If any European politicians or diplomats working in Brussels need a visual reminder of what a mass extinction event looks like they don’t need to travel far, and they could even squeeze it into their lunch break. The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences is located a stone’s throw from the European institutions and houses giant replicas of dinosaurs. Visitors to the grand museum can get a quick education on the lives of the creatures that roamed the Earth long before humans came along.
But animal welfare and environmental groups warn that the threat of species extinction is not just an issue for the halls of museums, amid rising concern that unsustainable livestock production’s devastating impact on the rapid rate of species loss has started the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth. To draw European leaders’ attention to this issue, Compassion in World Farming and WWF are hosting a landmark international ‘Extinction and Livestock’ conference in London in early October.
“Many people are aware that wild animals such as penguins, elephants and jaguars are threatened by extinction. However, few know that livestock production, fuelled by consumer demand for cheap meat, is one of the biggest drivers of species extinction and biodiversity loss on the planet,” said Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming. “Livestock production, the environment, wildlife conservation and human health are all interlinked so it’s vital that experts from each of these fields work together to come up with practical solutions to stop this before it’s too late.”
One of the keynote speakers will be author and food activist Professor Raj Patel from the University of Texas. In an interview with the Independent in August, Patel explained that industrial agriculture drives mass deforestation when ground is cleared to make way for monoculture crops like palm oil and soy which are grown for both human consumption and livestock feed. When forests are cleared for such plantations, the homes of elephants and jaguars are destroyed. He said:“If you ever go to a soy plantation, animal life is incredibly rare. It’s only soy, there’s nothing there for anything to feed on.”
Patel said that the creation of vast dead zones in the sea as a result of fertiliser run-off was another example of how industrial agriculture is “all about externalising costs and exploiting nature”. He also described how small fish like anchovies and sardines are caught on a massive scale to make fishmeal for farmed salmon, pigs and chickens. The result is that animals such as penguins are left without part of their staple diet.
Another high-profile speaker at the conference will be Karl Falkenberg, who was the head civil servant in the European Commission’s environment directorate from 2009 to 2014. The European Union’s role in the development of an environmentally, economically, and socially destructive farming model has recently come under scrutiny ahead of a Commission proposal on the future of its ‘Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)’ farm scheme later this year.
For Jeremy Wates, Secretary General at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), it is time for EU governments to stop pouring € 55 billion of taxpayers’ money every year into a broken farm policy. He said:
“Industrial farming is having a devastating impact on the welfare of farm animals and it has exacerbated wildlife loss in rural landscapes. Not to mention its impact on ecosystems and farmers’ livelihoods, as well as on the quality of the food we eat and the air we breathe. It is time for a farming model that works in harmony with the environment and not against it – and protecting animal welfare must be at the heart of any sustainable farming policy.”
While it may be over 65 million years since the last mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs, the warning from the experts who will speak at the London conference is that the next extinction event is here and it will be devastating without action to reign in industrial agriculture at both the EU and the global level.