Animal Farming

INTERVIEW: Greenpeace France Explains Why Limiting ‘Factory Farms’ Would Be Beneficial

Source: Feedindo Logo Final

By Simon Duke, Editor-in-Chief

As Europe is seeking to tackle its agricultural emissions and France is discussing the future of its agriculture with the “Pacte et la Loi d'Orientation et d'Avenir Agricoles” (PLOAA), Greenpeace France released a new investigative report (“Fermes-usines: stop à l'élevage industriel”) about the state of factory farming in France in early May. In its latest report containing an illustrative map of France, the NGO reports 3,010 farms, most of them located in the northwest of the country.

Greenpeace, citing January 2023 data by the French Ministry of Ecological Transition for farming operations subject to an ICPE (Installations Classées pour la Protection de l’Environnement) authorisation, counted 3,010 factory farms, representing 3% of farms nationwide but containing 60% of all production animals (200 million). 70% of factory farms (accounting for 134 million animals) are concentrated in 9% of the territory, mainly in Brittany and the Pays de Loire regions.

An ICPE authorisation, a file demanded by the government when a project may create a risk for the environment, is required for operations with more than 400 cows per farm, 2,000 pigs, or 40,000 poultry.

It is this density in such a localised area which is of concern to Greenpeace, which believes that the consequences of intensive farming have been apparent for several years, with the intensification of production and trade. Animals raised in these conditions do not fit in with the objective of feeding the world in a more sustainable manner, warns the NGO.

Greenpeace said that such numbers and the high density of farms pose significant environmental, social and health risks due to their effects on climate, biodiversity and the health of residents living near agricultural operations. It is calling for a national moratorium limiting the construction of new livestock and poultry farms or the expansion of existing operations.

According to Sandy Olivar Calvo, head of Greenpeace France's agricultural affairs, factory farms pollute the air and water with ammonia emissions and are detrimental to the climate due to methane emissions. Additionally, they import large volumes of soy from South America, a continent dealing with deforestation. Calvo also argues that factory farming increases the risk of zoonoses transmission and antibiotic resistance.

For Calvo, a national moratorium would allow for a reduction in production volumes and consumption of animal protein from industrial farming. However, at the same time, the government must develop a strategy for a better spread of farms across France while supporting more ecological operations.

Get Ready for the Dutch Scenario

“Animal farming is an important issue which needs to be tackled. We can't keep burying our heads in the sand, believing there are no issues, and keep on doing the same thing,” Suzanne Dalle, Greenpeace France Food & Agriculture campaigner, told Feedinfo in an interview.

“What happened in the Netherlands is a reminder that in France, we need to address the issue now or risk facing a future with a sudden drop in livestock numbers and no alternative solutions,” she said. “What happened in the Netherlands will happen in France, so we might as well get ready for it, or risk facing sudden and brutal changes.”

“For us, the PLOAA is an opportunity. Bearing in mind that a new generation of farmers is coming, this has to be a key moment to evolve French farms to more sustainable models,” Dalle added. “The moratorium would enable a shift in models without jeopardising the farmers.”

Of course, companies in the animal production value chain would argue they are well aware of the issues associated with high animal density in farms. Improvements in the sustainability of production from new innovations in farm management, nutrition, or technology have come about thanks to investments in this area over multiple years.

Dalle acknowledges that efforts have been made by the sector. However, she warned that our society is currently in a kind of a “techy logic” in which people believe that technology will solve all problems.

“For us this is a fundamental concern,” she added. There are of course mitigation solutions being implemented at farm level – in line with EU wishes – but methane or ammonia emissions remain high in proportion to the numbers of animals on farms. The more animals on the farm, the more likely greenhouse gas emissions are high.”

New Farm Models for the Future

“The sector needs to acknowledge that a drop in animal production numbers will be necessary. It will need to go hand-in-hand with a decrease in consumption,” Dalle said, adding that the reduced production would help with a conversion to a more environmentally friendly system.

“The problem is that there isn’t much of a choice. Either scrutiny and farmer accountability with regard to livestock emissions is increased, or we close some farms for the greater benefit of the animal farming sector. However, we could think about means to accompany farmers with this and assist them change farm operating models.”

According to Dalle, the opportunity could lie in the fact that many ageing farmers will retire, and their farms will be taken over by a younger generation.

“We believe that having strong incentives guiding the new owners to different models of production and types of production (e.g. animal farming + vegetable growing) would be beneficial,” she commented. “For example, establishing a maximum quota for production on a farm if it is located in a region with large animal populations; and on the contrary, encouraging production in areas where there are much fewer farms, or financially supporting younger farmers when they take over farms using a different operating model.”

Dalle admitted that this is an ambitious project, and not necessarily one that will be endorsed by the French Ministry of Ecological Transition but believes that a radical transformation of farming models supported by a government-led plan is the key toward more sustainable animal agriculture.

“There is no agriculture in France without animal farming, but it is critical that the distinction be made between the different scales of animal farming in place today.”

If the transition does takes place and animal production volumes decrease, an impact at consumer level can be expected, with the most likely outcome being higher prices for animal protein.

According to Dalle, consumers would need to reduce their consumption of animal protein and shift mentalities as meat products would need to be considered more as luxury items.

At time of publication, Greenpeace France is still awaiting an official reaction by the French Ministry of Ecological Transition regarding its report.