Harvesting the future

| 23rd March 2020
Amazon deforestation driven by animal farming
Our food security may be at threat. In desperate times like these, why are we still feeding farmed animals first and not ourselves?

A plant-based future is the only future.

Fuelled by rising anxiety, food scarcity fears have been triggered, a surge in sales leaving supermarket shelves sparse. The stockpiling of pasta has commenced.

It’s a turbulent time for food production. Farmers already faced unparalleled setbacks at the start of the year, with Brexit posing potential migrant labour shortages, customs delays, tariff spikes and increased product prices for customers.

Add COVID-19 into the mix and our food system is looking square in the eye at disruption on an unprecedented level.


According to Harvard University scientists who have been forecasting the spread of the virus, it’s possible that as many as 40-70 percent of people worldwide will contract COVID-19 - leaving many off work.

With pressures already piling up for the food industry, the newfound operational and logistical challenges may just tip food security over the edge.

As arable farmers struggle to recruit pickers and packers to sow their seeds and pick their crops, we need to guard fruit, veg and grain production like never before.

So why are our most precious food sources still being used to feed millions of farmed animals every day?

During 2018 in the UK alone the industry raised and slaughtered 2.8 million cows, 10.9 million pigs and a mind-boggling 1.1 billion chickens for their flesh.


Whether the animals on our plates have been ‘grass-fed’, ‘locally reared’ or (most likely) forced to live in factory farms, every single one will be reliant on our precious natural resources.

According to the FAO’s conservative estimates, 26 percent of the planet’s ice-free land is used for grazing animals and one third of croplands are used for animal feed.

And while soy has become the grain that we all love to hate - associated with tofu and soy milk - this humble bean is in fact one of the most widely used grains in animal farming, with as much as 80 percent of the world’s soy destined to become animal feed. 

As Animal Equality’s recent investigation showed, the very lungs of the Earth – the Amazon rainforest – are burning down and deforestation is to blame.

Our apparently insatiable desire for meat leads to the loss of nearly three football fields of Amazonian land every minute, cleared for grazing cattle and cultivating soy.


A plant-based future is the only future.

Continued burning and overgrazing of the land is responsible for habitat loss, species extinction, soil degradation and accelerated erosion. 

And animal agriculture is as inefficient as it is wasteful. According to the poultry industry itself it takes 4,300 litres to produce one kilogram of chicken – that’s the equivalent of 50 baths!

Animal agriculture places great strain on our planetary resources; are these risks worth taking when our Earth is already under immense pressure from pandemics and climate breakdown?

The huge swathes of land currently used to grow crops for farmed animals could instead be used to grow plant-based food for human populations.

Estimates suggest that by reallocating both land and crops in this way we could sustain an additional four billion people worldwide and prevent further deforestation for food. So why – and especially so in these already desperate times – do we continue to compete with farmed animals for food and water?  


Access to food is a concern for us right now in the UK but, like its distant cousins: SARS, MERS, Nipah, Ebola, and others, COVID-19 too shall pass. However, for some, food availability is a severe and ongoing uphill battle.

Western diets prioritising animal consumption come at the cost of less privileged communities abroad who lack access to even the most basic staple food crops.

After locally growing these crops, the grains are then exported as animal feed – racking up considerable air miles along the way – to produce animal products for our consumption.

Yet for every 100 calories of human-edible cereals fed to farmed animals, just 17-30 calories enter the human food chain, via milk, eggs or meat products.

A shift away from animal products would enable people near and far in these tumultuous times and beyond to have fair, affordable, nutritious provisions and help to cut out the tremendous food and water waste along the way.


As animal agriculture continues to drive climate change, we will likely all face new challenges sparked by this devastatingly destructive industry.

Whether it’s viruses like COVID-19 – which in itself is thought to have originated at a wet market, where wild animals are sold for human consumption – or the effects of increased global droughts and flooding, our current dietary habits come at a hefty price.

During the last century the world’s population tripled and it shows no signs of slowing. Estimates suggest that food production must increase by 70 percent if we are to keep up with rising population levels. With more mouths to feed isn’t it time that we rethink our food production and consumption? 

If we are to manage our food and nutritional security in these uncertain times, as well as pave a way for a sustainable future, we must shift our thinking and our eating habits. A plant-based future is the only future.

This Author

Abigail Penny is executive director for Animal Equality.

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