Elena Orde writes on the anniversary of the UN's report 'Livestock's Long Shadow' about what, if anything, has changed since animal farming was identified as a major cause of environmental devastation
Ten years ago, the United Nations published Livestock’s Long Shadow, a seminal report which described the livestock sector as ‘one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global’. Such a clear and emphatic warning should have been taken with the utmost seriousness.
Instead, all we have seen is reluctance from governing bodies to make any kind of significant change. Instead of creating policies and initiatives, or delivering educational campaigns about the negative effects of farming animals, animal agriculture has been allowed to carry on as usual.
Last year, the Paris Agreement promised a serious chance for countries to come together and discuss ways to collectively tackle global climate change. So how is it that animal agriculture, the industry responsible for at least 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions, was left completely off the table?
Part of the reason animal farming has been allowed to carry on with business as usual is the enormous influence of the meat, dairy and egg industries. So ubiquitous is their power that they had a say in the creation of the food pyramids we were all taught from in school. This is one way they have been able to instil the idea that meat and dairy are vital food groups which cannot be cut out without incurring nutritional damage – a notion which could not be further from the truth.
The proof of the environmental destruction animal agriculture leads to has been coming in thick and fast. This year, we have heard news that over half of all UK species are in decline, many at risk of vanishing altogether. Intensive agriculture has been blamed for this, the State of Nature report citing that intensive farming has an ‘overwhelmingly negative’ impact on nature. Meanwhile, over 55% of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by overfishing.
Unfortunately the list of concerns doesn’t end there. Due to the routine overuse of antibiotics in animal farming, we could be on the brink of antibiotic resistance. Not to mention the fact that deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate, with the World Bank estimating that animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.
But alongside all this, there is some good news. Awareness of veganism, and the positive effects of veganism, is at an all-time high. More people than ever are choosing to avoid animal products, for the good of the planet, their health and the animals. This is undoubtedly cause for celebration – but we need to accelerate this positive change.
We need legislatures to create policies to curb the rampant negative effects of animal farming. For too long they have worried about the public backlash, put the interests of corporations first, and been swayed by their own dietary preferences. We need to see targets being set and kept, and we need to better educate people about the impact of animal products on themselves and the world around them.
One solution is for the government to stop subsidising the animal farming sector. The average dairy farmer receives around £25,000 a year in government subsidies, meaning that this failing system is being propped up by the taxpayer. Instead, the government should be subsidising farmers who want to help protect the environment by switching to crop farming. This is the basis of The Vegan Society’s Grow Green campaign. Please support out campaign in any way you can, and help us to encourage a more sustainable farming future.
By Elena Orde