Animal welfare, environment, public health, energy and food security: There are countless reasons why animal agriculture is being questioned today.
The scandals in the sector are not helping to improve the opinion citizens, especially young people, have about animal exploitation.
The most recent events have generated great international commotion: in France and the Netherlands, thousands of chickens had to be slaughtered due to an outbreak of bird flu, while in Botswana, 10,000 cows were “destroyed” due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
These are no small reasons to rethink animal agriculture, especially while the world recovers from an unprecedented health crisis caused by a zoonotic disease. The reasons for questioning animal exploitation are worrying and rarely mentioned, not only because of the interests at stake but also because they include technical concepts such as “excess nitrogen in the atmosphere” or “antimicrobial resistance” that not everyone understands. This first factor worries European countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, who are currently confronting farmers by demanding the imminent transformation of farms, as an attempt to reduce the impact of animal agriculture on the environment.
Globally, animal agriculture produces 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide emissions, which has a global warming impact 296 times greater than carbon dioxide. Raising livestock for human consumption generates nearly 15% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, which is greater than all transportation emissions combined, and which has direct effects on people’s health. According to the World Health Organization, environmental pollution is responsible for 9 million premature deaths worldwide. Only last year, in a study carried out in the United States, it was found that 17,000 people die each year due to pollution caused by animal agriculture.
Antimicrobial resistance is another topic of great magnitude. In 2019 alone, it claimed the lives of more than 1.2 million people worldwide for what is considered a “silent pandemic” due to the antibiotic overuse in food animals. Europe and the world already know about this and that is why the One Health approach is beginning to have more importance proved by the resolution on the ‘Nexus between animal welfare, environment and sustainable development’ adopted during the United Nations Environment Assembly held at the beginning of the year in Nairobi.
Undoubtedly, COVID-19 helped governments finally begin to think about the welfare of animals, since the outbreak of the health emergency, emphasis has been placed on the origin of pandemics, which come, in more than 70 per cent, from handling animals, mostly for consumption.
That is why today it is not strange that advanced countries, with strong democracies like Switzerland, consider the prohibition of industrial animal agriculture since the risk of zoonosis outbreaks and the environmental impact is greater in large scale farms. Switzerland made history by being the first country where a ban on intensive farming was proposed.
The proposal, led by non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace, The Franz Weber Foundation, Sentience and Four Paws International and supported by thousands of citizens in Switzerland, involved a constitutional reform that prohibited farmers from raising more than 2,000 or 1,000 animals depending on the specie and similarly restricted the importation of animals, or animal-based products that do not comply with the proposed regulation.
Although the initiative was not endorsed by the required majority, this proposal follows the current trend of other European countries such as Finland and the Netherlands. They are concerned about the environment and the welfare of animals and seek to reduce animal agriculture and encourage the transition to a more sustainable plant-based diet.
This is also an important message for the government and farmers not only in Switzerland but around the world, as it puts in the agenda the issue on the constitutional ban on the exploitation of animals used for food.
From SOS Animals Colombia we celebrate the 1,062,674 million Swiss citizens who voted yesterday in favour of the environment, animals and public health and we count on initiatives like these to continue supporting the necessary transformation of agriculture worldwide.