Tuesday, 14 May 2013

mega-farms and insects

In this week's Independent newspaper there have been 2 articles of interest to me. The first one is Forget badgers. If we really care about animal welfare, it's time to put a stop to mega-farms. I agree with nearly everything that Terence Blacker writes - that mega-farms are a threat to animal welfare. The one point where I disagree with him is where he says that poor people will get cheaper food because of mega-farms. "The arguments against this utilitarian approach can seem footlingly middle class – the fretful concerns of those who have never had to worry about the cost of feeding a family."

Mega-farms may produce cheaper meat but don't provide cheap protein. Feeding soya and anchovies to farm animals is a waste of protein. People can eat soya and anchovies. Millions of poor people do, and millions more would do if they could afford it. They can't afford it because the more affluent half of the world want soya, anchovies and grain to feed their farm animals. The demand from affluent countries means that the price has risen beyond the means of poorer people.

People don't need as much protein as they think they do. In the affluent countries of the world people eat far more protein than they need, and with that comes saturated fat. In poor countries many people don't get enough protein or enough calories. So to justify mega-farms on the basis of cheaper food for poor people is completely wrong. And that's not saying anything about animal cruelty, the ecological problems of disposing of the waste of millions of animals, the problem of soil degradation and the increased risk of disease and antibiotic resistance.

Here is another recent article from the Independent about mega-farms and an editorial.
Campaigners warn against rise of the 'mega-farms': Could massive pig, fish and dairy units harm the environment?
Editorial: Who needs mega-farms?

The other Independent article is about eating insects. UN has a new nutritional, sustainable diet for a hungry world: insects.
"As cold-blooded creatures they are “very efficient” in converting feed to protein, needing 12 times less feed than cattle in order to produce the same amount. They also feed on human and animal waste, and can transform this into protein."
This shows a lack of understanding of basic biology. Animals don't convert feed to protein. The feed that they eat contains protein, which is broken down then re-assembled in their tissues. It is true that cold-blooded creatures are more efficient at converting plant protein into animal protein, and if instead of feed they're converting human and animal waste that sounds good too. However, I would prefer to eat crayfish tails than insects.
"The UN acknowledges that “consumer disgust” remains “one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries”."
It seems to me that it would be far easier to persuade people to eat more grain, soya, anchovies and other fish than it would be to persuade people to overcome their 'consumer disgust' and eat insects. People already eat lots of maize in it's most boring form, cornflakes. Why would it be so difficult to get people to eat more maize, in the form of polenta and tortillas? Get people to eat more soya in the form of tofu, miso and tempeh. And get them to eat more anchovies and other fish. Instead of feeding these things to farm animals then eating them. Then we wouldn't need mega-farms. Then we would have genuinely cheap food and genuinely cheap protein. Why can't the UN say that?

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