The Vegan Society is urging farmers to transition to plant-based agriculture as the prevailing bird flu epidemic forces thousands of hens into cramped indoor conditions.
Millions of birds across the globe have died as Avian Flu continues to spread between wild birds, including seabirds and waterfowl, and domestic birds, resulting in scores of UK farmers forced to cull poultry farmed for meat and eggs.
A mandatory 'housing order' has been put in place in some regions for free range birds to be moved into barns where nine hens are permitted per square metre. The grim alternative – contracting deadly and untreatable virus which results in a painful, slow death – is not much better. With no end in sight to the ongoing outbreak, the free-range egg sector could be significantly impacted for some time since many people already avoid eggs from battery hens due to welfare concerns.
Industrial animal farming will continue to be an incubator of diseases that cause suffering to farmed animals, lead to waste within the food system, and pose a major risk to human health. Ending industrial animal farming, and supporting a transition to vegan-friendly forms of food production presents the only long term way of tackling these epidemics and managing the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks. This transition is also an important step in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises.
The Vegan Society's Grow Green campaign aims to bring down barriers that are preventing a transition to plant-based agriculture and other sustainable forms of land management. While this poses a major challenge, the move also presents many opportunities to the farming sector.
So-called 'vegetarian beef farmer' Jay Wilde, is one example of a successful transition to crop-farming. The former beef farmer's emotional attachment to his 90-strong herd resulted in their transfer to an animal sanctuary instead of someone's dinner plate. To help facilitate his move to plant-based farming, Jay contacted The Vegan Society for help after reading its Grow Green report which sets out long-term initiatives to achieve similar stories to his. A more recent report commissioned by The Vegan Society, Planting Value in the Food System explained the practical legislative and policy changes needed to put UK farming on a pathway to plant-based.
Aside from crop farming, other land management opportunities could include repurposing land for renewable energy production, reforestation for carbon capture or for commercial forestry.
There's no doubt that if avian flu remains rampant, it will escalate financial strains on animal farming industries and, with increasing concerns for global warming, the call for action is more urgent than ever.