by Lela Nargi
Will the alt-meat investment boom change our food system if we don’t invest in eating less meat, too?
In mid-March, alternative-protein-promoting nonprofit Good Food Institute (GFI) released data showing that investment in the alt-meat market surged in 2020, hitting a record high of $3.1 billion. Companies focused on plant meats, eggs, and dairy (as opposed to fermentation and cell-based-meat ventures) accounted for the lion’s share of that windfall, taking in three times the amount of capital they raised in 2019. Hot on the heels of GFI’s report, Boston Consulting Group and Blue Horizon Corporation predicted that alt meat would comprise 11 percent of the protein market by 2035—climbing to 97 million metric tons annually from 13 million now. And several days after that revelation, Food Dive reported that self-identified meat eaters dropped from 85 percent in 2019 to 71 percent in 2020.
All this news gave alt-meat proponents lots of reason for optimism. GFI released a statement from senior investor engagement specialist Sharyn Murray, celebrating the investor community “waking up to the massive social and economic potential of food technology to radically remake our food system.” David Benzaquen, who runs plant-based-consumer research company Moonshot Collaborative, told The Counter that the uptick in funding—mostly by “traditional institutional investors” in Asia—is the “culmination of more people wanting to eat flexitarian and investors recognizing the massive risk from the animal farming industry.”
Still, sales of meat were up 19.2 percent over the past year—including beef from Brazil, a high offender when it comes to chopping down forests for ranching. And while food industry giants like Tyson and Cargill have entered the alt-meat space—and/or, like McDonald’s, which just signed a three-year “McPlant” deal with Beyond Meat—they have yet to declare a synchronous commitment to decreasing livestock production. (The Counter reached out to all three companies; all declined to comment.) In a space initially forged by eco-conscious vegans interested in animal welfare and sustainability goals like lower greenhouse gas emissions and a decreased water footprint, there remains the question of whether expanded investment is reshaping a problematic food system—or just building up a parallel one.
“People going to McDonald’s and Burger King and finding plant-based burgers starts to normalize them as an option and makes them more accessible.”
“I wish these big corporate names would dive in and make a commitment to reduce beef production—we’re in the midst of a climate and extinction crisis and it’s urgent,” said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director for the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona. Still, she sees investment in plant-based meat as a “first step. This is where [corporations] can see that plant-based burgers are profitable, and at the end of the day that’s what they care about.”
Profitability, she said, is predicated on Americans making a “massive cultural shift” that starts with them being able to sample inexpensive alternatives to beef and chicken. “People going to McDonald’s and Burger King and finding plant-based burgers starts to normalize them as an option and makes them more accessible,” she said.
Benzaquen said that the pandemic has helped speed this normalization process up. “No plant-based businesses had to [close] due to COVID,” he said (a reference to U.S. slaughterhouse shutdowns, which were also a factor in those increased Brazilian beef imports). As a result, he said, people were compelled to try veggie products when confronted with empty meat shelves at the supermarket. He insists this wasn’t an “Oh, this is cool, I will try it one time type of thing” but rather a “lightbulb moment” that goes hand-in-hand with consumer backlash against the meat industry and having the “extra time to be more conscientious about what you’re eating.”
“Alt meat is not getting scaled up in a bubble; it’s happening with an increase in demand for more protein. That could come from alt meat or it could come from meat.”
Benzaquen also pushed back against the idea that industry players are greenwashing their businesses with alternative proteins, pointing to Tyson’s initial trouble with its Raised and Rooted line. The products were not 100 percent vegan as advertised, forcing the company to remove eggs when there was backlash. Furthermore, he said, food service operations have limited money and “slots in the fryers to put forward food. Before the veggie burger there were 10 spots” on a fast food menu, each of which was for meat. “Now there are nine or eight, and plant-based products are displacing things.”
Feldstein is also loath to voice skepticism about corporate interest in fake meat. She believes “it’s always the industry” that benefits when doubt is expressed about whether their motives are pure enough. Feldstein thinks the importance of plant-based meats, no matter who is producing them, has to be considered in context. “Alt meat is not getting scaled up in a bubble; it’s happening with an increase in demand for more protein. That could come from alt meat or it could come from meat,” and the environmental impacts of the former are “negligible” compared to the latter, she claimed. (Although, plant-based diets can have a larger environmental footprint than someone choosing a vegan diet might realize, the BBC reported last year.)
To Feldstein, the larger issue of concern is that the industrialized food system that provides consumers with unsustainable beef is the same one that is locked into using “less-than-perfect ingredients like GMO soy that are destroying the Amazon—it’s the only source” companies like Impossible Foods have. “But the long-term ideal of getting to a more diversified regionally focused food system and away from our current model is a reason to support alt proteins now,” Feldstein added.
“It’s a balancing game between holistic political change and helping consumers make better [food] choices they actually enjoy.”
Linnea Laestadius, public health policy and administration professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, sees corporate greenwashing as potentially problematic in this sector. “People are noticing there’s a lot of money in [alt proteins] and as more money enters, the risk of actors [acting badly] increases exponentially,” she said. “We can never rely on corporations choosing to be good actors”—a proclivity she refers to as criminogenic, “where everyone is cutting corners and needs to stay competitive, and that will never change unless we see policy change.”
Merely focusing on plant-based meat replacements is too narrow a goal, Laestadius believes. She’d like to see institutional purchasers demanding transparency from both meat- and plant-based companies about sourcing, and for that sourcing to include more ethical ingredients and better labor standards—issues that even vegan companies can tend to gloss over. “Unfortunately, we’re on a really tight timeline to figure stuff out, which means it’s a balancing game between holistic political change and helping consumers make better [food] choices they actually enjoy,” Laestadius said.
How much such concerns will impact future funding streams is anyone’s guess. However, said Benzaquen, “Institutional investors recognize that consumer [interest] is not letting up, and this is far beyond a fad. Everyone who bet against it before made a mistake.”
In honor of Earth Day, this episode of UPC’s Hope for the Animals Podcast exposes the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the new “sustainable” labels that are becoming more prevalent on meat, dairy, and egg products. On the podcast today, Hope will be flying solo and sharing her knowledge about this issue. She has written a book on humane-washing and greenwashing called The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat? In Episode 25, Hope will reveal the truth about labels like local, organic, free-range, and grassfed.
Here are some reviews of the Hope for the Animals Podcast from listeners on iTunes:
“This is an excellent podcast where every episode is filled with educational and thought-provoking content on the animal agriculture industry.” -Greg_B_21
“Before listening to this podcast, I thought I knew everything there was to know about veganism. I always learn something new with every episode of Hope for the Animals. This is a must listen podcast!” -Namaste Kitten
“I always learn something from listening to Hope. The interviews are both a wealth of information and emotionally hard-hitting.” -Plant Based Janice
As Netflix’s newest sustainability documentary racks up views, Sophie Gallagher looks at the biggest takeaways from the 90-minute film on fishing, marine destruction and modern slavery
4 days ago 5 comments
he internet is home to tens of thousands of documentaries on everything from cat killers to Fyre festival, but some manage to cut through the noise, change the conversation and get people thinking differently. Just as Blackfish did in 2013 on animals in captivity, then Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret in 2014 on meat farming, now Netflix presents the 2021 version – Seaspiracy.
From the co-creators of Cowspiracy, this documentary on the fishing industry breaks new ground on the conversation around what it really means for seafood to be sustainable. It examines global fisheries, and shows how while many of us have been distracted by the problems caused by land agriculture, there was another problem brewing in our waters.
Travelling across the world from the Faroe Islands, to Thailand, Japan and Scotland, filmmaker and narrator Ali Tabrizi (and his partner) chart a journey from a childhood love of the ocean to pulling back the curtain on some of the biggest problems it faces, and whether those tasked with caring for it are really the stewards the public believe they are.
Here are the seven biggest lessons The Independent learned from the documentary that will shape the way we see fish forever.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.448.1_en.html#goog_1019278848
Plastic is a problem for our seas
The documentary opens with all-too-familiar headlines of whales and other sea animals being washed up on beaches, their stomachs filled with plastic. As well as snapshots of highly-publicised campaigns about reducing the amount of plastic humans contribute to the ocean – in particular, cotton buds, straws and plastic bottles.
Tabrizi says: “There is a garbage truck load of plastic dumped every minute into the ocean and over 150 billion tonnes of microplastics are already there – they [the microplastics] now outnumber the stars in the milky way.” So far, nothing we don’t already know or haven’t seen in a David Attenborough documentary.
But it is not necessarily the plastic you might imagine
Given the amount of attention given to reducing household or personal plastic use and government campaigns to ban plastic cotton buds, straws and drinks stirrers, it is only fair that the public would see these as the greatest threats to the marine environment.
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But Seaspiracy argues that actually one of the biggest plastic deposits are byproducts of commercial fishing, such as nets, claiming 46 per cent of waste in the great pacific garbage patch [a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean, also known as the Pacific trash vortex] is made up of fishing nets, while plastic straws only account for 0.03 per cent of plastic entering the ocean. And long-line fishing sets down enough lines to wrap around the planet 500 times every day.
Environmentalist George Monbiot says: “Discarded fishing nets are far more dangerous for marine life than our plastic straws because they are designed to kill.”
It also claims that while 1,000 turtles are killed by plastic in the oceans, 250,000 sea turtles are captured, injured or killed by fishing vessels. Professor Calumn Roberts, a marine scientist, claims that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 actually “benefited” marine life because “large areas were closed to fishing” giving the oceans a “respite”.
Bycatch is a huge problem caused by fishing
Bycatch is the fish or other mammals unintentionally caught when fishermen are trying to catch a target fish – for example, catching dolphins in nets designed for tuna fishing. Some of this bycatch is killed instantly but even that which is thrown back into the sea, it says is unlikely to survive. The film suggests that as many as 50 million sharks are caught annually as bycatch.about:blankabout:blank✕
Captain Peter Hammarstedt, from the Sea Shepherd nonprofit conservation society, says: “One of the most shocking things that most people don’t realise is that the greatest threat to whales and dolphins is commercial fishing. Over 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed every single year as a bycatch of industrial fishing.” Sea Shepherd also claims that up to 10,000 dolphins are caught in the Atlantic, off the west coast of France, every year during fishing.
Not only is this problematic in terms of destroying species but also for the climate, because whales and dolphins play a crucial role in fertilising phytoplankton in the sea, which Seaspiracy says absorbs four times as much carbon dioxide as the Amazon rainforest, and generates 85 per cent of all oxygen on earth.
Labels aren’t all they are cracked up to be
If you are reassuring yourself that your seafood consumption is not harming dolphins as bycatch – or any other marine life – because it has the ‘dolphin safe’ label on the tin, or the Marine Stewardship Council labels, then Seaspiracy urges consumers to think again.Top Articles
Asked whether he could guarantee that every can of fish labelled ‘dolphin safe’ is actually so, Mark J. Palmer of the Earth Island Institute, in charge of the dolphin safe program, says: “No – nobody can [guarantee the product is dolphin safe] – once you’re out there in the ocean. How do you know what they’re doing? We have observers on board but the observers can be bribed and are not out on a regular basis.”
However in a followup statement on their website, Palmer has clarified: “When asked whether we could guarantee that no dolphins were ever killed in any tuna fishery anywhere in the world, I answered that there are no guarantees in life, but that by drastically reducing the number of vessels intentionally chasing and netting dolphins as well as other regulations in place, that the number of dolphins that are killed is very low.
We have observers on board but the observers can be bribed and are not out on a regular basis
“The film took my statement out of context to suggest that there is no oversight and we don’t know whether dolphins are being killed. This is simply not true.
“The bottom line is that the Dolphin Safe label and fishing restrictions save dolphin lives. Yes, commercial fishing is out of control in many cases worldwide. But canned Dolphin Safe tuna is far more protective of dolphins and target fish stocks than the vast majority of other fisheries.”
A spokesperson for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) added in defence of its own certification labels: “This certification process is not carried out by the MSC – it is independent of us and carried out by expert assessment bodies. It is an entirely transparent process and NGOs and others have multiple opportunities to provide input. All our assessments can be viewed online at Track a Fishery. Only fisheries that meet the rigorous requirements of our Standard get certified.
“Contrary to what the film-makers say, certification is not an easy process, and some fisheries spend many years improving their practices in order to reach our standard. In fact, our analysis shows that the vast majority of fisheries that carry out pre-assessments against our criteria, do not meet these and need to make significant improvements to gain certification.”
Sustainable is not a defined term in seafood
As well as raising questions over labels such as ‘dolphin safe’ the film also asks whether there is any way that fishing can be sustainable or any type of fish we can eat that is not as bad for the oceans as large-scale commercial fishing. But much of the documentary seems to suggest sustainability is still too much of a grey term to be useful.
María José Cornax is the fisheries campaigns manager for Oceana Europe, a nonprofit ocean conservation organisation, says: “There is not a definition of sustainability as a whole for fisheries…The consumer cannot assess right not properly what fish is sustainable and what is not. The consumer cannot make an informed decision right now.”
There will be practically empty oceans by 2048
Dr Sylvia Alice Earle, an American marine biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer, says; “The estimate is by middle of 21st century if we keep taking wild fish at the level we are today there won’t be enough fish to catch,” predicting virtually empty oceans by by as soon as 2048.
Seaspiracy claims fishing catches up to 2.7 trillion fish per year, or 5,000,000 every single minute, and says that no industry on earth has killed as many mammals. It also highlights the problems generated by fishing methods such as bottom trawling [a method of fishing that involves dragging heavy weighted nets across the sea floor], which it claims wipes out an estimated 3.9 billion acres of sea floor per year.
Farming not the answer
The programme presents the option of farming as an alternative to catching wild fish from the seas. But on a visit to a salmon farm in Scotland, it reveals the problems of breeding in captivity such as illness, lice, and waste production.
It says that each salmon farm produces as much organic waste as 20,000 people and that the Scottish salmon industry produces organic waste equivalent to the entire population of Scotland each year. It also claims that as a result of shrimp and prawn farming, 38 per cent of the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed.
Slavery at sea is a massive problem
George Monbiot makes the comparison to “blood diamonds” when talking about the human impact of fisheries on the labour market, saying that slavery is still used on boats.
The documentary makes a comparison between the number of American soldiers that died during five years of the Iraq War – 4,500 – to the reported 360,000 deaths of fish workers during the same period. Captain Hammarstedt from Sea Shepherd says: “[It is] the same criminal groups behind drug trafficking and human trafficking.”
Former fishermen are interviewed at a safehouse in Thailand and claim that they were kept on boats for years – one says he was at sea for a decade – living in squalid conditions, facing death threats and being held at gunpoint. One claimed the ship’s captain kept dead bodies of other sailors in the freezer on board.
As well as human misery in the form of slavery – the documentary also makes the connection between the destruction of local fishing communities and people in poor communities being driven to subsistence on the land, eating more bush meat and land mammals, where fish is in short supply. The documentary makes the link between this increase and the outbreak of Ebola in west Africa.
The best thing you can do is stop eating fish
Although the documentary does explore different options – such as eating more sustainable fish or only fish from farms rather than from the wild – it concludes that the “best thing to do for marine ecosystems is not eat fish” at all. It also says that there should be established “no take zones” for fishing around the world in order to preserve underwater habitats.
It says that long-held beliefs that fish do not feel pain or are not intelligent enough to be fearful is unfounded, and that other reasons to avoid fish include the heavy contamination of industrial pollutants – including mercury, heavy metals and dioxins.
As far as Seaspiracy is concerned, fish should be off the menu altogether.
But MSC says: “Sustainable fishing does exist and helps protect our oceans…One of the amazing things about our oceans is that fish stocks can recover and replenish if they are managed carefully for the long-term.
“While we disagree with much of what the Seaspiracy documentary-makers say, one thing we do agree with is that there is a crisis of overfishing in our oceans. However, millions around the world rely on seafood for their protein needs. With the global population set to reach 10 billion by 2050, the need to harness our natural resources more responsibly is more urgent than ever. Sustainable fishing has a vital role to play in securing those resources.”
|By: Colin Ruloff | Reading time: 15 minutes|
|I used to eat animals but I no longer do. I gave up the practice about six years ago. When confronted by my meat-eating friends about why I’ve given up eating animals, it’s tacitly assumed that I’m expected to provide an argument or present reasons for why eating animals is wrong. But why, I ask myself, do I have to present reasons for why eating animals is eating wrong? Surely the burden of proof is with my meat-eating friends to show that eating animals is somehow OK. After all, they’re the ones that are choosing to eat a once-sentient being. So, let’s ask: Are there any good reasons for eating animals?|
|Before we try to answer that question, it’s worth briefly describing where our meat comes from. |
The vast majority of meat, dairy, and eggs produced in the United States and Canada come from animals raised on factory farms. A “factory farm” is a large-scale, high-intensity, industrial complex that breeds and raises large numbers of animals so that we can harvest their meat, milk, and eggs for consumption.
|EXPLORING ANIMAL SENTIENCE|
Billions of animals are raised and killed for food around the world each year. Although the majority of people consider them food, research shows that farmed animals are intelligent and emotionally complex, like dogs, cats, and other animals that so many of us see as companions.Animals Are More Sentient Than You Think: Ethologist Jordi Casamitjana says we can see animals are sentient because “they can feel, experience, and judge, and once they have judged, they can behave accordingly.”
Why, then, is it hard for us to see all animals as sentient beings? “In a world where animal exploitation is heavily entrenched in most aspects of all human societies, commercial and cultural forces constantly work to deny the quality of sentience to non-human animals. Even when today’s science clearly shows most animals are sentient, this denial is mainstream,” writes Casamitjana, who is the author of “Ethical Vegan: A Personal and Political Journey to Change the World.”
Chickens Are Smart (and Yes, They Can Suffer): Chickens are widely considered to be unintelligent, possibly because we view these birds as food animals. In fact, chickens account for 95 percent of the animals farmed for food globally. But research shows these birds are smart, can show empathy, and are capable of feeling pain.
Jennifer Mishler explores what we know about the minds of chickens, considering information from experts such as Dr. Lori Marino, to answer the questions: “How smart are these birds, and what might they be thinking and feeling?”
Sentience: What It Means and Why It’s Important: As our name suggests, sentience is at the heart of what we do at Sentient Media. Dr. Jane Kotzmann weighs in on what it means.
“‘Sentient’ is an adjective that describes a capacity for feeling. The word sentient derives from the Latin verb sentire, which means ‘to feel,’” writes Kotzmann. “Sentient beings experience wanted emotions like happiness, joy, and gratitude, and unwanted emotions in the form of pain, suffering, and grief.
Kotzmann believes animal sentience is being increasingly recognized, which makes it a worthy topic of discussion in any circle. If we can simply agree “that sentient beings are capable of experiencing pain and suffering,” she writes, “most humans would further agree that it is morally wrong to inflict unnecessary pain or suffering.”
Study: Emotional Well-Being of Cows Is Harmed by Denying Outdoor Access: A new study conducted by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast and published in the journal Scientific Reports found that cows are less happy if kept indoors. Furthermore, the researchers found that being outside allowed the cows to engage in behaviors natural to them—concerning, given the confinement they experience on factory farms.
“Pasture access can promote natural behavior [and] improve cows’ health, and cows, given the choice, spend most of their time outside. However, the effects of pasture access on dairy cows’ psychological well-being have been poorly understood—that is what our judgment bias study intended to measure,” said Dr. Gareth Arnott.
Read more from Sentient Media.We’re reporting the truth about animal agriculture. Your donation fuels our work.
|Animals in factory farms are typically packed into confinement facilities. Broiler chickens, for instance, are crammed into massive windowless warehouses, and are denied fresh air, sunshine, and pasture. These sheds contain anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 birds. Sows are confined to small metal crates on concrete slatted floors with no straw or bedding to lie on and without fresh air or sunlight.|
When the animals are ready to be harvested they are then crammed onto eighteen-wheelers and shipped on multiday journeys to the slaughterhouse without food or water. Once they arrive, they are in a weakened physical and psychological state. The animals are hungry and exhausted, confused and frightened. Once inside the slaughterhouse, the animals are jammed into metal shackles, strung upside down (which often causes the breaking of limbs), and brought to the slaughterer.
OK, enough of the gruesome details. Let’s return to the question I posed at the outset: are there any good reasons for eating animals? More exactly, the question I want to ask is this: is it OK to inflict intense suffering on factory-farmed animals so that we might eat them?
I’ve encountered quite a few arguments that try to show that it’s OK to inflict suffering on factory-farmed animals; but instead of examining all of them, I’ll just focus on the four or five arguments that most people find persuasive.
Read the full story here.
Despite the well-documented environmental impacts of the meat industry and the explosion of the market for plant-based alternatives, American meat consumption remains high
- By Nadra Nittle
- on March 24, 2021 10:34 am
Grim new facts about meat’s impact on livestock, workers, and the planet seem to emerge every day, and when it comes to animal agriculture’s impact on the climate, the figures are particularly dour: The international livestock industry is responsible for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, while the cattle industry is the main culprit in the deforestation and destruction of the Amazon, which releases carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Against this apocalyptic backdrop, some of the most sophisticated plant-based proteins ever developed are marketing themselves as no less than potential planet savers. Impossible Foods aims to “save meat, and earth,” while Beyond Meat bills itself as “the future of protein.” Both hawk plant-based meat alternatives, most notably in the form of ground beef-like bricks or patties that “bleed” just like the real thing.
The impulse of these startups to replicate beef rather than back away from burger-like proteins entirely in their quest to save civilization shows how daunting a task it is to get people, especially Americans, to give up meat: In the U.S., eating meat has long been intertwined with grand representational ideals. Beef especially defines classic notions of masculinity, with hamburgers in particular often representing “American” identity, whatever that means. (As a result, beef often becomes an object of political performance.) Despite clear evidence that animal agriculture harms the planet, as of 2018, just 5 percent of Americans identify as vegetarian and only 3 percent as vegan, numbers that have held steady for years. And meat consumption is still growing in proportion to the rest of our diets. Until the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, meat consumption had steadily risen in the U.S. each of the previous five years, with the average American eating 224.3 pounds of beef, pork, and poultry in 2019.https://9dd0c57873b0eaf37e002996292eb1c9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
It’s true that beef consumption is actually on the decline, with the average American eating less in 2019 (58.1 pounds) than they did during the 1970s, when the average person peaked at around 88.8 pounds a year. But meat consumption overall is on the rise, and during the early days of the pandemic, some were surprised to find that consumers actually turned to beef more than usual: An additional $5.7 billion in beef sales took place last year compared to the previous one, amid coronavirus-related shutdowns. “I’m surprised how strong beef demand was in the face of COVID-19, because we often think of beef consumption happening at the higher-end restaurants around the country, and many of those restaurants have been closed,” says Scott Brown, associate extension professor in the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources. “It tells us that that’s probably a shift from restaurant consumption to at-home consumption or takeout consumption.”
“It’s really a math problem. We don’t have enough land to keep raising animals in this way.”
If Americans keep eating as much meat as they have been, the outcome will be cataclysmic, argues Leah Garcés, president of Mercy for Animals, an animal protection organization that advocates for a vegan lifestyle. “It’s a catastrophic risk to the future of our planet, food security for future generations, and to our healthcare system to continue to irresponsibly consume animals,” says Garcés, author of Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry. “It’s really a math problem. We don’t have enough land to keep raising animals in this way, and instead, we should be using the land to raise crops directly to feed ourselves. And we should be thinking very, very clearly about future generations and protecting the environment and the health of ourselves and others as we move forward.”
And the way forward, some argue, is to make giving up meat feel less like a sacrifice — and more like participating in a movement.https://9dd0c57873b0eaf37e002996292eb1c9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
Why the beef?
Since 1909, the federal government has tracked how much meat — beef, pork, poultry, and otherwise — the public consumes, and not surprisingly, those figures usually parallel economic trends. Beef sales, last year exempted, tend to coincide with periods of economic prosperity: In 1932, while the nation was in the grips of the Great Depression, U.S. beef consumption per capita hit a low of 32 pounds. In contrast, as the nation ushered in a wave of economic stability in 1976, beef consumption hit its high, only for an economic downturn in the early 1980s to dip sales once more.
Something else happened in the ’80s, too: The decade saw the publication of studies that linked red meat — beef and pork — to a risk of developing serious medical problems such as heart disease and cancer. By the time Oprah Winfrey swore off hamburgers over concerns about mad cow disease in 1996, beef sales were plummeting. Chicken became the nation’s top protein, and beef was badly in need of a rebrand.
In recent years, the beef industry has been selling a comeback: Some suggest that technological advances, such as genetically modified beef, can make beef more palatable to the public. “The use of genetic changes produces different beef today than was the case 25 years ago,” Brown says. “Changes in the genetic makeup of the average cattle herd are putting beef products in front of consumers that they like more than they would have in the ’90s.” It’s leaner, tastier, and more tender, he explains. On the other end of the spectrum, as beef-eating increasingly becomes a partisan issue, the masculine sheen around beef could be one of its larger selling points.https://9dd0c57873b0eaf37e002996292eb1c9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
But a major factor in continued beef consumption is, not surprisingly, money: Garcés points to the power of meat lobbyists to explain why beef consumption is rising. “In other countries, for example, in Europe, there are caps on how much lobbying and how much money and campaign funding can go to a candidate,” she says. “Here, we don’t have real regulations, so money is given and promises are made. This has created a very skewed interest toward increasing meat consumption and doing whatever we can to bend the market toward increasing consumption, like making the product unnaturally cheap. … It’s very challenging to fight those powers.”
From 2010 to 2020, the meat industry more than doubled its contributions to political candidates and parties, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. But even as these contributions have grown, so has consumer consciousness about meat’s impact on the environment. This increasing awareness has inspired some meat-eaters to actively incorporate more plant-based meals into their diets, a growing trend known as flexitarianism.
A flexitarian future
One of the biggest misconceptions people have about Kimberlie Le, co-founder of the plant-based meal startup Prime Roots, is that she’s vegan, she says. While the direct-to-consumer meals her company sells are all meatless — made with protein-rich koji fungi grown in the San Francisco Bay Area — Le is a meat-eater.https://9dd0c57873b0eaf37e002996292eb1c9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
“I consider myself a flexitarian, which is actually the majority of our customers,” says Le, who started her year-old business at the Alt: Meat lab at UC Berkeley’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. Flexitarians eat meat but also regularly consume plant-based meals, and the demographic is a sizable one, according to the marketing firm Packaged Facts. A survey it conducted in August found that 36 percent of consumers identify as flexitarian. “A lot of people consider themselves flexitarians once they hear the term and know what it’s all about,” Le says. “We’re not trying to get everyone to turn vegan, because it’s not right for everybody. It is really hard, given that there isn’t a plant-based version of every single thing in the grocery store.”
Le felt inclined to lower her meat consumption and launch a plant-based food company because she was concerned about the meat industry’s environmental impact. When Le was growing up, she never thought much about how a burger was produced or the cow from which the beef came, she says. Food simply brought her family and friends together for joyous occasions. But, today, she says, the public doesn’t have the privilege of ignoring meat production’s impact on the planet.
Although the most obvious answer to mitigating meat’s impact on the environment would be to simply stop eating it, convincing Americans to become flexitarians, like Le, may be a more attainable goal. “The way I look at it, what seems easier?” Garcés asks. “To turn half of America vegetarian or have half of Americans’ meals be vegetarian? Obviously, the latter is more achievable … and that’s the kind of thing we should be aiming for. It would have a huge impact on our environment, our health as a country, and on animals.”https://9dd0c57873b0eaf37e002996292eb1c9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
“The way I look at it, what seems easier? To turn half of America vegetarian or have half of Americans’ meals be vegetarian?”
The fanfare that’s greeted the plant-based proteins of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods — part of what the New York Times recently called a “meatless gold rush” — could very well inspire more consumers to try mock meats. In recent years, both companies garnered global headlines due to highly promoted collaborations with fast-food chains such as KFC, Burger King, and McDonald’s, which bring their products to the millions of people who consume fast food daily. In 2019, Beyond Meat became a publicly traded company with the best-performing U.S. public offering in recent history, and speculation persists that Impossible will go public as well. (Cattle ranchers and lobbying groups have taken notice, with 30 states announcing legislation that would limit the products’ ability to use the word “meat”; the Washington Post notes the changes come amid the “enormous political power” of cattle associations.)
Despite the considerable buzz surrounding Beyond and Impossible, the retail value of the U.S. plant-based meat industry is about $1 billion, compared to the meat industry’s estimated retail value of $95 billion, meaning the former isn’t likely to overtake the latter as the nation’s dominant protein anytime soon. A wider flexitarian consumer base, along with more awareness about beef’s impact on the environment, could move the needle.
Andrew Gunther, executive director of A Greener World, which promotes sustainable agriculture solutions, understands why many activists want the public to reduce its meat consumption. But he argues effective climate strategies are “not as simple as eating less beef.” Focusing on whether or not to eat meat, Gunther says, is part of a greater need for people to reconsider their lifestyles, which entails looking beyond meat consumption to consumption more broadly. Buying televisions, airplane tickets, iPhones, or new clothes are all consumption habits with an environmental impact.https://9dd0c57873b0eaf37e002996292eb1c9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
When it comes to meat specifically, “it’s where and how the beef was produced,” he says. “Perhaps we should actually look at the amount of meat we eat, whether that’s fake meat or otherwise. … We may be eating too much. … In the middle somewhere is the solution, where we need to eat what is a nutritionally appropriate amount of proteins from a sustainable source.” Gunther points to research from the University of Oxford and the University of California, Davis indicating that a path exists to make animal agriculture climate neutral. Other researchers have conducted studies that found feeding cows red seaweed dramatically reduces the number of methane emissions they release into the atmosphere through their burps.
And the meat industry itself must be held accountable. Sara Amundson, for one, is encouraged that the U.S. Department of Agriculture appears to be taking the livestock sector’s effect on global warming seriously. Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, notes that the USDA “now has somebody specifically tasked on climate change. So, there’s got to be some acknowledgment that methane, and animal-based agriculture as part of that, are contributing [to global warming].”
Amundson’s group would like the federal government to give farmers incentives to stop the intensive confinement of livestock. It also wants the government to support the development of plant-based and lab-grown meats to combat climate change.https://9dd0c57873b0eaf37e002996292eb1c9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
Gunther points to a need “to focus on improving the way we farm.” That means getting rid of the herbicide and crop desiccant glyphosate, respecting animals as an integral part of the agricultural system, and creating a sustainable farm of the future, he elaborates. In such a model, farms would share energy, ruminant animals would freely graze the land, and consumers would eat the right amount of food at the right time of year.
“Whatever our solution is, it needs to be capable of feeding the planet,” according to Gunther. Amundson agrees, noting that “there are some emerging countries where we’re seeing growth in animal-based agriculture.” That, she says, is concerning, “because quite honestly if we are going to wrap our heads around how to deal with this crisis from a global perspective, we obviously need to be sensitized, aware, and willing to take on animal-based agriculture.”
As a sustainable-farming advocate, Gunther asserts that revolutionizing the agriculture system is a major way to fight global warming. Consumers can work toward that goal by purchasing pasture-raised beef rather than the industrial variety. This shift can make a dent, if only a small one, in the climate crisis. “We could cut down on the amount of beef we eat because I’m guessing nutritionists would say we eat too much,” Gunther says. “We could demand that [cattle] are outside on pastures that we can’t use as humans. Then, it becomes pretty darn sustainable.”https://9dd0c57873b0eaf37e002996292eb1c9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
Nadra Nittle is a senior reporter for Civil Eats. She lives in Los Angeles. Yadi Liu is an award-winning visual artist who is passionate about finding the optimum balance between illustration and modern art.
Fact checked by Kelsey Lannin
Copy edited by Rachel P. Kreiter
Updated March 26, 2021:
Thank you to everyone who contacted Sik Gaek restaurant in Queens, New York, to ask it to stop serving live octopuses and lobsters. Before disabling its Facebook page, the restaurant posted, “Sikgaek is no longer available for live octopus. We decided not to serve octopus and lobster alive.” We hope this is the truth and that this abject cruelty won’t simply be available “off menu.” Rest assured, we’ll be watching, and we hope you will, too.
The intelligence of octopuses is well known, but did you know that they have been observed decorating their homes with pretty bits of glass, shells, and bottle tops? They’ve also been seen using tools and playing games! Octopuses have extremely sensitive skin for both touch sensation and chemical recognition. Their suckers are the equivalent of a tongue or fingertip, and the linings are regularly shed to maintain sensitivity to touch and taste. These brilliant beings are like us in so many ways that for most people, the thought of eating one alive is unimaginable.
However, Sik Gaek in Queens, New York, has for years insisted on serving octopuses and lobsters—another complex, misunderstood species also known to have the ability to experience great pain—still squirming on dinner plates, to those customers who find slowly hacking apart living, suffering animals to be appetizing. The restaurant even brags about this horrific practice on its website.
Please feel free to use our sample letter, but remember that using your own words is always more effective.
ON TUESDAY, musician, author, and noted vegan, Moby, tweeted:
“A reminder: in a vegan world there would be no pandemics. 100% of pandemics are zoonotic in origin. #veganforlife.”MORE LIKE THISMIND AND BODY3.24.2021 4:01 AMINTERMITTENT FASTING: THE 3 THINGS NOBODY TELLS YOU BEFORE YOU BEGINBy SOPHIE PUTKAMIND AND BODY3.22.2021 6:00 AMGUT DISCOVERY EXPLAINS ANOTHER CRUCIAL ASPECT OF HEALTHBy SOPHIE PUTKAMIND AND BODY3 HOURS AGOWHY ARE TEETH SENSITIVE TO COLD? THE ANSWER MAY LEAD TO NEW PAIN TREATMENTSBy SOPHIE PUTKAEARN REWARDS & LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY.SUBMIT
While it’s might be easy to dismiss his statement as a celebrity weighing in on a subject about which he has no expertise, it is reasonable to question how our relationship to animals might be contributing to pandemics. Our current pandemic, after all, is hypothesized to be the result of a virus that jumped from an animal species to humans — likely a bat.
It’s unquestionably true that our relationship to animals plays a big part in whether or not pandemics happen, Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, tells Inverse. But it’s not the physical consumption of the animal that’s usually the problem, Adalja says — it’s how we live and how the animal ends up on our plate.
“It’s not getting a chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A that’s causing bird flu to be an issue,” Adalja says. “It’s the way we raise it.”
As humans, we’re animals on a planet with other animals — it’s inevitable that we’re going to interact with species other than our own. “You can get bitten by a raccoon and get rabies, not because you were going to eat it, but just because you happened to encounter it in the wild,” Adalja says.
In fact, there are a number of really damaging diseases that have nothing to do with eating animals, even though those diseases can be transferred through animal vectors. For example, malaria is transmitted by mosquitos and Lyme disease is transmitted from deers to humans by ticks. It’s the “no pandemics” element of Moby’s message that’s the most incorrect.
CAN GOING VEGAN STOP ANIMAL DISEASE SPREAD?
What matters more than eating animals is how we’re interacting with animals.
Although it’s true that most of the recent diseases found in humans in recent decades are pathogens that jumped from animals to humans, there’s actually a lot that needs to go right in order for an animal borne-pathogen to become a human pandemic.
There are a few hurdles any pathogen needs to be able to accomplish before it becomes a pandemic in humans, Adalja explains.
- It needs to be able to jump from an animal to a human effectively
- Once in the human, it needs to cause some kind of disease
- That disease needs to be contagious (humans have to be able to pass it to each other effectively)
Throughout history, there have been sporadic outbreaks that “came and went on their own” after a pathogen jumps from animals to humans, Adalja explains.
The difference now, he says, is how we live. And that’s more complicated than just whether or not we consume animals or animal products.
“As humans, we evolved to be omnivores,” Adalja says. “10,000 years ago, there were no vegans. There were also no pandemics.”
WHAT CAUSES PANDEMICS
Other than the fact that many humans still eat animals, everything else about how we live has changed since 10,000 years ago. We transitioned from a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural society. We started having more people living in one place and population density begins to increase.
Adalja says that humans also, “started going to the bathroom where they lived and domesticating animals.” But even then, we didn’t start seeing the really big pandemics until industrialization.
“10,000 YEARS AGO, THERE WERE NO VEGANS. THERE WERE ALSO NO PANDEMICS.”
That doesn’t mean there were no plagues (the plague of Athens might have something to say). But even the Black Death in the mid-1300s was largely the result of population density, urbanization, and people interacting with each other more — not animal consumption.
Now, we’re more packed into spaces than we ever have been. And while our hygiene and understanding and treatment of diseases is infinitely better than it was in the 1300s, there’s one really big difference that adds to our pandemic risk: how small our world has become.
“An outbreak that happens on one side of the globe can get to the other side of the globe before you have even noticed it,” Adalja says. “And that’s what happened with Covid-19.”
Globalization, the rise of megacities, and increased population density have increased the rates and severity of pandemics more so than consuming animals and animal products, Adalja says.
IS THERE ANY LINK BETWEEN EATING MEAT AND PANDEMICS?
In some ways, yes. Our consumption of animals isn’t entirely unrelated to some pandemics, and, when it is related, it’s important to understand how we can change our behavior to minimize risk as much as possible.
Some studies suggest we could further reduce our risk of some pandemics by changing the way we farm animals. This is especially true for influenza viruses stemming from birds. A 2008 study looking at biosecurity and farming explains, “The high throughput and confinement of highly concentrated animal populations increases the intensity of microbial exposures for farmers, their families, farmworkers, veterinarians, and others in contact with these operations.”
A different study from 2008 stresses the importance of biosafety measures and educating workers, especially poultry workers, about best practices. The study, published in Public Health Reports, concludes:
“Critical components of worker protection include educating employers and training poultry workers about occupational exposure to avian influenza viruses. Other recommendations for protecting poultry workers include the use of good hygiene and work practices, personal protective clothing and equipment, vaccination for seasonal influenza viruses, antiviral medication, and medical surveillance.”
Adalja agrees. “Most of the time, those transmission events can be minimized if you just actually practice biosafety,” he says. “That might mean if you’re butchering an animal, you’re washing your hands, or not doing it with open arms, or rubbing your eyes or doing whatever it might be.”
Global monitoring and transparency would also go a long way to preventing potential pandemics by stopping the disease locally before it has a chance to spread as much as Covid-19 did.
Meanwhile, there’s always tofu.
ByCaroline ChristenMarch 17, 2021
Burgers, bacon, steaks, and other meat products have come under scrutiny in recent years due to their impact on health, sustainability, and social justice issues. The number of companies working on meat alternatives in the U.S. is growing. Half of U.S. consumers under the age of 50 have already tried a plant-based meat product. Yet meat consumption in the U.S. is on the rise. As of 2017, America had the second-highest meat consumption in the world, surpassed only by Hong Kong. How much meat do Americans eat, and what are the impacts of their meat consumption?
How Much Meat Is Consumed in the U.S.?
Americans consume around 274 pounds of meat per year on average, not accounting for seafood and fish, or individual food waste. The total amount of meat consumed in the U.S. has increased by 40 percent since 1961. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that Americans are exceeding the amount of meat recommended by national dietary guidelines, although women in the U.S. eat about a third less meat than men, and around 42 percent less beef.
Beef and Veal
The U.S. has the world’s second-highest consumption of beef and buffalo after Argentina. In 2017 Americans consumed 81.74 pounds of beef and buffalo per capita, a 37 percent decrease from 1976, when Americans had reached a record consumption of 129.65 pounds per capita. In the late 1970s beef consumption started falling, due to scientific findings concerning the health impacts of saturated fats. In 2013 beef and buffalo consumption in the U.S. had dropped to under 80 pounds per capita, but then started rising again.
Pork consumption in the U.S. fluctuated between 72.64 and 53.19 pounds per capita between 1961 and 2017. The latest data shows that Americans eat an annual 66.18 pounds of pork per capita. The U.S. Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey (NHCS) found that 268 million Americans ate bacon in 2020, with over 16 million eating five pounds of bacon or more during the year.
Poultry is defined as domestic fowl, including chickens, turkeys, and geese. In 2017 Americans consumed a record 122.75 pounds of poultry per capita. According to the USDA, chicken consumption has increased by 540 percent since 1910, from around 10.1 pounds per capita to 65.2 pounds in 2018. Since 1961 the consumption of poultry has more than tripled.
The growing popularity of chicken in the U.S. is linked to beef falling out of favor. For decades, consumers have been choosing chicken over beef due to health and environmental concerns; however, eating farmed chickens has also been shown to be problematic for several reasons.
Since the 1960s the consumption of lamb and mutton in the U.S. has fallen from nearly five pounds to about one pound per capita. Almost 20 percent of lamb consumption in the U.S. occurs during the spring holidays. Urban consumers are more likely to eat lamb than consumers based in rural areas.
What Is the Most Consumed Meat in the U.S.?
Over the last three decades, chicken overtook beef and pork to become the most commonly consumed meat product in the U.S. In 2020 Americans ate 96.4 pounds of broiler chickens per capita. According to data by the USDA and Economic Research Service, Americans are expected to eat 101.1 pounds of broiler chickens per capita by 2030.
Is Meat Consumption Increasing or Decreasing?
Meat consumption in the U.S. increased by 40 percent between 1961 and 2017. Globally, meat consumption increased by 58 percent between 1998 and 2018.
U.S. meat consumption is expected to increase by 1 percent each year through 2023, according to the recent Packaged Facts report Global Meat & Poultry Trends. While consumption of broiler chickens and pork is expected to rise, Americans are expected to eat slightly smaller amounts of beef and turkey by 2030.https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/per-capita-meat-consumption-by-type-kilograms-per-year
Is the Meat Industry Dying?
The number of Americans identifying as vegetarians has remained roughly the same at 6 percent since 1999, according to Gallup surveys. The number of self-identifying vegans increased from just 2 to 3 percent between 2012 and 2018. Nonetheless, and despite projections of growing meat consumption, 23 percent of Americans reported reducing the amount of meat they ate in 2019. The number of U.S. consumers who have tried plant-based alternatives has also risen to 70 percent.
Investment firm UBS predicts that annual sales in the plant-based meat market will grow from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion in 2030. According to global consultancy AT Kearney, 60 percent of meat eaten globally in 2040 will be from plant-based or lab-grown alternatives. In response to changing consumer preferences, traditional meat producers are increasingly adding plant-based alternatives to their product ranges. A 2021 study found that the average American believes that the U.S. could go completely plant-based by 2039. Yet when faced with falling local demand, some meat companies instead resort to increasing their exports to countries with rising meat consumption levels. In September 2020, for example, the U.S. pork industry exported a record 29 percent of total pork production to buyers outside the U.S.
How Much Meat Is Wasted in the U.S.?
According to a 2020 study, Americans waste around a third of the food they purchase, costing the average household $1,866 per year, or $240 billion for the whole population. Fresh meat requires processing, and is a highly perishable product, which increases the likelihood of waste.
The USDA estimates that only half of the body of a slaughtered cow, pig, lamb, chicken, or turkey ends up being eaten. Beef, for example, can be wasted as it moves from farm to retail due to damage during packaging, inadequate storage, or when inspectors reject it for safety reasons. Within retail, packaging failures, color changes, spoilage, and overstocking can all cause further loss. At the consumer level beef can be wasted due to inadequate storage, spoilage, recalls, and when consumers prepare more beef than they ultimately eat.
Taking the number of farmed animals who die before slaughter into account, the amount of meat wasted in the U.S. is even higher. According to Iowa State University, an estimated 1 out of 3 pigs born into the U.S. pork industry dies before slaughter.
Meat waste entails wasting the land, feed, water, labor, antibiotics, and equipment needed to raise animals from birth to slaughter. Farmed animals only convert 2 to 13 percent of the calories they eat into edible body parts. Poultry wastes 77 percent of feed calories, pork 91 percent, lamb and mutton 94 percent, and beef 98 percent.
When we recognize the resource-intensiveness of animal agriculture, we can see meat consumption itself as a form of food waste.
What Would Happen If Everyone Ate Less Meat?
Animal agriculture, including meat production, is responsible for at least 37 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing global meat consumption pushes the planet closer to dangerous limits. Supposing that the whole world adopted the U.S. diet, 138 percent of the world’s habitable land, more land than is available, would be required to meet human dietary needs. If the world instead adopted the more plant-based diet(s) of India, the area of habitable land currently used for agriculture could be more than halved, from 50 to 22 percent.https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/dietary-land-use-vs-beef-consumption
Reducing meat consumption and transitioning to more plant-based diets would prevent further deforestation, biodiversity loss, and environmental pollution; improve global health, including lowering the risk of zoonotic outbreaks and antibiotic resistance; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and free up a large amount of land, which could be used for reforestation. If the entire U.S. population switched from beef to beans, 42 percent of U.S. cropland—267,537 square miles—could be repurposed for the restoration of ecosystems and more climate-friendly farming.
Plant protein can replace animal protein to meet human dietary needs. Instead of monocultures used to grow animal feed, farmers could repurpose land to grow more diverse crops, such as vegetables and pulses. Pulses have nitrogen-fixing properties, are a healthy source of protein with a long shelf life, and can significantly improve soil fertility and reduce food loss in agriculture.
Eating Less Meat
Meat consumption in the U.S. remains high, despite the increasingly urgent need to change global eating habits. Animal products have a significantly larger environmental footprint than plant-based products. According to scientists, a plant-based diet is “probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth.”
Since U.S. citizens have one of the highest rates of meat consumption globally, more people eating a plant-based diet is critical to reducing the country’s emissions, and transitioning towards a more sustainable system of food production.Read More