Some estimates project that the global production of meat will double by 2050, which could mean increasing the number of animals used each year in the food industry to 120 billion. This prediction has serious implications for the continued—and escalating—impacts that industrialized animal agriculture has on the Earth.
Almost all of the growth in production of livestock is occurring within the industrial system, not among small operations or local farms. Only a generation ago, most chickens in India were raised in backyard flocks, often by women, compared with over 90% of the 2 bn chicken raised in India now coming from industrial style facilities. This has created a notable geographic concentration of large scale farming operations, resulting in a disconnect between the animals raised for food and the animal feed needed to support the industry.
Animal feed is purchased internationally, lowest cost being the highest priority, no matter the ecological impacts. These include the clearing of land for crops and the use of fossil fuel based and often toxic pesticides and fertilizers that pose risks to human health and wildlife populations. Increasing demand for grain and oil and fish meals to sustain the growing global livestock population means that more of the planet’s surface will have to be converted to cropland to grow food for farmed animals, not people.
Globally, agriculture is estimated to be directly responsible for 80% of deforestation. In Latin America, the growth of large scale cattle ranching is the primary driver of forest loss, threatening Indigenous communities, including communities living in voluntary isolation in the Amazon rainforest, the Gran Chaco, and other major forests. Over half of all life on earth is found in tropical forests, which now cover only 7% of the world’s surface.
Small scale, integrated, agro ecological farming systems and traditional pastoralism not only represent alternatives that are much better for the planet. Government subsidies that now support the expansion of industrial scale livestock and feed operations should be ended and the “externalities” on which animal agriculture is dependent—such as riverine and marine pollution, contamination of soil and groundwater, land degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs)—should be paid for, in full, by the industry and/or specific facilities that cause them
It will also be necessary to change consumption and production patterns that “promote waste and unnecessary consumption by a minority of humankind, while hundreds of millions still suffer hunger and deprivation.