February 20, 2014
A new report released last month by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Friends of the Earth Europe fell under the radar for many of us here in the U.S. However, that shouldn’t keep you from checking out this comprehensive guide to the global meat system and its effects.
Besides covering many of the issues we focus on here at the CLF – antibiotic resistance, negative impacts of industrial meat and dairy production, greenhouse gas contributions from our diets, and growing trends towards “flexitarianism” and ethical dietary choices – the report also presents many lesser-known issues to consider as part of the global animal production and consumption system. These include gender equality in livestock production, impacts of new trade agreement proposals, prospects for insect protein alternatives, urban livestock production, diminishing biodiversity of animal breeds, and more.
Although the inclusion of in-text references to its many statistics and discussions would have been preferable, the Atlas makes it easy for readers at all levels to access its succinct overviews. The guide’s strongest asset, however, may be its 75+ colorful infographics that translate its messages into powerful visuals. If anything, we suggest glancing over the report to see if any of the infographics can be helpful for any future presentations or discussions.
Here are a few interesting facts from the report:
- Facilities owned by the Brazilian company JBS, whose annual food revenues are higher than more well-known food corporations including Cargill, Tyson, Unilever, and Danone, slaughter 85,000 cattle, 70,000 pigs, and 12 million birds every day.
- According to the 2011 European Nitrogen Assessment, environmental damages caused by intensive livestock production in Europe amounted to between 70 and 320 billion dollars, which could exceed the total profits of the continent’s entire agricultural sector.
- 70% of all agricultural land globally is used for livestock production (either directly or as cropland to grow animal feed), according to a significant UN study on agricultural development.
- The growing Latin American soybean industry (63% of which is used to produce animal feed) is fueling some major social and ecological changes. Particularly concerning is the eleven-fold increase in the use of glyphosate (a Monsanto-manufactured herbicide sprayed on GM-resistant soybeans, also known as Roundup), and the associated higher rates of cancer (three times greater in one Argentinean soy-growing district) and birth defects (twice as high among women living within 1 km of soy fields in Paraguay).
- Poultry consumption is expected to rise nearly ten-fold in India by 2050.
- People in developed countries obtain 56% of their protein needs from animal sources, whereas people in developing countries obtain 18% from animal sources.
- Crickets emit 80% less methane than cattle and contain twice as much protein as chicken and steak by weight. One company, Exo, has designed a protein bar with cricket flour.
The report concludes with some recommendations for how both individuals and governments can work towards achieving a more equitable, sustainable, healthy, and safe global food system. Individuals, particularly those in developed countries with the ability to choose what they eat, are encouraged to consume less but better meat. The guide includes a list of various small-scale farmer, animal welfare, environmental, and social justice organizations that individuals can also join to push for the broader, policy-level changes that will also be needed to improve the status quo on livestock production.
What would such changes include? The Atlas suggests (in the context of the UK government, though they are applicable to other countries as well in today’s global food system) supporting small- and medium-scale pasture-raised enterprises over large industrial “fattening houses,” requiring farmers to produce at least half their animal feed on their own farm, prohibiting the prophylactic use of antibiotics in feed and watering systems, and expanding animal welfare rules to include livestock.
While these may seem like far-fetched goals, especially in light of the recent farm bill escapades that yielded much less progressive advances for sustainable agriculture, they do give us something tangible to bite into in the push for a better future.