Loss of biodiversity on land and in water

Tropical rainforests are especially rich in biodiversity, but more than one-fifth of the Amazon rainforest has already been destroyed. Livestock is one of the major causes: trees are cleared to create pastures or grow soy to feed animals. And many of the pastures are turned into soy fields after a few years. The widespread conversion of pasture to cropland to produce feed in South America and Europe cuts biodiversity, since grassland usually contains more species and offers a better habitat for insects and other small animals. But intensive grazing often leads to a loss of native species, as farmers sow new types of grass that are more valuable as feed. This marginalizes other species. Fencing to convert an ope range into ranches can cut the migration routes of wild animals, keep them away from waterholes, and trigger local overgrazing by cattle.

In Europe, the USA, South America and East and Southeast Asia, many mixed farms are being rapidly replaced by “landless” systems to raise pigs and poultry  on an industrial scale. In such systems, the animals are fed with crops purchased from other farms and often from abroad. This is one of the main reason for the nutrients imbalance in fresh water, soils and the ocean.

A species poor planet

Eight types of livestock are used in heavy industrial production: cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks and rabbits. The industry has developed these into a few high-yielding breeding lines, which are crossbred to produce the animals that we eat. The 1950s marked the beginning of the wide-scale commercial production of meat and with it a loss of genetic diversity.

Now, a small number of transnational firms supply commercial breeds for an ever-increasing share of the world’s meat markets. The companies also dominate research and development in the highly-concentrated animal genetics industry, particularly for poultry, swine and cattle.

  • one third of the world’s pig supply, 85% of the traded eggs and two-thirds of the milk production come from these breeds.
  • In the poultry sector, four firms account for 97% of poultry research and development. In broilers three companies control a 95% market share.
    Two companies control an estimated 94% of the breeding stock of commercial layers.
    Two companies supply virtually all of the commercial turkey genetics.
  • The top four companies account for two-thirds of the total industry research and development of both swine and cattle.

China is now the world’s largest consumer of meat, with pork being the country’s most popular protein, and demand is rocketing. By 2015, half the country’s pigs will come from factory farms. Numerous swine genetic firms have recently announced deals with China. This trend is likely to accelerate as a result of the 2013 purchase of Smithfield Foods for 7.1 billion dollars by China’s largest meat processor, Shuanghui International. As industrial-scale livestock production replaces China’s small-scale pig producers and chicken farmers, Chinese factory farms, like those in the United States, increasingly rely on high levels of antibiotics in feed to promote faster growth and to help the animals survive crowded conditions.

The large scale animal production threatens unique and resistent breeds of animals

The tightly-held ownership and control of breeding stock for industrial, large-scale animal production contrasts sharply with, and threatens the survival of, millions of smallholder farmers, fishers and pastoralists. In a world facing climate change, breeds that are resistant to drought, extreme heat or tropical diseases are of major potential importance. According to FAO’s 2012 update on the state of livestock biodiversity, almost one-quarter of the 8,000 unique farm animal breeds are at risk of extinction, primarily due to the growth of the industrial livestock sector.