The powers that be, would have you believe that we need to farm intensively to feed the world. While, it is probably correct that it is a more inexpensive way of feeding the world their protein, it really isn't necessary. I personally believe that the bigger issue with world starvation is political and not because of trouble with the production of food. If more regional centres were encouraged to develop their own local food economy, by growing and processing food locally, there would be less reliance on feedlots. For example, Rockhampton is our local centre (in Central Queensland) and we have two abattoirs that predominantly processes grassfed and finished beef and yet it is very difficult to buy any of that beef in Rockhampton butcher shops. (Or that is labelled as such)
Anyway, not to get into that argument now, needless to say, the general assumption is that we need to have intensively farmed animals as it is an efficient way of producing cheap protein. The following are three of the impacts or concerns that I have with intensive farming.
- The ethical treatment of animals - feedlots and sheds have animals confined in small spaces. Those animals in sheds see no sunlight but are protected from the elements of bad weather - feedlot cattle see plenty of sunlight, but also have to put up with the wet season, which will see them standing knee deep in mud! They are packed fairly tightly which is a breeding ground for pathogens so they need to be fed antibiotics - this is beneficial for two reasons - protection from disease and illness, and it also helps with weight gain. Animals were bred to live outdoors, that is why they have feather, fur or hair. They find their own protection from weather in woodlands.
- Pollution. Having this many animals in small places creates pollution. Run off from the farms effluent washes into water systems creating problems locally and eventually when it hits the oceans. In contrast, animals on pasture are cleaner, as their effluent enriches the soil. Most soils in Australia are low in fertility so encouraging good animal management on farms will improve soil fertility and therefore increase farm viability.
- Health. Animals raised on healthy pastures provide healthy food for humans. They have less chance of carrying pathogens and will have a higher vitamin and mineral content. Cattle and sheep are not designed to eat grain. Pigs and Poultry can eat grain, but they eat an awful lot of grass too. Not all grazing management is created equal though. To receive maximum benefit from the excess nutrients from the animals, pasture needs to be maintained in the paddocks. Bare paddocks are no better than a shed in terms of run-off. Where there is actively growing grass, it has the added benefit of storing carbon in the soil. (another topic for another post).