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Friends of the Earth: Meat industry needs radical rethink

By Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn , 16-Jan-2014

Friends of the Earth says farmer's will have to boost meat output by an extra 170 million tonnes by 2050 if global demand continues to rise
Friends of the Earth says farmer's will have to boost meat output by an extra 170 million tonnes by 2050 if global demand continues to rise

Diet is a political choice and the way we produce and consume meat and dairy needs a radical rethink, according to a new Friends of the Earth report.

In the report entitled “Meat Atlas”  the environmental organisation warns that more must be done to tackle the impending economic, environmental and social issues presented by the world’s increasing demand for meat and dairy as well as the consolidation of the industry.

The report calls the industrialised production system of such foods untenable since it depends on scarce land and water resources, and passes on hidden costs to the consumer.

It says that while meat production on a smaller scale can contribute to poverty reduction, gender equality and a healthy diet, steps must be taken on both a legal and individual level to ensure a healthy societal relationship with meat.

"Diet is no longer a private matter”

Commenting on the report, Adrian Bebb, senior food, agriculture and biodiversity campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: "Diet is no longer a private matter. Every time we eat, we are making a political choice, and we are impacting upon the lives of people around the world, on the environment, biodiversity and the climate.”

The organisation said that meat production is concentrating in two senses: in terms of the large-scale conglomerates that control the industry and the intensive farming techniques employed.

“The expansion of large-scale production is devastating small scale producers. Between 1985 and 2005, 70 million small poultry producers disappeared from the sector,” it said. JBS, TysonFood and Cargill were named in the report as the three largest companies in the meat industry today.

It said that intensive farming techniques, which were not explicitly associated with these companies, could spell the use of non-medicinal antibiotics, which is illegal in the EU, cramped housing of animals and hastier processing, the use of GM crops like glyphosate-resistant soybeans as feed, and a loss of biodiversity in the species bred for food.

The report suggests that the European Union could stop support for industrial livestock production through Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies and use EU-US trade talks as an opportunity to raise standards of regulation. On an individual level it suggests that people should adopt a ‘flexitarian’ diet whereby they eat meat less often but chose better quality when they do.

The pressure of soaring demand

Friends of the Earth says that there will be an increasing strain on the world’s resources as market demand for meat from developing economies is set to rise by 80% globally by 2020.

The report references data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations which says that grains will make up only 46% of the caloric intake of people in emerging countries by 2050, with 29% of this set to come from meat, eggs, milk and cheese. 

“If this happens the world’s farmers and agricultural firms will have to boost their meat output from 300 million tonnes to 470 million tonnes by 2050,” the organisation said. 

It said that this will put pressure on the world’s resources. Currently 70% of all agricultural land and 25% of the world’s available freshwater is dedicated to livestock production. The report says that the importation of animal feed like soy from countries like Argentina and Brazil means vast amounts of land are being dedicated to feeding animals used for meat. 

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