What if…we ban the intensive farming of animals?

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What if…we ban the intensive farming of animals?

Hazel Healy imagines a world without cheap meat, eggs, and dairy.


Credit: Andy Carter

The grey blocks rising out of Yaji mountain look more like offices than farms. Pigs will spend their lives inside these 12-storey buildings. They are in prison in pens under strip-lights, stacked 1,270 to a floor. They take piglets up and down in lifts, they throw their corpses down a chute.

China’s ‘pig hotels’ are just one example of industrial-livestock operations. They produce about 50 billion animals every year. The industry started in the US and Western Europe about 100 years ago. The industry produces meat with horrible efficiency – faster, fatter, and cheaper and cheaper.

But there are signs Big Livestock may be in trouble. The pandemic made big problems for meat supply chains. There were big losses, as sales of plant-based meat substitutes increased very quickly. In a world with fewer and fewer resources, Goldman Sachs thought the future of industrial livestock was so bad that it called it the only commodity in as much danger as oil.

So, let’s imagine how we can bring this terrible situation in animal-human relations to an end… Public support for an end could come from a number of places.

Pressure could come from a new public-health scare – perhaps a powerful pathogen like salmonella, or, worse, another disease from animals, which jumps from overcrowded chicken sheds.

Or climate activists could end the industry. We now know the top five meat corporations give out more greenhouse gases than the big oil company ExxonMobil. Already, campaign group Feedback Global is calling for divestment, and it is planning to name and shame the industry’s biggest financial supporters. They put $126 billion into the meat and dairy industry from 2015 to 2020.

Action will have to be global – and balanced. To start things there must be a ‘factory-farming non-proliferation treaty’. And an immediate end to development finance of industrial farms in the Global South to stop ‘off-shoring’. Then, soon afterwards legally-binding targets – perhaps linked to the Paris climate deal – for a plan to reduce industrial meat production to zero in ten years. We could start with a limit on the numbers of animals per hectare on farms in countries where meat consumption per capita is highest – like the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and parts of Europe.

All of this would reduce global meat supplies by two thirds. But the impact would be greatest in countries such as the US. There the average person eats over 100 kilograms (about the same as 50 chickens) every year. 99 per cent of it comes from factory farms.

Meat would become a luxury again in most of the Global North and for the rich in middle-income nations. Fast-food chains would change quickly to plant-based junk food. But government will need new ideas to limit demand. These could include making good planet-friendly diets cheaper - beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, more vegetables, with plans to limit the remaining meat, eggs, and dairy, and promote alternatives.

Governments could redirect the very big sums of public money that support animal farming - livestock and feed crops. In the EU, this would free up to $38 billion of subsidy to pay for a change to new, sustainable options for farmers, workers, and consumers.

In the Global South it’s a very different story. No-one would notice the end of mega-farms in places such as Ethiopia. There the average person eats seven kilograms of meat per year and smallholders supply 98 per cent of milk.

For communities where protein and micronutrients are low, they would need development funds to help access to land for pastoralists, improve the health, diversity and fodder for small herds – buffalo, cattle, goats, camels or alpacas. They live mostly on marginal lands. The 30 per cent of land used only for animal feed could go back to its indigenous owners, across large areas of the Americas and Australia, or used to grow calories for human consumption. There will be less pressure on Brazil’s Cerrado grasslands and the Amazon rainforest.

By 2030, intensive beef feeding, industrial dairies, and barns of chickens would have disappeared from the Earth. De-industrialization would continue, until all animals are in small herds or flocks in mixed farms, eating antibiotic-free foods and returning concentrated nutrients to the fields. There they breathe fresh air, experience the change from day to night, and the rhythm of the seasons.



(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)