• Matteo De Vos

A Call to Arms to fight Factory Farms

It’s time to stop the infighting. Whilst we're busy bickering over cow farts, the horror of expanding factory farms marches merrily on.

We take it for granted that factory farms will (eventually) disappear. After all, no one is really for factory farms. Animal rights activists and environmentalists certainly aren't. Neither are farmers, nor the general public. We all have our differences, but unless we put them aside and make these horror houses priority number one, factory farms here to stay, spread, and dominate.

Artificial meat won't save us

With Wall Street's backing, confidence in plant-based burgers is $ky-high — just look at that soaring stock price! You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief as Silicon Valley’s darling of miracle meats — Beyond Meat — burst onto the public scene. Finally, Capitalism is cleaning up its own mess — with Big Ag happily hedging its bets.

But what's expanding faster than the current hype for plant-based and lab-grown meat? The production of cheap (factory-farmed) meat, of course.

The mantra of mass production

In the European Union, the mass production of meat and dairy is increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer larger farms. The EU lost more than 3.3 million livestock farms between 2005 and 2016. Over the same period, the total gross production of meat rose from 42,456,000 tonnes to 47,073,000 tonnes. Eurostat data (2013) shows that the largest category of farms rear almost three quarters of all livestock units, with smaller farms rearing increasingly fewer livestock.

European subsidies via the EU Common Agricultural Policy are feeding this worrying trend.

Between € 28.5 billion and € 32.6 billion of EU subsidies go to livestock farms or farms producing fodder for livestock — equivalent to 18% to 20% of the EU's total annual budget.

Those banking on Brexit to bring ambitious agricultural policy reform to the UK should think again. Much in the same way that the EU threatens to throw its farmers under the bus with the Mercosur trade deal, Theresa May (and likely successor and hard Brexit favourite Boris Johnson) seem hell-bent on landing a new US-UK trade deal in which British agriculture could be the sacrificial lamb. A deal allowing US meat imports (with lower environmental and animal welfare standards) to flood the British market would send a clear (and eerily familiar) message to British livestock farmers: get big or get out.

Things aren't looking much better for the factory farm pioneers across the pond. In the United States, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) grew by 7.66 percent in just seven years, adding 1,421 operations to a total today of nearly 20,000. An Environmental Protection Agency ruling in June this year now exempts CAFOs from reporting emissions from animal waste.

A fight we can all get behind

There truly is no shortage of reasons to fight factory farms. Take your pick.

Your why doesn’t matter. There is room for everybody in this fight. Getting bogged down by disagreeing over the details is counterproductive. I get it, it's fun to argue. Being right feels good. But who really wins when we’re busy splitting hairs?

I’m not asking you to abandon your principles. I’m asking you to be strategic.

Here is my advice

To small-scale livestock farmers:

Calls to reduce meat are not antithetical to calls for better meat. They are part of the same story.

The call to reduce the consumption of meat should be a welcome one. It challenges the very premise on which factory farms thrive — the fabricated demand for an abundance of cheap, processed meat.

2. To Vegans:

Support small-scale farmers — including livestock farmers — and the role they can play in a radically different food system that is not so far removed from the ideal one you envision.

Combat the myth that industrial agriculture feeds the world. Most of the world is fed by hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers, using less than 25% of total farm land. Industrial agriculture (Vegan or not) won’t feed 9.7 billion people by 2050.

3. To everyone:

Recognise that the battle starts with your plate, but doesn’t end there.

The battle for the future of food is currently being waged in local communities around the world. Small-scale farmers are fighting to protect their land rights, save their seeds, safeguard local knowledge, and protect biodiversity. These are the frontlines of food; the battles that matter most.

Principles alone won’t stop the factories that produce, pollute and destroy.


They continue to be the largest impediment — a truly monstruous obstacle — that prevents us all from reaching our respective utopias.