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David Attenborough Extinction documentary highlights toll of animal agriculture on biodiversity loss

A BBC documentary fronted by naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough has highlighted the link between the use of non-human animals and biodiversity loss.

The documentary was aired recently on the BBC. Photo: BBC

Extinction: The Facts, was shown on BBC One on Sunday night (13th September), looking at the loss of biodiversity, habitats and the spread of global pandemics.

It featured a number of scientists and explored the impact this biodiversity loss could have on humans.

One particular section looked at deforestation in Brazil with Dr. Toby Gardner, Director of Transparency for Sustainable Economies (TRASE) saying:

New land is still being cleared, often because it’s quicker and cheaper to do so.

A lot of the clearance is being driven by demand on the other side of the world. We want cheap food and we want to have choice on offer all year round.

So, a consumer walking into the supermarket may unwittingly be contributing towards loss of biodiversity.

What we are doing is taking customs data, shipping data, and for the first time, we connect them altogether and we ask, whose buying from the hotspots where we are really losing biodiversity.

We have enough data to be able to identify the main drivers of biodiversity loss, soy, cocoa, coffee, palm oil and beef.

David Attenborough then pointed out that, “conversion of land for cattle is probably the greatest single cause of habitat loss” and that “of the total mass of mammals on earth, livestock has been found to account for 60%”, nearly double that of humans.

Toby Gardner highlighted that Brazil has “one of the world’s largest cattle herds, more 200 million animals,” with “about 12% of Brazil’s beef exports comes to the EU.”

The documentary focused largely on the UK market, which doesn’t import much beef, but it does import soy to be used as animal feed.

Dr. Gardner said:

The greatest expansion of agriculture and the destruction of habitat in the Cerrado is in the northern area, and we can see the exports of soy from this area are predominantly going to China, but some of it is actually imported into the UK.

We’re buying as much as half a billion tonnes produced in the Cerrado per year.

Attenborough highlighted that the majority “is used to make feed for chickens that are sold by many British supermarkets.”

Professor Felicia Kessing, Disease Ecologist as Bard College expanded:

You have large densities of animals put in a situation with a lot of people.

To make things worse, those animals are very stressed, and we know animals that are stressed shed viruses at higher rates.

Extinction: The Facts is available to UK viewers via BBC iPlayer.

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