An education program called “The benefits of Modern Poultry Production” will take place at the 2011 International Poultry Expo, this January.

The session, hosted by the US Poultry and Egg Association, will be a response to activist groups, and communicating the value and achievements of modern agriculture.

“Modern farming practices and advances in technology continue to enhance the American farmer’s ability to produce safe and affordable food while caring for their animals and protecting the environment,” says program chairman Pete Martin of Mar-Jac Poultry. “This program will focus on the benefits of today’s food production practices and why we must continue to tell our story.”

Last October, the chairman of the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), Christopher Wathes, writing in the journal the Veterinary Record, provided an interesting illustration of the scale to which modern farming has grown.

Wathes, wrote: “Over 900 million farm animals are ‘used’ in Great Britain each year, the great majority are broiler chickens. This number of individual animals is almost impossible to imagine: if they all marched past at two per second, it would take over 14 years from the first to the last.”

The modern world  

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This almost Biblical image of animals marching by two-by-two brings home the scale of modern day farming – even in a small country such as Great Britain. If all the animals in China, the world’s largest meat producer, were to perform a similar march, we might all end up growing very old waiting for it to finish.

Yet this illustration demonstrates, for anyone still under the illusion, that animal production in developed agricultural systems is not about chickens in the yard and roses around the farmhouse door.

Education  

I certainly am not against animal welfare, but the figure quoted by the FAWC, I think, clearly demonstrates the scale to which the sector has grown. Does this illustration mean that welfare is a luxury that we simply can no longer afford, or does it mean that welfare is all the more important due to the scale of the potential problem?

Probably, strong arguments can be made for both positions, but what is undeniable is the need for informed and efficient and production methods. As demand for food increases, production will need to respond accordingly. Which are the most efficient methods of producing animal protein needs to be clearly communicated to the public given that, as the scale of production gets ever-greater, the opportunities for activist action will grow accordingly.

In the UK, testing laboratory Huntingdon Life Sciences has been in the news again, following the jailing of a group of animal activists who had posted hoax bombs to the homes of employees, caused criminal damage, threatened violence and made abusive phonecalls. Sentences ranged up to six years custody.

I cannot support the actions of the activists, but cannot help wondering if this, largely young group of people really understood what they were doing. Perhaps, if they had, a lot of the distress that they caused would never have happened.