A report issued last month by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says intensive livestock production will be essential to meet increased demand for animal protein over the next four decades.
Projections for population growth and a rise in per capita consumption of animal protein in developing countries mean that the world will be consuming two-thirds more animal protein in 2050 than it does today. The report estimates meat consumption will rise by 73% and dairy consumption by 58% over current levels.
The last forty-five years has seen a significant increase in world animal protein production. Since 1967 global production of poultry meat has increased by around 700%, eggs by 350%, pig meat by 290%, sheep and goat meat by 200%, beef and buffalo meat by 180% and milk by 180%. Livestock are increasingly important to the food security of millions of people.
To maintain these rates of growth for another four decades would require a further doubling of poultry numbers, 80% more sheep and goats, 50% more cattle and 40% more pigs.
The report points out that there are no technically or economically viable alternatives to large scale, intensive production for the bulk of the livestock-derived food required in the cities, where virtually all the population growth will occur.
Given limits on the availability of land, water, waste disposal and other resources, significant increases in productivity will be needed, requiring significant capital investment plus encouragement from policymakers and regulators.
The definition of increased productivity is a higher ratio of outputs to inputs. In other words, more milk, meat and eggs must be produced using less than a corresponding increase in feed, labour and other components of production.
In practical terms that means larger numbers of animals managed by fewer people, using genetically superior livestock and modern technology to keep the animals healthy and productive. It is the exact opposite of the low-tech, small holdings that typified the last century, still prevalent in developing countries but increasingly restricted to hobby farms and luxury niche producers in Australia and other developed countries.
It is also the exact opposite of what those who use the term factory farming to describe modern livestock production would like to see.
By some measures the term factory farming is accurate. If a factory means efficient, large scale production, then that is what it is. The largest farms house millions of chickens or hundreds of thousands of pigs or cattle. The capital value of the livestock and facilities is counted in tens of millions of dollars.
Obviously there is no place for naming each animal or treating them as pets. Trucks deliver tonnes of feed on a daily basis, which is served up to the animals by conveyor. Animals are mass vaccinated and medicated using multi injectors, water medication, aerosols or in-feed treatments.
But those who use the term intend it to be derogatory. They either believe that intensive, large-scale production is inherently cruel or that eating animals is fundamentally wrong. Either way, they advocate a return to the small-scale farming of half a century ago.
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