Experts estimate that somewhere around 56 billion land animals are killed each year for the purpose of food. This is around 150 million each day, and that’s without including fish and other sea life, whose deaths are measured in weight rather than number of lives lost. Despite this massive loss of life in the name of food, hundreds of millions of people go hungry every year, and the carbon footprint created by the industry is larger of that than all the motor vehicles on the planet (Cameron and Cameron, 2017). Combine this with the strain placed upon healthcare systems around the world by the consumption of animals, as well as the political influence the largest animal agriculture conglomerates hold, and one might consider how on earth things got so bad.
An important fact to consider when talking about animal agriculture, is that for a method of food production, the consumption of animals (although a calorically dense food) takes a vast amount of energy to produce, and vegetable almost always produce more calories for the same area of land used (waldeneffect.org, 2010). If you pair this the fact that ‘The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ (the world’s largest nutritional organization) views a vegetarian diet as suitable for “all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes” one has to wonder what the need is to continue eating meat.
Perhaps the most compelling argument against the industry of animal agriculture is the environmental impact it has upon the world, especially when one considers the scientific consensus of how terrible climate change is. Eating beef 1-2 times a week uses the same amount of energy as heating the average UK home for 95 days (Stylianou, Guibourg, and Briggs 2018). An interactive estimate of food usage to climate impact is available HERE. Animal agriculture not only effects the climate environment, but local environments too, The Environmental Integrity Project (2018) Reports that “Three quarters of large U.S slaughter houses violate water pollution permits”. A link can also be drawn to political geography, since most slaughter houses in the U.S are nearer to lower income areas, where people are not likely to be able to escape the effects of local pollution. O’Brien and Williams (2016, pg.253) make the case that sustainable development is possibly the most important issue in the political economy of the environment; and yet it is difficult to see how there can be sustainable development with the current state of the animal agriculture industry. New research implicates that “without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75%… and still feed the world” (Carrington, 2018).
However obvious it appears that animal agriculture is not the way forward in terms of the environment, and even health (The World Health Organisation views processed meat as a group one carcinogen, and red meat as a group 2 carcinogen (World Health Organisation, 2015). The industry of animal agriculture, despite all this still has massive influence over government, through lobbying and the funding of biased bias studies. Upwards of $500bn is spent in subsidies to agriculture industries (Carrington, 2018). The influence such industries have over the political establishment is astounding, and sometimes particularly petty. In 2017 the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of the dairy industry, making it so that plant-based alternatives to butter, milk, cheese, cream and yoghurt cannot use the dairy derived names as they could confuse customers – a fairly ridiculous ruling that seems to highlight the dairy industry trying to fight back against its slumping profits in the face of a generation who increasingly ditching their products due to ethical, environmental and health reasons.
Most people are raised believing that there is nothing wrong with eating animals, that they are good for you, and the animals can live a happy life before having their throats slit mercilessly. The impact of animal agriculture upon the global political economy, particularly that of the environment, is seldom mentioned. With new research coming out daily about the negative impacts of meat upon the environment, it would be hypocritical for one who consumes animal products, to able to consider themselves an environmentalist.
Cameron, J., Cameron S.A. (2017) ‘Animal Agriculture is Choking the Earth and Making Us Sick. We Must Act Now’ The Guardian. 4th December. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron (accessed December 2018)
Waldeneffect.org. (2010) ‘Calories per acre for various foods’ available at: http://www.waldeneffect.org/blog/Calories_per_acre_for_various_foods/ (accessed December 2018)
Stylianou, N., Guibourg, C., Briggs, H. (2018) ‘Meat or two veg? Find out your food’s climate footprint’ BBC News 13 December. Available online: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46459714 (accessed December 2018)
The Environmental Integrity Project (2018) ‘Three Quarters of U.S Slaughter Houses Violate Water Pollution Permits’. October 11th Available online: http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/news/slaughterhouses-violate-water-pollution-permits/ (accessed December 2018)
O’Brien, R., Williams, M. (2016) ‘Global Political Economy’ 5th Edition. Palgrave Macmillan
Carrington, D. (2018) ‘Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth’ The Guardian 31st May. Available online: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth (accessed December 2018)
The World Health Organisation. (2015) ‘Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat’. Available online: https://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/ (Accessed December 2018)