The rapid growth of factory farming in Asia for livestock and seafood poses enormous environmental and forced labour risks, in addition to threats to public safety and health, according to a report by an investor network.
Half of Asia’s aquaculture production is from factory farms, said the report published this week by Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR), referring to the major, industrial operations that raise large numbers of animals for food.
“Asia’s meat, seafood and dairy industries face a range of badly managed sustainability risks — from emissions to epidemics, fraud to food safety, and abuse of labour,” said Jeremy Coller, founder of FAIRR.
“It is clear that significant environmental and social risks are building up.”
Meat demand in Asia is predicted to grow by a fifth to 144 million tonnes by 2025 as populations expand and incomes rise, the report said.
China, which has the largest animal population in Asia, is promoting large-scale farming for greater efficiency and economies of scale.
But the practice has serious environmental repercussions, besides leading to rural job loss and land rights violations, said the report published together with Singapore-based Asia Research and Engagement.
Cows, goats and chickens have higher greenhouse gas emissions and water footprints than other proteins. In addition, crops grown to feed them are causing forest loss.
In Burma’s Irrawaddy Delta, for example, most mangrove forests have been cleared for shrimp ponds, while the growth in soy cultivation in Latin America for China’s pork and poultry production has come at the expense of rainforests.
Asia’s factory farms also increase the risk of forced labour of migrants, children and trafficked workers, the report said.
Thailand’s multibillion-dollar seafood sector has come under fire in recent years after investigations showed widespread slavery, trafficking and violence on fishing boats and in onshore food processing units.
Last month, Thai Union — the world’s largest canned tuna company — in an agreement with environmental group Greenpeace, said it would take steps toward sustainably caught tuna while ensuring all workers are “safe.”
Also earlier this year, a Thai court dismissed a compensation claim by 14 migrant workers from Burma who had alleged labour violations at a chicken farm that supplied the European Union.
“Top producers are working towards developing sustainable production systems, certified through an increasing number of ecolabels,” said Coller.
“But a general lack of traceability in supply chains has made it difficult … to evaluate and mitigate these risks.”