Enough protein to feed the entire world could be produced on an area of land smaller than London if we replace animal farming with factories producing micro-organisms, a campaign has said.
The Reboot Food manifesto argues that three-quarters of the world’s farmland should be rewilded instead.
Emissions from livestock farming account for at least 16.5% of the planet’s greenhouse gases, according to a study. A number of experts have been calling for a reduction in animal protein in our diets.
Henry Dimbleby, the UK government’s food tsar, has suggested people eat 30% less animal protein, and replace meat and dairy with plant-based protein. About 85% of agricultural land in England is used for pasture for grazing animals such as cows or to grow food that is then fed to livestock.
Vegan activists are protesting at the Cop27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, arguing that animal agriculture is a big contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.
The climate author Mark Lynas said: “The mainstream environmental movement’s agricultural policies are making things worse not better. Organic and ‘regenerative’ farming methods encourage agricultural sprawl and have become smokescreens for the livestock industry. It’s time for sensible environmentalists to unite behind food production techniques that use less land, not more.”
The campaign, being launched at Cop27, asks for 10 policies world governments should adopt, including investing 2.5% of GDP over 10 years into food innovation, ending all subsidies for animal agriculture and subsidising plant-based foods instead, banning the advertising of carbon-intensive meat, limiting patents on new food technology and legalising gene-editing.
The cornerstone idea is swapping animal agriculture, where possible, for a technology called precision fermentation, which would involve brewing yeasts and bacteria to make protein. It could create biologically identical animal proteins using genetically engineered micro-organisms fermented in tanks. These factories would be powered by solar, wind and nuclear. Campaigners point out that the technology produces 99% of insulin and 80% of rennet worldwide.
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They say protein from precision fermentation is up to 40,900 times more land efficient than beef, making it technically feasible to produce the world’s protein on an area of land smaller than Greater London.
Some forms of precision fermentation are being deployed already in the US, including a process that can make the milk proteins responsible for the fatty, tangy taste in ice-cream usually achieved by dairy.
The Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who wrote about this potential solution in his recent book Regenesis, is supporting the campaign.
He said: “The elephant in the room at Cop27 is the cow. But thankfully this time, there really is a recipe for success. By rebooting our food systems with precision fermentation we can phase out animal agriculture while greatly increasing the amount of protein available for human consumption.”
There are a few counties in the central plains of North Carolina that can easily be mistaken for the hog capital of the world. Housing over 40 percent of the state’s hog population of 9 million, hogs outnumber people 29 to one. These counties are home to numerous concentrated animal feeding operations—called CAFOs or factory farms—that make North Carolina the second-biggest pork producer in the United States.
Not coincidentally, this distinction comes at the cost of the residents who live in the vicinity of factory farms within these counties, who are predominantly African American, Native American, and Latino. With per capita incomes and education levels well below the national average, the proliferation of factory farms within low-income minority communities has raised valid concerns of environmental injustice. In a 2017 review of North Carolina’s meat industry, the Environmental Protection Agency cited a “linear relationship between race/ethnicity and density of hogs” in these counties and their disproportionate impact on communities of color.
The health impacts that accompany factory farms are life-altering to the communities that live within a 3-mile radius of these intensive operations. In addition to being plagued by the sounds of shrieking, miserable animals, the smell of feces and urine, and poor air quality, residents often complain of stomach aches, headaches, higher rates of nausea, watery eyes, along with feelings of anxiety and depression from the constant assault on their senses. A recent investigative study by the World Animal Protection (WAP) group emphasizes that the physical and mental ailments of area residents are only the tip of the iceberg: there are more significant and far-reaching impacts on the global community as a direct result of practices on factory farms. The report is referring to the widespread use of antibiotics on factory farms that have led to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which is a cause for grave global concern.
Animals are the main unit of production on factory farms. To protect their product, farmers enlist the help of antibiotic drugs, which are used to prevent the onset and spread of disease among stressed animals. This is more commonly known as the prophylactic or subtherapeutic use of antibiotics. While the use of antibiotics on animals with no preexisting illness may appear to be for the welfare of farmed animals, the liberal use of antibiotics is aimed at maximizing profits by fattening the animals within short periods and maintaining them with some resemblance of health while being kept in overcrowded, unhygienic, and ill-maintained facilities.
This practice has been so successful that 75 percent of antimicrobials in the U.S. are marketed to animal farms. However, this indiscriminate use of antibiotics has resulted in many bacteria that have grown resistant to life-saving antibiotic drugs, which are often the last line of defense for humans fighting bacterial infections. The alarming growth of resistant bacteria—called superbugs—has compelled several global organizations to act, with the World Health Organization (WHO) listing superbugs and drug-resistant microbes as one among the top ten global threats to human health, along with climate change and global pandemics.
How antibiotic resistance works
The WHO acknowledges that the indiscriminate use of antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease in factory farms has contributed significantly to the emergence and propagation of superbugs to human and non-human animal populations. As a matter of global urgency, they have listed a series of drugs that are critically and highly important to human health. With their highly adept survival mechanisms, bacteria that developed resistant genes to specific antibiotics—called antibiotic-resistant genes or ARG—are not only able to outsmart the antibiotic drugs but are also able to pass on the resistance genes from one species to another. The presence of ARG in bacteria is an indication of the growing antibiotic resistance in the organism.
The WAP group has been closely following and reporting on the link between factory farms and the alarming growth of superbugs and ARG over the past few years. In December 2018, as part of a global investigation, the group tested pork samples from stores in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States for the presence of bacteria resistant to specific antibiotics. E. coli, Salmonella, Enterococcus, and Listeria were found in 94 percent of the 160 pork samples tested. While 41 of the 51 bacteria isolated from the pork samples were resistant to at least one class of medically important antibiotics, 21 bacteria were resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics.
In their most recent report published in April 2021, the group has detailed disturbing findings from a study in October 2020, in which 45 water samples and 45 soil samples were taken across eight sites, both upstream and downstream from factory farms in North Carolina, and tested for the presence of ARG. The communities that live near these sites have complained for over three decades of both, the detrimental impact that the factory farms have had on their health and the associated lack of justice and action that have accompanied their complaints.
When thousands of gallons of manure are sprayed onto fields eight feet from your kitchen window, the strong smell and taste of manure and ammonia contaminate your drinking water and lingers in the air for days afterward, ensuring that no children are playing outside and there are no barbeques with family and friends. Within a short time, the aerosolized manure builds up on the exterior of your house and across your property, attracting clouds of insects, especially flies. However, testing for ARG in water and soil samples in the vicinity of factory farms has not been prioritized to date. Alarmingly, the WAP report found that all 90 samples tested returned a positive result for at least one ARG, with resistance to tetracyclines identified in 89 out of 90 samples, and 23 out of 90 samples had one or more ARG to antibiotics identified by WHO as critically and highly important, such as cephalosporins and penicillin.
“The implications of antibiotic resistance throughout the environment near large factory farms are extremely concerning,” says Cameron Harsh, Farming Campaign Manager, World Animal Protection U.S. “The contamination of waterways and air puts nearby communities at high risk. Drug residues and resistant bacteria do not obey the boundaries of the farm operation. They are carried away via the waste stored in lagoons or sprayed on fields, on insects, rodents, and other wildlife, on farmworkers headed home to their families, and on the animals processed for our food, potentially spreading resistance to other bacteria as they persist and travel.”
The link between factory farms and superbugs
Because the same antibiotics used to mask poor animal welfare practices—such as the lack of hygiene and overcrowding on farms—can also be used as growth enhancers on factory farms, there is an ever-greater incentive to use antibiotics to speed up operations while enhancing the quality of meat. For example, the use of antibiotics can facilitate the growth of a pig to his slaughter weight of 250-280 pounds in less than 6 months, which is a mere fraction of his natural 15 to 20-year lifespan.
An inconvenient by-product of treating animals as meat production units with artificially short lifespans is the sheer amount of animal waste generated on factory farms. More than 2 billion tons of animal waste, which consists of both solid and liquid waste, is generated on animal farms each year, and storing and maintaining animal waste until it can be more easily displaced is challenging. Animal waste in factory farms is often stored in poorly engineered tanks and massive, open-air cesspools (misleadingly called lagoons) while awaiting treatment and disposal. These ill-maintained, gigantic tanks—some as large as seven acres and totaling anywhere between 20 to 45 million gallons of waste—often leak and spill into the adjacent water bodies and the groundwater.
When the fecal mixture is sprayed as manure on food crops, they enter the soil, the groundwater, adjacent waterways, and the air. As farmed animals discharge up to 70 percent of the antibiotics they are fed via urine and feces, factory farms’ biological waste is heavily concentrated with active antibiotic drugs that enter the environment in multiple ways. It is the antibiotics that have inadvertently entered the environment—be it the air, soil, water, or food streams—that pose a grave risk of producing antibiotic-resistant bacteria or superbugs.
The superbugs know no boundaries and invariably end up infecting humans and other non-human animals, setting off a cascade of detrimental events. Each year, 700,000 human deaths worldwide are attributed to antibiotic-resistant infections and more than 10 million people are projected to die annually from treatment-resistant bacteria by 2050. In the U.S., antibiotic-resistant bacteria claim a life every 15 minutes, with 35,000 deaths and more than 2.8 million infections reported annually.
What happens on factory farms doesn’t always stay on factory farms
The World Animal Protection report summarizes their findings by pointing out that both enhancing the standards for animal welfare practices and the dependence on antibiotics in factory farming operations must be addressed in tandem to see any meaningful reduction in antibiotic use in our food systems. It is only by eliminating the worst animal abuse practices in factory farming such as cage confinement, painful physical alterations, weaning animals from their mothers too young, and using high growth breeds that tangible reductions in total antibiotics used in farmed animals can be achieved.
Developing stronger antibiotics and novel waste treatment technologies cannot be the long-term solution towards eradicating superbugs while the factory farms continue to rely relentlessly on antibiotics without addressing cruel practices currently employed to maximize profits and meet the demand for animal protein. Both governmental and intergovernmental organizations, along with financial investors in the food industry can be more proactive in setting the standards for animal welfare, establishing checks and balances for implementing the animal welfare policies in farms while simultaneously monitoring, enforcing, and reporting accurately on the use and consumption of antibiotics in factory farms. The report also suggests that financial stakeholders in the food industry consider increasing the proportion of plant-based protein in their investment portfolio to support an average global reduction in meat production and consumption of 50 percent by 2040.
Given the vast consortium of stakeholders in the food industry, their profit margins, and the inevitable resistance that will be encountered in implementing any reforms that reduce profits within the current paradigms, it is easy to overlook the principal stakeholder—sentient beings—whose short life and welfare are at the center of this paradigm. What cannot be as easily ignored are the clear and far-reaching impacts of the ill-conceived, profit-driven practice of overusing antibiotics on farmed animals. The antibiotic use that enables the mistreatment of pigs has now crossed the ill-kept barriers of factory farms and seeped into communities via leaky lagoons, contaminated groundwater, and polluted air and soil ecosystems, resulting in the alarming rise of ARG in bacteria. The greed-driven practices on factory farms can no longer be dismissed as geographically isolated, “one-off” instances of environmental racism or poor animal welfare. If unchecked, ARG will continue to spread globally with devastating consequences to both human and non-human animals.Read More
Most people agree that you really can’t go wrong with incorporating more plants into your diet. Yet when it comes to the term “plant-based” to describe one’s eating habits, many people are unsure about its official definition. Is it the same thing as “going vegan”? Does it mean eliminating all animal and animal-derived products from your plate?
The word “vegan,” on the other hand, was created by Donald Watson in 1944 as a way to describe vegetarians who did not consume dairy. The intention of the word wasto connect it with the larger animal rights movement: Watson, who founded The Vegan Society alongside Elsie Shrigley, sought to eliminate animal suffering for the benefit of humans as best as possible.
The philosophy behind these ways of eating is what differentiates “plant-based” eating from a vegan diet. A plant-based diet is more about one’s individual health, while a vegan diet is about harm reduction of animals. While many vegans do believe their diets are healthier than diets rich in animal products, that’s not the primary driver of the diet.
“If someone calls themselves a vegan, it means not just that they eat not only plant-based food, but there’s an ethical component that goes along with it,” says Ashley Byrne, Director of Outreach and Communications at PETA. “They see it as a whole lifestyle of not using products that use animals or exploit animals. You’re more likely to see someone call themselves plant-based if they’re just eating plant-based foods, but not eating a completely vegan lifestyle. If someone is calling themselves vegan, they’re likely applying that broadly to other areas of their lives.”
While people who call themselves vegan tend to stick to habits that reduce animal harm across all areas of their life, not all plant-based dieters have identical habits. Some who say they are plant-based eaters may even occasionally fold animal products into their diet, according to Lauren McNeill, a registered dietitian who focuses on plant-based nutrition.
“A plant-based diet can mean different things to different people, so there isn’t one hard and fast definition,” McNeill explains. “Some people define a plant-based diet as a brand of a vegan diet, where you eat mostly whole, plant-based foods like legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. Others consider a plant-based diet to mean eating mostly vegan, but occasionally including some animal based foods.”
For Byrne, the labels we put on an animal-free, or even mostly animal-free diet, is less important than its overall impact.
“The words we use to describe our diets don’t matter nearly as much as the act of leaving animals off of our plates,” she explains. “Whether you call lifestyle vegan or plant-based, the impact is still the same for our health, for the environment, and certainly for the animals, who benefit from us choosing oat milk and pea-protein nuggets regardless of what label we slap on them.”
After freeing the “world’s loneliest elephant” from a life of misery in a Pakistani zoo, the singer Cher has turned her attention to the plight of another animal: a gorilla who has spent the last three decades at the top of a Bangkok shopping mall.
Bua Noi was brought to Thailand in 1988, and has spent almost all her life in an enclosure at Pata zoo, a private zoo that has long been criticised by animal welfare campaigners.
Cher has joined those calling for the gorilla’s release, and has written to Thailand’s environment minister, Varawut Silpa-archa, to express “deep concern” over Bua Noi’s living conditions, and those of other primates.
Campaigners say the animals have little stimulation and are confined in unnatural enclosures at the zoo, which is on the top floors of a department store. Bua Noi’s mate died more than a decade ago, according to the Bangkok Post.
Free the Wild, a charity co-founded by Cher, has offered to fund the transfer of the gorilla to a sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo that would be “a home of peace and dignity where she could live out her life in a natural environment and companionship with other species”.
Other animals at the zoo, including orangutans, bonobo and a gibbon, had been offered a home with the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand, Cher said in her letter to Varawut.Advertisement
Writing on Twitter, she called upon the “good people of Bangkok” to help her “stop the torturing of innocent animals”. “It Is a Sin. Please Help Me Bring Peace to these Animals. &Free Them From Pata Zoo … Shopping Mall,” she said.
The owner of the zoo, Kanit Sermsirimongkol, could not be reached for comment on Friday but has previously rejected claims that the animals are poorly treated.
Last week, Cher travelled to a sanctuary in Cambodia after a successful campaign to relocate Kaavan, described as the “world’s loneliest elephant”, from a zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan. Animal rights groups had expressed alarm at the care and conditions at the zoo.
Kaavan had been found to be severely dehydrated, while his keepers were accused last year of stealing his food. Wild boars had also been found to be breaking into his enclosure and stealing his bread and fruit. Kaavan had no companions, despite elephants being sociable animals.
He is now living in a wildlife sanctuary in Oddar Meanchey province, north-west Cambodia, where he will live with about 600 other elephants.
A woman killed during an animal rights protest in front of a Burlington slaughterhouse is being remembered as a compassionate person who just wanted to give water to thirsty pigs on a scorching hot day.
Regan Russell, who was identified as the victim in a release by Animal Justice, was struck by a transport truck that was hauling pigs through the gates of Fearmans Pork meat processing facility at Appleby Line and Harvester Road around 10:20 a.m. on Friday.
The truck with its cargo of squealing pigs remained at the scene for several hours as police blocked off the area and began their investigation.
An officer was observed removing a sign that read, “Animals need protection under the law” and a large yellow and white water bottle could be seen on the ground beside the gate.
Burlington resident Martin Foebel, who was having his breakfast across the street from the plant in the Wendy’s parking lot when the incident happened, described what he saw.
“The truck was there for about four or five minutes. The protesters were there. Then they walked away from the truck when they were done,” said Foebel.
There has been a pedestrian fatality at Harvester Rd. and Appleby Line in Burlington. Our Collision Reconstruction Unit will be on scene for several hours while they conduct an investigation. We are asking motorists to kindly avoid the area.
With growing awareness of the benefits of eating more plant-based foods for animals, the planet and our health, so many people are reducing their reliance on animal products in favor of plant-based alternatives.Photo by Amy Webster/The HSUS
Last year, when KFC launched a new, plant-based chicken at one of its Atlanta locations, it sold out within five hours, with lines wrapped around the block to try it. According to the New York Times, sales of the plant-based boneless wings and nuggets in a single day equaled sales of its popular, animal-based popcorn chicken in an entire week, leading the company to declare it a “Kentucky Fried Miracle.”
KFC went on to test the plant-based chicken at an additional 70 locations in North Carolina and Tennessee in February 2020, again with great success. This is amazing, and it shows the scope of the large market that exists for meatless meat products all over the United States. So we have been hopeful that KFC will offer its meatless chicken at franchises nationwide.
The moment is just right for anyone looking to venture into plant-based foods, including plant-based meats, which are innovative, protein-packed foods that mimic the texture and taste of meat. With growing awareness of the benefits of eating more plant-based foods for animals, the planet and our health, so many people are reducing their reliance on animal products in favor of tasty plant-based alternatives. According to a 2019 Gallop poll, “[f]our in 10 Americans have personally tried plant-based meats.” And a 2020 Yale survey found that, “more than half of Americans (55%) say they are willing to eat more plant-based meat alternatives.”
Many fast food chains like Burger King, Carl’s Jr., White Castle, Del Taco and Dunkin’ already offer plant-based options, with tremendous success. After launching the Impossible Burger, Jose Cil, who is the CEO of Restaurant Brands (the parent company of Burger King), noted that the offering was “one of the most successful product launchesin Burger King’s history.” After debuting a Beyond Meat breakfast sandwich at more than 9,000 Dunkin’ locations in 2019, Dunkin’ CEO David Hoffman said he was “happy with [Dunkin’s] first venture into” plant-based menu offerings, and said the company is discussing more plant-based options in the future.
KFC already has gotten a taste of this success, not just here in the United States but also globally. In April, the company debuted plant-based chicken nuggets at three locations in China and they were such a hit that they sold out at a Shanghai KFC within an hour of launching. KFC Canada partnered with Lightlife, a plant-based protein company, to make a fried “chicken” sandwich and plant-based “popcorn chicken,” which also sold out. In the United Kingdom, KFC sold one million plant-based chicken sandwiches throughout January 2020, which is the equivalent of one plant-based sandwich sold every three seconds.
We applaud KFC for its success with plant-based options and thank the company for its foresight in creating them. And today, we have one friendly request for the company: please launch these delicious meatless options nationwide so customers around the country can enjoy them.
Given the market for meatless meats today, which research shows extends well beyond vegans and vegetarians, this is a decision the company would not be likely to regret. You can lend your voice to continue such positive progress. Please click here to let KFC decision makers know just how much support exists for plant-based offerings.
Here is the full quotation, because I don’t want people to think I’m fabricating what these thoroughly uninformed people wrote.
“The concept of ‘sentient beings’ refers to beings with the power to reason and think. The term also implies beings with an awareness of their surroundings who respond to sensations, have cognitive thoughts and have the capacity to perceive and experience life subjectively. Feeling is a subjective state, available only to the animal feeling it. As animals and humans are built and function differently, it is unfair to automatically attribute the sensations experienced by humans to be the same as those experienced by animals. Humans have the ability to communicate their experiences, and what they feel. Since animals cannot communicate with us, there’s a huge assumption by animal activists that animals have emotional responses and the ability to reason and think, in the same way that humans do. We simply do not know if animals are capable of reasoning and cognitive thought, therefore we cannot attribute human qualities of reasoning and cognitive thought on animals as the activists would like.” (My emphasis) —OFA [Ontario Federation of Agriculture] submission to the Standing Committee on General Government regarding the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act (Bill 156)
I wanted to know more about what was happening on the ground in Ontario, so I contacted Camille Labchuk, a lawyer and the Executive Director of Animal Justice. Here’s some of what she wrote. The Canadian province of Ontario is currently trying to ram through an ag-gag law in the midst of a pandemic. The bill would outlaw whistleblower exposés on farms and in slaughterhouses, and is fiercely opposed by animal advocacy organizations, consumer protection groups, civil libertarians, and journalists. Instead of acknowledging their own wrongdoing, the response from the powerful farming industry has been to lobby for so-called ag-gag laws that make it illegal to film and expose cruelty in the first place. The legislative hearings on Ontario’s ag-gag bill have given us a rare glimpse of the utter indifference that many farmers still have for animal suffering, and indeed their denial of basic science about the emotional and cognitive abilities of animals.
Canada unfortunately has some of the worst animal protection laws in the Western world, and Ontario’s ag-gag bill is about to make a bad situation far worse. Governments do not regulate animal welfare conditions on farms, and farmers are typically exempt from general animal cruelty laws. Farmers engage in a variety of standard yet painful practices with impunity, such as slicing off chicken beaks and piglet tails without anesthesia. To make matters worse, there is no public inspection of animal facilities. With no legal standards to enforce, what would be the point? Instead, the farm industry is left to make up its own rules.
Most people have compassion for animals but are often unaware of how badly animals suffer on farms. When they learn the truth, their trust in the farming industry plummets, and they consider dietary changes to avoid contributing to suffering.
Where have all the science and scientists gone?
As a scientist, I often wonder: Where have all the science and scientists gone, and why hasn’t every scientist spoken out against such trash. Why aren’t they outraged by OFA’s utter nonsense? And the OFA isn’t alone in putting forth such junk. In the United States, laboratory rats and mice and other fully sentient animals aren’t considered to be animals under the guidelines of the Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). No joke. The science that clearly shows these rodents are sentient beings continues to be totally ignored.1,2
To summarize, who (not what) we eat is a moral question and scientists must speak out. Concerning the notion of who we eat, Ms. Labchuk writes, “Of course, considering the ‘who’ is a massive public relations problem for farmers. The meat industry’s business model depends on ignoring their suffering by crowding chickens raised for meat into dark, windowless warehouses; stuffing egg-laying hens into tiny battery cages; and confining mother pigs in gestation crates so small that they can’t even turn around or play with their babies. Animals are trucked to slaughter when their short lives are over. The victims of the meat industry have few opportunities to experience positive emotional states, and experience significant pain and suffering.”
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s conceptualization of the cognitive and emotional lives of clearly sentient beings is pure fiction and should be read as such. Their misguided views support and will continue to perpetuate the extremely cruel and brutal treatment of “food animals” and ignore a wealth of scientific data. It’s high time to bridge the “knowledge translation gap” and use what we know to truly help other animals. The “knowledge translation gap” refers to the practice of ignoring tons of science showing that nonhumans are sentient beings and going ahead and causing intentional harm in human-oriented arenas.
How we treat these and other clearly sentient nonhumans isn’t necessarily a matter of rights. Rather, it’s a matter of decency and depends on using what we know—and have known for a long time—on the animals’ behalf. Indeed, we are obligated to do so.
1) Here are some essays on the emotional lives of so-called “food animals.”
2) In the 2002 iteration of the United States Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) we read, “Enacted January 23, 2002, Title X, Subtitle D of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, changed the definition of ‘animal’ in the Animal Welfare Act, specifically excluding birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research.