It’s time public woke up to reality of #LivestockFarming, says former MEP

| June 18, 2019

Food safety standards in Europe, and in particular in the UK, are among the highest in the world, and yet consumer trust and confidence in the food system has never been so low, writes George Lyon, former MEP.

Despite the wide availability of cheap, nutritious food, misconceptions around issues such as animal welfare and the use of antibiotics are driving unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of food producers.

The livestock sector is losing the battle over its public image as consumers are bombarded with wild claims about the damage modern farming systems are causing and the suggestion that if only we turned the clock back to some golden age everything would be fine.

We seem to have forgotten that before the post-war development of modern farming systems, we regularly faced food shortages, high prices and poor-quality food.

It is a testament to modern systems that despite the world’s population doubling, the proportion of income spent on food in the UK has more than halved in the past 60 years.

And we have achieved that goal while meeting some of the most stringent EU animal health policies in the world.

We must now do more to help consumers understand the reality of livestock farming and its importance to public health and nutrition.

Firstly, we must tackle the misconception that large-scale, intensive farming compromises on animal welfare.

As any farmer will tell you, animal welfare comes top of their agenda, especially on larger farms for the simple reason that without happy, well-looked after animals, you cannot make a living from livestock farming.

Secondly, the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is too often mistaken for the primary cause of antimicrobial resistance and superbugs when the biggest driver of drug resistance continues to be the use of antibiotics in human medicine.

While farmers and veterinarians clearly play a part in ensuring antibiotics are used responsibly, the EU bans them from being used as growth promoters in animals and limits their use to medical necessities, which in turn is integral to animal welfare.

 And there are strict controls on withdrawal periods to prevent any residues of animal medicines entering the food chain.

Both the animal health sector and the livestock industry also run initiatives to promote the responsible use of antibiotics, which deserve greater attention.

Finally, the debate and scrutiny over the environmental impact of the livestock sector is often skewed by generalizations.

In the face of increasing demand for animal-source foods, many European producers are pioneering precision livestock farming to allow them to deliver the necessary supply while minimizing their environmental impact.

Such an approach is making animal agriculture more sustainable by allowing farmers and veterinarians to identify health issues earlier and more accurately regulate feed and water, and administer medicine if needed.

It also offers best practice examples for other regions where either productivity or sustainability is low.

While livestock production systems are not all equal, Europe leads the way in developing a more sustainable agriculture, which holds out the promise of helping other countries to leapfrog towards ever more sustainable practices.

For consumers, there is a gulf between their perceptions of the food system and the reality of modern farming systems.

It is vital, therefore, that the farming industry ups its game and seeks to close that knowledge gap otherwise we risk throwing away the massive benefits modern agriculture delivers for our consumers.


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Category: A Frontpage, Agriculture, Animal welfare, Dairy sector, Economy, Environment, EU

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