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Experts Challenge Sustainability of Food System

26 April 2012, at 12:28pm

CANADA - A report released by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has criticised intensive livestock operations for their use of antibiotics, effect on the environment and rural communities, poor welfare and cost to the taxpayer.

What's On Your Plate? The Hidden Costs of Industrial Animal Agriculture exposes the destructive impacts of intensive livestock operations (ILOs) on our health, the environment, animal welfare and rural Canada, said WSPA.

"Intensive livestock operations or ILOs are producing drug resistant super bugs, destroying our planet's life support system and transforming the social fabric of our rural communities" says Melissa Matlow, WSPA Campaigns Manager, Humane and Sustainable Agriculture.

"Food-borne illnesses are costing our healthcare system between $12 and $14 billion annually," says report contributor Dr Eva Pip. "Animal agriculture uses more land and water than any other human activity."

"The running of ILOs also involves significant energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions", notes Dr Tony Weis.

Darrin Qualman says that ILOs are costing Canadian taxpayers directly.

"Government of Canada data shows that hog ILOs couldn't exist without huge tax-funded subsidies". Farm animals are paying a high price too. They suffer painful mutilations, bred to grow faster and crammed into small cages, all to make ILOs possible. "There is solid evidence that our industrial farming practices are causing acute suffering for animals," concludes Dr Ian Duncan.

Key findings of the WSPA report include:

  • The huge amounts of manure from ILOs contain antibiotic residues, heavy metals and pathogens (like E. coli). When applied on to fields or illegally dumped in ditches, these toxins end up in our drinking water and on crops. It also flows into lakes and rivers, killing fish.

  • Non-therapeutic use of antibiotics is causing drug resistant super bugs to be found on ILOs in manure and in groundwater near fields — risking the effectiveness of live-saving medicines.

  • ILOs are causing species loss, soil erosion and lake and river pollution.

  • Tax-payers are subsidising the largest industrial farms. Hog farms with annual revenues over $1million collected 72 per cent of the subsidies in 2009. Since 1996, Canadians have given nearly $4 billion to subsidise the hog industry.

  • ILOs have caused the hollowing out of rural communities as increasing debt, diminished quality of life and soaring unemployment mean businesses, people and infrastructure are abandoning these areas.

  • Painful mutilations done to farm animals (beak severing, hot branding, teeth breaking, etc) without anesthetic would be illegal if performed on a cat or dog and are purely surgical solution to human-made problems.

WSPA is calling for changes by all levels of government to policies and practices that will safe-guard the health of Canadians, protect our environment, revitalise rural communities and improve the lives of farm animal across the country, said a press release.

One of the recommendations of the report is to improve labelling requirementsm so that Canadian producers could identify production methods such as free-range, local and antibiotic free meat, milk and eggs.

WSPA also recommends that practices such as de-beaking and castration be done with anaesthetic or be phased out. It supports the Canadian Medical Association’s call to require veterinary prescriptions for all agriculture antibiotic use

The group has said it will work with industry and farmers to end the worst confinement systems, which they believe are battery cages, sow stall and veal crates.

Finally, WSPA believes that industrial livestock operations should be regulated like other major polluting industries.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.