Northern Ireland’s Agri Food strategy board wants to increase the country’s breeding sow population to 53,000 by 2020. Where would feed for this increased pig production come from?
Friends of the Earth’s focus on Northern Ireland's Going for Growth agricultural strategy has helped to shed light on the issue.
Using land to grow animal feed
While much attention has been on the negative impacts on communities and the environment from the extraction of natural resources – such as minerals and oil – the issue of land being used for the production of animal feed has not been highlighted. But this can also be considered as a form of extractivism.
A number of planning applications for industrial-scale pig farms in Northern Ireland have been submitted, including in the town of Limavady.
But if Northern Ireland is to achieve these targets for increased pig production, the hungry animals will need foods high in protein such as soya.
These pigs are reared in intensive conditions where they are unable to eat a varied diet, and market conditions require them to grow quickly.
Around 97% of the soymeal produced worldwide is used for animal feed.
With demand set to double by 2050, more and more land is being turned over to feeding livestock.
Great swathes of Latin America have been given over to growing soy, which is shipped around the world. This means pristine forests, wildlife habitats, and indigenous community lands are being destroyed to make way for crops for animal feed.
Forced off their land
Across Latin America, rural communities are being forced off their land and small-scale farmers have nowhere to grow the food they need for their families.
Stripping land of natural forests to make way for soya production also releases carbon dioxide, pollutes the soil through the use of pesticides, and causes erosion and water loss.
The countries growing animal feed
Brazil is the second largest exporter of soya after the USA, followed by Argentina and Paraguay.
According to figures from the Stop Limavady Pig Farm campaign, already 19,307 hectares of land in Brazil is used to grow soya for Northern Ireland’s pigs. That’s about the size of 19,000 rugby pitches, and it’s set to grow.
It's not natural
Does it make sense to grow animals in conditions which require them to eat foods which are not a natural part of their diets? Especially if those foodstuffs are having negative impacts on communities, food security and habitats in other parts of the world.
This story was originally printed in the Spring 2019 issue of the Northern Ireland newsletter. Download a PDF version of the newsletter.