Europe has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. One of the most common fears our readers have of an EU-US trade deal is that European standards might be lowered by TTIP. Readers worry that factory farmed, hormone-treated meat could flood the EU market, changing the character of European food and agriculture.
We had a comment sent in from Satsuma, who argued that Europeans should “stop mass producing meat in factory farms“. She’s not the first reader to suggest this. In fact, we’ve had several comments along these lines; arguing that intensive animal farming (sometimes called ‘factory farming’) is bad for both the environment and animal welfare.
Industrial animal farming has been called ‘the worst crime in history‘. Is this hyperbole? Is it based on emotion rather than scientific evidence? Animal welfare monitoring and standards tend to be relatively strong in Europe (though they are certainly not perfect), so is there really a problem?
To get a response, we spoke to Ulrich Adam, Secretary General of CEMA, an association representing the agricultural machinery industry in Europe. How would he respond?
I wouldn’t agree with the statement, in the sense that I don’t believe that industrial farming should be minimised. However, I would agree that there are quite considerable environmental challenges in the agricultural production chain that we need to address. The question is, however, whether industrial farming is a way towards greater environmental protection. Or is it, as some of your readers suggest, doing more harm than good? And I think that’s where we should have the debate.
Well, we’re not ones to shy away from a good debate! So, to get another perspective, we also spoke to Dr. Daniel Berckmans, a professor at the Catholic University of Leuven whose research focuses on the automatic monitoring of livestock, plants, and humans. What would he say to Satsuma?
If we are talking purely about the environmental impact, then I have to disagree. Because if we look at the available scientific evidence, then it is absolutely not true [that intensive animal farming is worse for the environment]. For example, if we look at the greenhouse gas emissions from scratching hens kept outside, compared to indoor-kept hens, there is a big difference regarding the environmental impact, and the outdoor-kept hens are the bigger emitters.
When it comes to animal welfare, it is the same thing. For example, battery cages look awful. And yet the evidence suggests that if we give hens a lot of space, their health and welfare does not improve. In terms of health, the big problem is infections from wild birds that come into the pasture where the flock might be, or from rodents. Indoor-kept hens avoid these health problems.
There is also a lot of evidence in terms of animal welfare, which can be evaluated by animal scientists… We don’t see that there is greater welfare among hen populations kept outdoors. When they have a lot of space, they can escape and be harmed outside the farm, and in a small space they cannot fight with one another.
So, we should not make judgements based on our emotions, but rather based on the scientific evidence. And, for me, it is frustrating that science is so marginal in the debate around food.
Should intensive animal farming be banned? Or are the environmental and animal welfare costs being overstated? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!