Why you should put down that fried chicken burger (and all factory-farmed meat)

It was roughly 2am on February 17th 2013 and I had just walked into Krunchy Fried Chicken in Fallowfield, Manchester, with my mates, a horde of sisters and their boyfriends after a particularly silly night out. I ordered a chicken burger and chips (not for the first time).

I noted the unprocessed real meat, the salty gnarled batter. As students, this very burger was what we had come to worship as the pinnacle of food, joy and life.

It hit me that I had just turned 21 – and I was conducting this strange coming-of-age birthday chicken ceremony in the best place I could think of.

Oh how times have changed.

It never occurred to me at that point to question where the meat came from. The UK has nearly 800 livestock mega farms, processing cows, chickens and pigs. About 80% of chickens and 75% of breeding pigs in this country are factory-farmed. Two out of every three farm animals in the world come from factory farms.

Now, I do not know where Krunchy was getting its fried chicken in 2013, and I am not about to accuse them of any wrongdoing. But the likelihood is that factory farming is producing the supermarket ham sandwiches, corner shop pints of milk and office cakes that are ubiquitous in our lives.

Why is this an issue? For starters, factory-farmed meat plays a huge part in:

  • climate change
  • animal welfare
  • loss of plants and wildlife in our ecosystems (which we depend on)
  • the ability to keep growing food
  • our health

Let’s head to October 2017, specifically, the first Extinction and Livestock Conference, held in London by the WWF and Compassion in World Farming. Stay with me. The conference title references the link between factory farming and our own survival, and made me realise that eating quality meat, dairy and eggs (or not eating them at all) is perhaps the most important thing we can do to help the planet.

Here’s where I go a bit more in depth, on just two points.

  1. Climate change. We are currently heading for a 3.6C rise in the world’s temperature by 2100, according to the policies of the world’s governments. If they stuck to their climate pledges, we are on track for a 2.6C rise, according to this unassumingly terrifying graph by the Climate Action Tracker.

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 11.32.27It was agreed in the 2013 UN Paris conference that in order to avoid more death, famine, floods, drought, exacerbated storms, malnourishment, water-borne infections and heatwaves (all caused by man-made climate change) we need to stick to 1.5C.

You can see there is a discrepancy in the figures.

How is climate change affected by factory farming?

Livestock farming alone makes up 14.5% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN. Two thirds of that comes from cows.

When you consider that deforestation is responsible for another 11% of man-made emissions, factory farmed meat starts to look pretty unappetising. Deforestation mostly happens so that we can grow crops to feed animals. This is linked to…

2. Biodiversity loss, which means we’re killing animals, plants and insects. Since the 1970s, when factory farming really kicked in, we have lost 50% of the world’s wild animals. Destroying our ecosystems means we may not be able to keep growing food. An obvious example is that we need bees to pollinate our crops.

Why is biodiversity loss affected by factory farming?

Cutting down rainforests and savannahs is all in the name of growing corn, soy, wheat and palm. Palm oil goes into all kinds of products, and not just food. But the other three mostly go on feeding factory-farmed animals, including fish.

Philip Lymbery, head of Compassion in World Farming, says that animal feed is the number one cause of biodiversity loss.

He also says: ‘Those industrially reared animals are currently chomping their way through enough food to feed an extra 4 billion people on the planet.’ That’s half the world again.

Factory farming, where animals stay indoors for most of their lives and are fed on crops instead of grass, uses up our resources in an incredibly inefficient way. It takes 100 calories of cereal crops (wheat, corn, rice) to produce 17 to 30 calories from meat or milk.

What on earth can we do?

For a start, give up factory farmed food. If you eat meat and dairy, find out where it’s from. Ask the butcher, ask cafes and restaurants where they source that meat from. Be that person! Businesses notice and change when customers question their models.

Buy organic wherever possible. Rules for organic dairy farmers mean that cows are required to graze grass for at least 200 days a year.

Do your best to go for something veggie until you find the meat that isn’t factory-farmed. And please… don’t spend your milestone birthdays in fried chicken shops.

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