The World Expo, being held in Milan, Italy, from May 1-Oct. 1, 2015, and themed, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” is bringing together 140 countries to unravel one of the world’s greatest challenges. Alongside the Expo, the U.S. brings its pavilion titled, “American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet.” Here the U.S. boasts of showcasing innovations that will shape our future and solve our world’s most pressing issue: how will we feed ourselves in the future, given our ever-increasing population and ever-diminishing resources? World Expo 2015 logoWith U.S. sponsors such as the U.S. Poultry and Egg Council, U.S. Dairy Exports, U.S. Grains Council and U.S. Soybean Export Council, one theme should be front and center when we talk about the future of food: factory farming, where animals are closely confined indoors without the ability to express their basic natural behaviors. While the U.S. agriculture industry continues to tout the need for industrialized farming as “necessary to feed the world,” nothing could be further from the truth. Factory farming will ultimately starve us out. Imagine that a loaf of bread represents all the cereal there is in the world. Now cut that into 10 slices. Then set aside five of those slices. That’s the amount of cereal consumed by humans directly. The rest? Four slices are consumed by farmed animals, and one will go to biofuels. Factory farming also has a heavy water footprint. As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote, “A single egg takes 53 gallons of water to produce. A pound of chicken, 468 gallons. A gallon of milk, 880 gallons. And a pound of beef, 1,800 gallons of water.” Arable land and water — our most precious dwindling resources — are all wasted in a factory farm model. In this model, we end up competing with farmed animals for these resources. A United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) study suggests that for every 100 calories of human-edible cereals fed to animals, just 17 calories enter the human food chain as meat or milk. UNEP calculates that the cereals used to feed farmed animals could, if they were instead used to directly feed people, provide the necessary food energy for more than 3.5 billion people. Yet 805 million people go to bed hungry every night. That’s one-eighth of our fellow human beings. Our food system has failed them. If we started all over again, we would not choose such an inefficient and unsustainable form of food production. The U.S. does have some of the most inspiring and innovative problem-solvers when it comes to feeding the planet. Farmers, such as Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, are forging what is known as regenerative agriculture — having animals and the land work together, rebuilding soil quality from rotational grazing and mixed farming. Tech companies, such as Hampton Creek, Clara Foods and Beyond Meat, are creating more sustainable solutions through plant-based and other alternatives for tomorrow’s food needs. Henry Ford once said if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. He gave them a car. Today, agribusiness continues to offer the faster horse, or rather the faster-growing chicken, a pig that produces more piglets, a bigger cow. But this system will go the way of the horse and buggy as more humane and sustainable, and often cheaper, options progress and leave the current model behind. Compassion in World Farming, as part of the Slow Food pavilion (at the Theatre in Biodiversity Square), will offer an alternative message this week at the Expo (June 10 at 6 p.m.). Stop ignoring the elephant in the room. Factory farming cannot be counted on to feed the growing world population. It’s too dirty, too cruel and too wasteful. The event will challenge attendees to take a cold, hard look at the realities factory farming is having on the future of food and our planet. The future model does not involve doing more of the same, but in truly innovating food technologies and farming systems that play a restorative role, rather than a destructive one.

  • MN Born

    It is an avoidable tragedy that so many Americans throw food away while our fellow citizens and others face food insecurities, hunger and starvation. Our planet can sustain us, just not with our system – beyond Ag, I’m waiting for a culture shift that would include us not requiring grocery stores to be stocked with perfect produce.

  • Gary Sheppard

    Well written article though I differ on many points. Of greatest concern is the comment “Yet 805 million people go to bed hungry every night. That’s one-eighth of our fellow human beings. Our food system has failed them.” I think it is unfair to place this serious issue in the lap of agriculture. The issues around hunger are much more complex than food production.

    • Mark Caponigro

      It’s certainly true that meat, and animal-source foods generally, have nothing to do with solving the problem of hungry people. All human dietary needs can be provided for easily with a plant-source diet. That includes the nutritional requirement for a certain amount of protein. It’s a North American myth that we require lots of protein, the more the better. It’s another myth that protein of the best quality comes from animal products.

  • MaryFinelli

    It isn’t solely factory farming that’s the problem, it’s animal agriculture in general.

  • Kevin Schneider
  • RoyWillaims

    With regard to cattle, this article makes a very false assumption. Cattle that have access to feed bunks and barns will choose to be in the barn over being outside on pasture and under trees 95% of the time. Cattle are not cats: they do not like to be alone. They want to be in groups. Our distant ancestors apparently lived in jungles, but when they migrated to parts of the world that contained caves, our ancestors moved into caves, and later learned to build houses. Cattle also prefer shelter, and prepared food, just as you do. On farms that allow cattle free choice between barns that give each cow a stall to lie on, and a pasture exposed to weather, the cows will usually be seen in the barn. If you forced your children to live in a wild forest like your ancestors did you would be arrested for child abuse. In the same way, cattle owners generally provide shelter and readily available food to their animals. Many more cattle die due to exposure in their “natural” state than die from accidents in large barns.
    If you want to call taking care of your animals “factory farming” because it involves large buildings, that’s OK, but this article (and many like it) try to convince their readers that putting cattle in high-population barns is per se bad. It is not, any more than putting your dog in a kennel while you are away is bad. I challenge anyone who believes that confinement of cattle is cruel or inhumane to take a few young calves as pets, raise them, and keep them for the rest of their lives as family pets. It is the same if you have 2 cows or 20,000 cows. They want to have a dry place to lie down, easily available safe food and water, protection from predators, and to be close to others of their own kind. Large farms can afford to have a veterinarian provide medical care. Just as a doctor cannot treat your child while your child is running around on a playground, a veterinarian cannot provide medical care to a large herd of cattle scattered across thousands of acres. By keeping cows in barns they can be watched for medical problems and treated promptly, instead of being found dead in some remote area.
    Also, many people assume that livestock and people “compete” for food. The reality is that most of the land used to produce feed for cattle will not economically produce food for people. Over half of the land in the United States that is used for agricultural purposes is semi-arid, or too mountainous to support crops, and a large part of the cultivated land will only grow low-input hay crops. If you tried to use that land to grow fruits and vegetables, it would not work – what is happening in California now is a good illustration of what happens when land that is not suitable for growing fruits and vegetables is forced into that type of agriculture: you run out of water. The average American obtains 600 calories per day from dairy products alone. The 9 million dairy cows that provide those calories generally eat a diet that includes many byproducts from the production of human food, along with other feeds that are grown in semi-arid conditions. Yes, those crops are often grown under irrigation, but the volume of water used is but a small fraction of the water that would be required to grow fruits and vegetables, and those crops are in many cases grown in areas with extremely severe winter climates, where many human food crops cannot be grown, which is over half of the land in the U.S. that is used for agriculture. Again, as we are seeing now in California, trying to use that land for fruit and vegetable production is not a long-term sustainable option. If we do not have animal agriculture, we will not have enough food (and no one will have pizza!).
    Because animal agriculture utilizes land that cannot be used to produce human food, animal agriculture is a critical part of the food supply system. We must not let public attitudes and public policy be dictated by those who use sensationalist claims (such as are made in this article) about animal agriculture as a means to achieve control of our food supply.

  • RFD 3

    The sooner factory farming is replaced by fantasy farming the better for our planet. So what if our proffered alternative to modern agriculture is imaginary at this point. Surely if we damage and destroy our existing food system a blissfully effortless system will magically appear to fill the vacuum. Abundant, safe, affordable food is highly over rated. A little scarcity and hunger will make the common classes appreciate all we do for them. Can’t wait to be engulfed by the warm fuzzy feeling of 100% fantasy farmed food!

  • yogachick

    The future of food is vegan.

  • Rachel

    I am happy to read an article on factory farming and the many issues it causes. Cutting meat out of your diet is good for your health, the environment, and animals. Use your wallet to vote for a compassionate world- choose to adopt a plant based diet. You can help the Earth and animals without even lifting a finger!