Livestock farming

Industrial livestock farming. Japan. © Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Livestock farming is experiencing unprecedented growth worldwide. Global consumption of meat has doubled in the last 20 years and is continuing to grow. To satisfy demand, intensive and extensive farming have become much more common. This trend has harmful ecological consequences: livestock farming is now responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and represents a cause of deforestation and pollution. In addition, industrial livestock farming, whether for food or fur, still raises problems of animal suffering.


Between 1990 and 2010, global consumption of meat rose from 143 to 286 million tonnes. It has therefore doubled in 20 years. It could double again by 2050. Consumption is increasing particularly in developing countries, as their populations grow and their diets evolve – undernourished or poorly nourished populations now have access to a richer diet. Consumption has now reached around 30 kg of meat per year per person, compared to 80 kg in industrialised countries.


Livestock farming requires large areas of land: this is the most land-hungry human activity. According to the FAO, pasture covers 26% of the world’s land surface, while fodder production requires about one third of arable land. In arid zones in particular, over-pasturing is a factor in soil erosion.

Extensive livestock farming is the main cause of deforestation in America. The FAO estimates that between 2005 and 2010 forest cover decreased by 1.2 million hectares in Central America and by 18 million hectares in South America. Between now and 2010, 62% and 69% of cleared land in South and Central America respectively will be converted into pasture.

Growing soya is another cause of deforestation in Latin America. And yet it is mainly intended for export to feed intensively raised livestock in the West.

Again according to the FAO, livestock is a significant source of water pollution, depositing animal waste, antibiotics and hormones into watercourses. Tanneries discharge chemical products. The industry also produces almost two thirds of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, contributing to acid rain. It is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, i.e. more than the transport industry.


Enclos de vaches Massaï près de Kichwa Tembo Camp, Kenya. © Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Livestock farming near Kichwa Tembo Camp, Kenya. © Yann Arthus-Bertrand

The livestock sector feeds and sustains a billion people globally, particularly in arid zones, where livestock are often one of the only sources of livelihood. For numerous others it represents crucial extra income.

However, with the development of intensive farming in the Southern countries, meat production has moved from the countryside to urban and peri-urban areas. Across the world, 80% of current growth in the livestock sector is due to industrial systems.

Pastoralism is also in the process of disappearing despite the fact that it plays an important role in some biological balances. It structures the landscape, helps to clear the land and thus prevents fires. In the West, it benefits from green tourism, albeit modestly.


Intensive farming leads to animal suffering. Confined in enclosed buildings, sometimes mutilated, they live in appalling conditions. Weaned too early, the piglets eat the tails of their fellows. To avoid this, their tails are cut off. Chickens raised for their flesh, enclosed in overcrowded buildings, never see the light of day, grow too quickly, and suffer from leg problems and cardiac arrest, to mention but a few examples.


Significant quantities of antibiotics and antimicrobials are associated with the feeding of animals living in overcrowded buildings, for curative as well as preventive treatments and as a growth factor. This encourages the appearance of micro-organisms that are resistant to treatments that can be passed on to humans and represent a health risk.


The practice of intensive farming inevitably leads to the selection of the most productive animal breeds. Thus, over the last six years, 62 breeds of livestock animals have disappeared, which is almost one per month.

To meet the growing demand of their populations for animal products, the developing countries have tried to copy developed countries by replacing their local breeds with more productive species, thus further threatening the diversity of domestic breeds worldwide.


If we take account of the cost of combating the pollution and illnesses of industrially farmed animals, organic farming, which respects animal welfare, does not necessarily cost more than industrial farming. The animals, in better health, require a smaller outlay on medication and have a lower death rate.

The meat from animals raised in these conditions is considered to taste better. In France, the Organic Farming label (Agriculture Biologique – AB) guarantees consumers products from animals raised in decent conditions.


The living conditions of non-food livestock are hardly better than those of animals raised for their meat. In France, for example, 90% of fur comes from farming. The 40 mink farms produce around 500,000 mink furs per year. Mink and foxes are raised in small mesh cages, while in the wild their territory extends over several kilometres.

Symptomatic of their suffering, the animals farmed for their fur adopt abnormal behaviour such as self-mutilation and aggression to their fellow creatures and offspring. In the Netherlands, the farming of foxes and chinchillas for their fur was prohibited following campaigns by animal welfare groups. This was also the case in Switzerland with mink.

In China and Asia, animals are farmed for Chinese medicine. Thousands of collared bears, bred in unsanitary farms, are kept in captivity to extract their bile. With a catheter inserted into the gallbladder, these bears spend their lives in pain. In December 2006, the European Parliament asked Beijing to ban this type of farming, but China refused. (12)


Meat production requires large quantities of resources. Producing a kilo of beef requires approximately seven kilos of grain – two in the case of chicken. And as between 1,000 and 2,000 litres of water are required to produce one kilo of wheat, this means that over 10,000 litres of water are required for one kilo of beef.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, one kilo of beef from intensive farming is the equivalent of thirty kilos of CO2 equivalent; almost ten times less for a kilo of poultry meat (the figures vary according to the calculation). This is why Rajendra Pachauri, President of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and recent Nobel Prize winner, invites us to eat less meat, and in particular less beef.




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