A battery chicken has more room in the oven than in the factory where it grew up, and industrially farmed cattle has twice the fat saturation than a free-range equivalent. Very few people know this, and even fewer care.
Industrial farming is arguably a form of neo-colonialism; plundering other countries’ resources to prop up the industry behind closed doors. One solution is to take animals out of the factory and put them back in the fields. This transparency, and eating meat farmed in a way that’s good for the animal, the environment and our health, can transform the food system.
Globally, we produce more than enough food for the world’s population but at least 50% is wasted in homes and the supply chain. We must tackle that waste, rather than increasing production of low-quality meat. Our future food systems will be built on a combination of greater production efficiency and complete system change. Achieving global food security means reducing consumption, farming smarter and eating less animal-sourced food.
There are three narratives around the ‘problem’ with food: 1) not enough to go round, 2) people are too greedy, and 3) inequality of access to food. These are underpinned by different values and views, which must be taken into account in shaping a new food system. These values frame some of the intractable questions around meat, including whether it is ethical to grow grain for fodder, which creates competition between food for humans and animals. If we stopped subsidising grain, factory farming wouldn’t be competitive.
Some suggest insects as an alternative protein to meat. However, arguably, eating insects is a solution to a problem we don’t have. The world already produces enough protein for its entire population not to go hungry. The point is, it’s not fairly distributed.
For the sake of the climate, diets in the Global North should contain a lot less meat and dairy. We must be mindful of whether the replacement is equally damaging to health or the environment.
We pay for our meat three times: at the check-out, in tax subsidies, and in dealing with the negative effects on our health and the environment. Meat prices should reflect health and environmental impacts – but that’s only one of many solutions.
Others include spending farming subsidies on better produce, not factory farmed meat; shifting attitudes so it’s acceptable to spend more on food and less on other things; reducing economic inequality so everyone has access to healthy, culturally appropriate food and developing technological solutions that reduce CO2 emissions from farming.
Note: key questions to ask and/ or top tips
It’s important for the climate that people in the Global North eat less (but better, e.g. organic or grass-fed) meat and dairy products, but we must make sure that we don’t just replace them with equally carbon-intensive or environmentally damaging products.