Farm animals in the Global Goals

Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice. — Robert F. Kennedy

The Glob­al Goals were launched in Sep­tem­ber last year. These suc­ces­sors of the Mil­len­ni­um Devel­op­ment Goals try to give a com­plete pic­ture of how we can improve our world. The goals are based on exten­sive con­sul­ta­tion of stake­hold­ers. The most impor­tant out­come is the real­iza­tion that pover­ty reduc­tion and a sus­tain­able soci­ety are two sides of the same coin. Glob­al Goals are not only rel­e­vant for devel­op­ing coun­tries: They address issues like peace and secu­ri­ty, renew­able ener­gy, recy­cling, tourism and employment.

Global Goals

Ani­mals and plants are men­tioned in the goals that deal with the pro­tec­tion of ecosys­tems and com­bat­ing poach­ing. How­ev­er, farm ani­mals are con­spic­u­ous­ly absent. They are only referred to in the con­text of the preser­va­tion of genet­ic vari­a­tion. Why they are not count­ed as a stake­hold­er? Look­ing at the (rapid­ly grow­ing) num­bers, it’s a group we can hard­ly ignore:

We imag­ine that our plan­et is pop­u­lat­ed by lions, ele­phants, whales and pen­guins. That may be true of the Nation­al Geo­graph­ic chan­nel, Dis­ney movies and children’s fairy­tales, but it is no longer true of the real world. The world con­tains 40,000 lions but, by way of con­trast, there are around 1 bil­lion domes­ti­cat­ed pigs; 500,000 ele­phants and 1.5 bil­lion domes­ti­cat­ed cows; 50 mil­lion pen­guins and 20 bil­lion chickens.
Yuval Harari

Live­stock indi­rect­ly influ­ences the Glob­al Goals in many way. The fact that we use cere­al crops and soy­beans to feed ani­mals instead of our­selves means that the prices of these crops increase and poor peo­ple can­not buy their sta­ple food. All those bil­lions of ani­mals use land and water, and pro­duce a lot of waste. 14% of the glob­al CO2 emis­sions are caused by live­stock — this is more than all forms of trans­port togeth­er. Pel­leti­er & Tyed­mers (2010) com­pare the impact of live­stock to that of soy as a pro­tein source for humans. In the sec­ond sce­nario, green­house gas emis­sions, plant bio­mass use and nitro­gen pol­lu­tion are much low­er. Our live­stock sys­tems also have a huge neg­a­tive impact on bio­di­ver­si­ty (Machov­ina et al., 2015). Reduc­ing the growth of the live­stock sec­tor by con­sum­ing less ani­mal-based prod­ucts is there­fore a good way to work on the Glob­al Goals.


But I think there is a deep­er prob­lem — a fun­da­men­tal flaw in our com­pas­sion and ambi­tion. Tar­get 16 is a “just, peace­ful and inclu­sive soci­ety.” I can­not imag­ine how we can achieve that if we do not take into account the inter­ests of the ani­mals that we live with every day. Just like humans, ani­mals can feel pain, and a calf does not want to be sep­a­rat­ed from her moth­er any more than a human baby would. There is ample sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence for this. If we start respect­ing these sim­ple needs, it quick­ly becomes clear that indus­tri­al farm­ing is no longer an option.

All the Glob­al Goals call for con­scious choic­es from us as West­ern con­sumers. Where does our food come from, who made our clothes, how was our ener­gy gen­er­at­ed? Let’s take up this chal­lenge with a lot of pos­i­tiv­i­ty: A bet­ter world — for both humans and ani­mals — is possible!