The government should ban on new intensive poultry farms in an effort to save rare animal species from being wiped out, experts say.
Ministers must declare “peak poultry” within a year, phasing out industrial chicken from school and hospital menus, because the meat is damaging biodiversity and fuelling the climate crisis, it’s claimed.
Chicken are reared on vast quantities of soya, grown in South America, where swathes of forests are cleared to produce feed for industrially farmed animals.
Campaigners from the Soil Association say species being put at risk of extinction because their habitats are being lost include jaguar, northern tiger cats, giant anteaters, giant armadillos and three types of monkey.
The damage has shot up because the UK’s consumption of poultry has risen significantly in recent years as consumers have switched away from red meat on health and environmental grounds.
UK consumers eat nearly a billion chickens a year, reared in at least 1,000 intensive poultry units nationwide, an increase of more than 30 per cent in a decade, research has shown.
The Soil Association is calling on the government to ensure UK consumption and production of poultry peaks within 12 months, then falls. The organisation’s chiefs want ministers to:
- Phase out industrial chicken meat from schools and hospitals
- Immediately ban new intensive poultry units
- And support producers to switch to nature-friendly and higher-welfare production systems
The government says it is introducing “world-leading” legislation banning products grown in illegally deforested areas and is forcing businesses to examine their supply chains.
Rob Percival, Soil Association head of food policy, said: “We’re gobbling our way through some of the planet’s most precious ecosystems, sacrificing iconic wildlife for the sake of soya and an ultra-processed chicken nugget.
“Just as the climate crisis demands we rapidly reach ‘peak oil’ and transition to renewable sources of energy, the nature crisis demands we reach ‘peak poultry’ and transition to more nature-friendly, sustainable farming systems.”
An Ipsos Mori poll this month found six in 10 UK adults wanted a ban on imports linked to deforestation, and a Soil Association survey found strong support for a ban on industrial livestock units.
Research from Greenpeace among others has repeatedly highlighted the destruction caused by soya production on rainforests, savannah and wetland ecosystems - vital wildlife habitats - in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Mr Percival called it devastating.
Dr Flavia Miranda, professor at the University of Santa Cruz-UESC and an IUCN-affiliated wildlife veterinary expert, said: “Soyabeans have been destroying our country due to the loss of critical wildlife habitats.
“In just a few decades, nearly half of Brazil’s landscapes have been transformed into pastures and agricultural land, leaving only about 22 per cent of the biome.”
The UK’s overseas “soya footprint” covers an area approaching the size of Wales, according to the Soil Association.
Mr Percival added: “We need roughly a tennis court of soya per person to fulfil our demand for grain-fed meat.
“With UK poultry consumption roughly double the global average, and demand for grain-fed meat rising globally, there simply isn’t enough land to go around. Our diets need to change.”
And the UK Climate Change Committee called for a 20 per cent drop in meat and dairy consumption by 2030.
If the UK is to be a credible host for the Cop26 climate talks, Mr Percival said, it was vital to “address our contribution to deforestation and wildlife loss abroad and get our industrial poultry problem under control”.
A government spokesperson said: “The UK has a long and proud history of supporting action to combat deforestation and promote sustainable land use. Our new due diligence measure in the Environment Bill will clean up our supply chains by making it illegal for UK businesses to use key commodities produced on illegally deforested land.
“This is just one piece of a much larger package of measures we are putting in place to tackle deforestation, and we are working internationally to tackle the drivers of deforestation and protect the world’s vital intact forests.
“As part of our presidency of Cop26, we are building a global alliance of countries committed to working together to tackle this important issue, and this new dialogue will be instrumental in making this happen.”
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