Editorial: Rewriting rules for the animal farm

A few numbers might help put this in context. Today, factory farming of animals and the production of feed contributes up to 57% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally that arise from the food industry.
Representative image
Representative imageReuters

CHENNAI: Millions of individuals in India and around the world have gravitated towards the practice of veganism, i.e. abstaining from the use of animal-derived products, especially in diets, and embracing a philosophy that rejects the commodification of animals. As per the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the global production of meat has quadrupled over the past 50 years to 350 million tons annually. This number could go up to 455 million tonnes annually by 2050. Global consumption of meat has also surged in a big way as per capita consumption has almost doubled since the 1960s. From an average of 23.1 kg of meat per person in 1960, the consumption has risen to 43.2 kg in 2019. This of course comes with the rider that citizens in developed nations tend to consume more meat products as compared to people in emerging economies. The per capita consumption in the developing world is estimated to be 27.6 kg in 2022.

However, the practice of rearing industrially farmed animals has a severe environmental impact, as compared to conventional agriculture, which requires less land, water and energy to produce. A few numbers might help put this in context. Today, factory farming of animals and the production of feed contributes up to 57% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally that arise from the food industry. In comparison, plant-based foods make up for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions from the industry. Industrial scale farming of animals is also the cause behind 80% of the global deforestation we see today. To top it off, factory farming uses up 70% of the world’s available freshwater sources. Cutting down on meat and dairy consumption could reduce global farmland use by over 75%. It’s a talk point that has found resonance in the ongoing CoP 27 United Nations Climate Change Conference that is being held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt as well.

Having said that, there are also cultural and religious connotations assigned to the consumption of meat in India, which has been used as fodder for political mileage by many stakeholders. In as many as eight states in India, there is a blanket ban on the slaughter of cattle, while other states permit bull and bullock slaughter. One might remember that in Ahmedabad last year, even vendors of egg-based dishes were asked to ply their food carts away from the main roads, a development that had spiralled into a national controversy on an individual’s freedom to consume food of one’s choice.

It goes without saying that there are no easy answers to the ethical, moral, environmental and cultural dilemmas presented by the impact of factory farming. A few pioneers in the West are attempting to break the hold of the meat industry by introducing variants of faux meat, which look, smell and taste like the real thing. California has even come up with a law that prohibits the sale of pork products, if the meat came from offspring of a sow confined in a cruel manner. Shutting down the industrial complex is obviously an infeasible solution. What can be done is bring about positive changes that can help transition the sector into a more humane, sustainable and low-environmental impact business activity.

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