milk, dung for fertiliser and bull calves to be used as draught animals to help till the fields.

But change is underway. Fostered by misguided advice from global aid or loan agencies like the FAO (that’s the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), and the World Bank, many countries are trying to meet the growing demand for meat by setting up factory farms. So the very cages we are banning can be sold in India, and the very sow stalls and tether chains we are abandoning find new markets in China.

Already 50% of the world’s pigs live in China. European, American and Canadian pig breeding companies are already involved in setting up huge pig factory farms there. In one province in the south of China there are farms of around 250,000 pigs kept in buildings 6 storeys high – multi-storey pig parks. Last year over 600 pig slaughterhouses were opened in China. Already barren feedlots are being set up in China to rear cattle for beef on the American model. This is undoubtedly the trend for the future.

In India, already 56% of hens are kept in battery cages, and the number is rising, not falling.

Many claim that the only way to feed the world is not just to factory farm the animals, but to genetically engineer them to be even bigger and faster growing. The experiments are well under way – often with disastrous impacts on the animals’ welfare. These establishment agriculturalists want crops to be genetically engineered too, so grain yields can increase, so they say. Their vision of the future is of a world of intensive production of genetically engineered crops and animals – animals who never see the light of day, who live short and miserable lives in cages and crates, pumped full of antibiotics and growth promoters.

This growth of genetic engineering, factory farming and meat production in developing countries means that, in spite of our brilliant achievements in Europe, in just one generation there will be more animals being factory farmed globally than ever before. A deeply depressing scenario.

How can we stop this trend?

We cannot tell the recently poor that they should not eat meat like we do. We cannot be ethical imperialists. We may have to accept that – for a while at least – more meat will be produced in those countries.

But I believe we can run a huge campaign to influence governments, the World Bank, the FAO and aid agencies worldwide – a campaign to show how the factory farm is not the answer to the demand for meat.

We can show how animals in factory farms are already eating 36% of the world’s grain harvest, (4) whilst 840 million people are still chronically hungry. Animals do not convert energy efficiently. You have to feed them far more than you get from them in edible product. 4 kg. of grain fed to chickens or pigs will produce 1 kg. of weight gain. The more intensive the system, the more grain the animals are fed. The diets of dairy cows may be 30% human-edible grain. Diets for feedlot beef cattle, pigs and chickens are around 2/3rds human-edible grains. (5)

A recent article in New Scientist magazine points out that unless global grain production can rise swiftly – and it is virtually stagnant right now – then there will be a global shortage of grain and prices will rise. Livestock farmers could afford to buy the grain and would still sell their meat to the wealthy. They could outbid the poor in the market for scarce grain. As the author points out, "Then people could starve so that pigs and chickens might eat". (6)

Already, China, which used to export grain, has turned into a net importer – much of it destined for its expanding pig and poultry sector. The US National Intelligence Council reckons that by 2025, China could be importing virtually all the grain exports of the rest of the world. Lester Brown, of the Worldwatch Institute, writes "The question for China is not so much whether its land and other agricultural resources will enable it to feed 1.5 billion people, but whether it can feed 1.5 billion affluent people who are consuming larger quantities of livestock products". (7)

Add to this scenario, the huge amount of water required to produce the grain to feed the animals. In the US in 1992 nearly half the water consumed was used for growing feed for livestock. (8) It takes 100,000 litres of water to produce 1 kg. of beef. Yet water tables are falling in North America, in Asia and North Africa. Many view water scarcity as a potential cause of global unrest in the future.

Animal dung can be a rich fertiliser for the soil. But animals kept on factory farms on concrete, slatted floors or in cages, produce a liquid slurry, overloaded with environmental pollutants. Already the environmental degradation associated with the factory farm is being recognised worldwide. In the Netherlands, tankloads of slurry have to be taken to the North Sea and dumped, as the land is saturated.

Without antibiotics, factory farmed animals could not survive. But we now have increasing evidence of the devastating effect on humans of using antibiotics in farm animals. The infectious bacteria in the animals become resistant to the antibiotics. We become infected

with these same infectious bacteria and when given antibiotics to cure us, nothing happens. This growing problem of antibiotic resistance is a real threat to the sick and the vulnerable – the very young and the very old. It could threaten one of the bastions of orthodox medicine – and the health of any one of us.

So we have huge forces to reckon with. Yet we have good arguments to oppose this trend – arguments about environmental pollution, about the world’s grain supply, about threats to human health.

But let’s not be afraid to defend our own core argument – the welfare of the animals themselves. In 1997 all the European Union Member States signed a legally binding Protocol, (9) attached to the European Treaty, which recognised that animals were sentient beings, i.e. capable of suffering.

We who work for animals or with animals, have always known that each pig, each cow, each chicken was an individual, with a capacity to enjoy life, with capacity to co-operate with fellows, to nurture the young, yet also a capacity to fear, to be frustrated, to feel pain – and, according to Charles Darwin, "similar passions, affections and emotions" to ourselves . (10) According to Don Broom, Professor of Animal Welfare at Cambridge University, and his colleague Johnson, animals "behave as if they experience pain, anger, fear and love". (11)

I believe it is imperative that we campaign to get animal sentiency – a new status for animals in society – recognised worldwide. Animals surely have a right to a decent life – many of us would say a right to life itself. But rather than argue endlessly about what rights they do have, I suggest we question on what basis do we humans have a right to exploit animals? Is it God-given? Surely not – what kind of god would create a species so advanced and yet so parasitic as we have turned out to be? Is it simply because we can exploit them? Our technological advances have given us huge power over the lives of animals. But the organised domination of the weak by the powerful is no more than fascism – or, as Richard Ryder puts it, in this case, speciesism. I can find no ethical, religious or philosophical justification for our long and continuing history of animal exploitation.

So we need to be brave campaigners for farm animals. Let’s challenge the World Trade Organisation, let’s challenge the supporters and disseminators of the factory farm culture. Let’s be protectors of the exploited and the voiceless. Let’s spread the message of the sentience of animals – let’s have it recognised by the World Trade Organisation, let’s have it in every government constitution, let’s have real compassion in world farming.




Compassion in World Farming


Louise O. Fresco, Henning Steinfeld. A Food Security Perspective to Livestock and the Environment. Pages 5/6. Proceedings of the International Conference on Livestock and the Environment, 16-20 June 1997, organised by World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organisation & International Agricultural Centre, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Animal Agriculture and Global Food Supply. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). 1999.

WCRF report.

IFPRI source quoted in New Scientist article. Protein at a price. Debora MacKenzie. New Scientist, 18/3/00.

Animal Agriculture and Global Food Supply. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). 1999.

Protein at a price. Debora MacKenzie. New Scientist, 18/3/00.

State of the World 1999. Ed. Lester Brown. A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society. Earthscan Publications Ltd. London.

Worldwide production set to grow over next decade. World Meat Congress Report. Meat Trades Journal, 26/5/99.

Protocol on Improved Protection and Respect for the Welfare of Animals annexed by the Treaty of Amsterdam to the Treaty establishing the European Community (1997).

Darwin, C. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, 1871.

Broom, D.M. & Johnson, K.G. Stress and Animal Welfare. Chapman & Hall, 1993.

Copyright Compassion in World Farming Ltd. Reg. No. 2998256 (England). Registered office: Charles House,5A Charles Street, Petersfield, Hampshire, England.