AGRICULTURE: Farm Animals Join Rio+20 Agenda

  • by Johanna Treblin (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

The delegates will also deal with the wellbeing of farm animals and sustainable farming, thanks to the efforts of the London-based NGO World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), the governments of the G-77 countries, Switzerland and New Zealand.

Together, they have helped to draft a part of the Rio+20 outcome text, to be negotiated in June, to 'call upon all States to prioritise sustainable intensification of food production through increased investment in local food production', especially in regard to women, smallholders, youth and indigenous farmers.

The draft text further demands an increase in 'the use of appropriate technologies for sustainable agriculture'.

The WSPA, which sees itself not only as an animal advocacy group but also as one that supports sustainable agriculture, defines sustainable livestock production as part of a food and agriculture system that is ecologically sound, equitable for farmers and rural communities and other sectors of society, and humane in its use and treatment of livestock.

The livestock sector provides livelihoods to about 1.3 billion people worldwide — more than one-sixth of the global population - according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

A significantly higher proportion - about 70 percent - of the world's rural poor, however, relies on livestock production for their livelihoods.

Industrial farming, which threatens the livelihoods of these people, especially smallholders, while simultaneously damaging socio-economic systems and the environment, came about during the second half of the twentieth century.

'The ancient contract of responsible stewardship, once honored by farmers for thousands of years, was replaced by intensive factory farming methods that exchanged ethical farming practice for increased economic profitability,' said a 2010 article in the journal 'Holistic Nursing Practice'.

Profit came 'at the expense of animal welfare and the increase in potential adverse health consequences to the general public', it added.

'Factory farming is not sustainable,' Dinah Fuentesfina of WSPA Thailand told IPS. 'Factory farming also is bad for the climate,' she added.

Raising cattle, in fact, not only generates more greenhouse gases than does driving cars, according to a 2006 FAO report, but it is also a major contributor to land and water degradation.

'Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems,' said Henning Steinfeld, the report's senior author.

'The Rio+20 conference is about poverty reduction. If you really want to achieve that, there is no way to leave out such an important sector as the agricultural or the livestock sector,' Stephen Chacha of WSPA's Tanzania branch told IPS.

'Governments really need to put more emphasis on this,' he added.

In order to convince the governments represented at the Earth Summit to take livestock farming into account, the NGO has collected more than 100,000 signatures in more than 165 countries in a petition addressing John W. Ashe and Sook Kim, the chairs of the Earth Summit.

On April 25, the petition was handed over to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Executive Coordinators Elizabeth Thompson and Brice Lalonde, who agreed to forward the signatures to Ashe and Kim.

The petition is part of the WSPA's pawprint campaign to put farm animal welfare on the agenda of Rio+20.

Growing movements around the globe point to the importance of animal welfare both for the sake of the climate and environment as well as for the sake of people's health. Numerous studies and groups have found links between animal welfare and food safety.

'Standards of animal welfare and animal management practices including feeding, house and husbandry can impact…the prevalence of food-borne diseases,' says the website of the European Food Safety Authority.

Although a gradual cultural shift is evident, with consumers growing more conscious of their food choices, the movement has yet to overpower industrial farming, and progress in the fight to create a sustainable and ecologically sound agricultural system can be painfully slow.

On Thursday, food chain giant Burger King announced a major policy shift, pledging to use 100 percent cage-free eggs in its more than 7,200 fast food restaurants throughout the United States — by 2017.

Those restaurants represent more than half of the 12,500 Burger King locations in 81 countries and territories worldwide, although the corporation did not indicate it would also replace caged eggs in other countries.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service