The demand for animal products has increased dramatically in the last forty years, resulting in a rise of multinational corporations dominating the global meat and dairy trade. Emmanuel Giuffre, Legal Counsel for the animal protection institute Voiceless, argues that the suffering of animals in intensive meat production systems needs to stop.
The face of farming has dramatically changed over the last forty years.
From an early age we are taught about farming in the traditional sense, the ‘Old McDonald’ sense. We learn of small to medium sized farms, run by husbands and wives, with modest assortments of chickens, sheep, pigs and cattle roaming about on verdant Australian fields.
This message is perpetuated in marketing campaigns which continue to portray the idyllic image of farm animals frolicking in open, green and sunlit pastures.
This is no longer the norm in Australia.
Demand for animal products has increased exponentially in the last forty years. A 2004 survey found that worldwide meat production had increased roughly fivefold in the second half of the 20th century.
Australians now eat ten times more chicken than in 1960, but the number of chicken farms in Australia has plummeted, with only three corporations producing 80% of our poultry. Similarly, between 1970 and 2002 the number of pig producers in Australia declined by 94%, while total pig meat production grew by 130%.
The reality is that animal agribusiness in Australia is big business, with the intensification of farming processes resulting in large multinational corporations dominating the global meat and dairy trade.
A rising population, dramatic increases in meat consumption and a consumer base driven by cheaper produce has resulted in the decline of Australian farming as we know it and the rise of intensive meat production systems, commonly referred to as “factory farms”.
These intensive farming systems are not “farms” in the traditional sense, as the processes employed in them hardly resemble conventional farming practices. These are intensive animal production systems, and they cause the most suffering to the largest number of animals in Australia.
Chickens are kept in small barren cages no larger than the size of an A4 sheet of paper – never feeling the sun on their backs or the earth under their feet – and are subject to inhumane practices such as beak-trimming, wing-clipping and forced starvation.
Pigs spend the majority of their lives indoors, are fed an unnatural diet pumped with antibiotics and are regularly subjected to the torture of teeth clipping, tail-docking and confinement to sow stalls or farrowing crates.
Dairy cows suffer in silence, are overworked and undervalued, are subjected to a wide range of diseases (such as mastitis, lameness, fatty liver disease, hypocalcaemia, acidosis and ketosis) and are force fed an unnatural diet that leaves them feeling ill, hungry, full and exhausted all at the same time.
For the vast majority of these animals, their trip to the slaughterhouse is their only reprieve from a life of torture.
Intensive production systems are also problematic from a sustainability perspective.
As a result of selective breeding, intensive systems promote an unfathomable waste of sentient life. Millions of male layer chickens, unable to produce eggs, are incinerated shortly after birth each year. Male dairy cows, or bobby calves, share a similar fate.
Science has confirmed that big agriculture is bad for the environment, including the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation’s statistic that livestock production is responsible for approximately 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and the CSIRO's statistic that over 30% of greenhouse gas emissions produced in Australia can be attributed to animal industries. In 2009, two leading environmental specialists from the World Bank estimated that livestock and their by-products actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year, or 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
Intensive production systems are the consequence of overabundance and overindulgence, and the science tells us what our hearts and minds are already acutely aware – animal welfare and sustainability are the losers in this process. Given the dominance of multinational corporations in agribusiness, small to medium sized Aussie farmers can also be added to this list.
Although there is a move towards more ethical and sustainable production systems – such as organic, free range and sow-stall free systems – we can only rely on voluntary industry schemes and consumer demand to a limited extent.
What is needed is leadership from our politicians to stop the suffering of animals in intensive animal production systems and bring production processes back into line with consumer expectations. Without this leadership, we will doubtless see the death of traditional farming as we know it.
Emmanuel Giuffre is the Legal Counsel for Voiceless, an animal protection institute focused on raising awareness of animals suffering in factory farming.