I recently spoke at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. and to a group of livestock industry experts in Iowa. At both events, it was clear that agribusiness leaders are increasingly concerned about their future. For decades, factory farming has wielded undue influence over government policy and it has profited at the public’s expense. But today, industrialized animal agriculture is widely condemned, and the practice of exploiting animals for food is becoming harder to defend.
An industry consultant addressing the group in Iowa cited our efforts to outlaw the inhumane treatment of animals on farms (such as through initiatives like California’s Proposition 2) as “brilliant.” He said these campaigns cause people to think about farm animal welfare, and this leads to less meat consumption. Supporting this contention, a recent study found that increased media coverage about factory farming lowers the demand for meat.
Along with increasing societal awareness and opposition to the cruelty of factory farming, there is an expanding understanding of farm animals’ complex emotional lives and a growing bed of empirical evidence showing that animal agriculture threatens our health and the environment. Increasingly, policy makers in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere will be pressured to stop subsidizing and propping up an animal agriculture system that offends public sentiments, makes us sick and wastes valuable resources.
I respect farmers and appreciate their noble intention of feeding people. But I urge farmers to ask themselves a fundamental question: “What’s the most efficient and sustainable way to produce healthful food?” The empirical evidence suggests it is by growing plants instead of animals for human consumption.