News 5 commentslast update:Feb 25, 2016

Ecomodernism vs welfare

Achieving more pig welfare as well as a better environment are two opposite goals to achieve and might even contradict each other. A recent scientific manifesto supports that vision.

First – let me show you a video that was shared by Elanco's president Jeff Simmons some years ago. It is a video clip for the company Chipotle ('Food with integrity'), sang by country singer Willie Nelson, which shows the company's vision of how agriculture should be done – and obviously the reason why Simmons showed it, was because he didn't agree.

Pig and cattle farmer with regret

The video shows an animation of a livestock farmer who gradually reaches a point of regret about the way his livestock is being taken care of. It has become a chemical, industrialised business. Away with the barns, no more confinement, let's let them graze in liberty between trees.

Simmons' message at the time was: idealistic as much as it seems, the video is misleading as extensifying agriculture does not solve the food issues all around the world, as demand is only to grow – think of the 9 billion projected people in 2050.

An Ecomodernist Manifesto

It seems that that thought has now been given some further backing by a group of 18 scientists from all over the world, unified in what is called 'An Ecomodernist Manifesto'. The website was launched this spring.

Their message is a surprising one, as it springs from a worry about the preservation of planet Earth: "We affirm one long-standing environmental ideal, that humanity must shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature, while we reject another, that human societies must harmonise with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse."

Intensifying farming to use less land

To deepen this thought a little further, here is another striking quote: "Intensifying many human activities – particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement – so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world is the key to decoupling human development from environmental impacts."

"These socioeconomic and technological processes are central to economic modernisation and environmental protection. Together they allow people to mitigate climate change, to spare nature, and to alleviate global poverty."

How has history progressed in recent decades

The background to this vision is how history has progressed in recent decades in what is known as the 'developed world', i.e. North America, Europe, Japan, Australia. There where economic and technological development has reached a high level, and where cities have grown, fewer people need to be left behind on the countryside. Those who are still in agriculture, do what they need to do using intensified methods, reaching crops and targets more sustainably and more efficiently. Eventually, this will lead to more space for nature.

The scientists for instance denounce developments in e.g. Germany or Japan 'to shutter nuclear power plants' and to 'recarbonise their energy sectors'.

Similarly, I conclude, the way ahead for Africa is therefore: intensify and modernise. This way, the relief of poverty and the protection of nature will go hand in hand.

Animal welfare – is it immoral?

All this brings me back to my initial paragraph. When viewed in this way, and based on sincere worry about the future of humanity and planet Earth, it could be called immoral to demand for high animal welfare if it goes at the expense of production figures.

I must admit, it needs sinking in with me. It's an unnerving thought to have while enjoying the sight of pigs sunbathing in the mud.


  • Lukas Schulthess

    Even after thinking about it for some time, I do not agree.
    If you look at it "the efficiency way " then we all would have to go "vegan". As pigs have more or less the same intestine as humans, we could eat the same stuff as our pigs do.
    so in my opinion the only way to keep people on the pig meat ist to:
    1. use as many byproducts, foodwaste etc. as possible (this includes animal proteins which are more or less banned today (at least in the EU) and foodwaste from restaurants)
    2. house the pigs according to modern sights of animal welfare. even when it means that production cost will rise. Free farrowing with under 10% losses is possible and so is a production with long tails.

    Our pigs are part of the Environment as well. So when starting to do something for the Environment, let's start right here.

  • Vincent ter Beek

    Dear Lukas, Thank you for your comment and thank you for having given it some thought. We are definitely on the same page... as long as welfare improvements do not go at the expense of efficiency, I think there cannot be any objection to it. I like the idea of using byproducts as well -search for my column called 'Porcine employees'. Now how to convince the rest of Europe?

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