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YOUR MEAT WELL ‘GONE’: Is this the end of the road for meat consumption?


If reducing meat consumption is so important for sustainability and food production efficiency, and the increasing ethical concern of the slaughtering of 70 billion animals for food every year, why is it not the headline policy for the UN Food Systems Summit?

JOHNNY LUK: The Pre-Summit of the United Nations Food Systems Summit recently concluded, ahead of the main summit in September in New York. It aims to progress the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the overarching targets that all UN countries have signed up to, including creating a “healthier, more sustainable and equitable food system” by 2030.

These lofty aspirations are immensely challenging in reality. Juggling the twin aims of having zero food poverty, made harder by the fact that the growing human population requires food production to be doubled by 2050, while also reducing carbon emissions and reversing biodiversity loss via sustainable land and water use seem on the face of it, near impossible. To achieve this, radical change is needed. There is one solution being mooted: reducing our reliance on conventional meat consumption.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that feeds scientific input into the UN has advocated for a shift to more plant-based food consumption to combat climate change. The raising and eating of meat are, by their nature, energy inefficient compared with a vegetarian diet because it lengthens the food chain.

According to the UK-based animal charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), cows must consume 16 pounds (7.2kg) of vegetation in order to convert it into one pound (0.45kg) of flesh. And to produce a pound of meat, 2,500 gallons (9,463 litres) of water is needed compared with only 25 gallons (95 litres) to produce a pound of wheat. Making just one hamburger uses enough fossil fuel to drive a small car for 32km (20 miles).

There is also an increasing concern about the ethics of the industrial slaughtering of animals, with 70 billion animals killed for food every year. If reducing meat consumption is so important for sustainability and food production efficiency, why is it not the headline policy for the UN Food Systems Summit?

Because changing food habits could be hugely disruptive to existing economies. It would decimate jobs through the entire food chain that relies on meat as a core part of its products and its appeal, from farmers to manufactures and retail, with the analytics company Global Data predicting the value of the meat industry at $1.3 trillion globally in 2020…

However, in most countries, this will be fiercely resisted… One challenge is how to make a meat tax fair, given the most practical way to implement a tax would be to base it on the weight of the meat. This would make all types of meat, from minced meat to prime fillet steak, equally taxed, with lower-income households likely to be disproportionately affected…

Better alternatives are also driving the decline in meat consumption. Advances in science have allowed plant-based meat, often made of tofu, soy, wheat and pea protein, to better emulate the texture and flavour of steaks, sausages and patties and they have become real competitors to traditional meat products. As these products scale, the meat substitute industry is predicted to grow by 7 percent year on year between 2021 and 2027, according to industry watcher Allied Market Research….

Another alternative to factory farmed meat is meat grown in a laboratory, known as cell-cultured meat. This involves nurturing protein cells drawn from live animal samples and growing them in a growth medium, where the cultivated cells gradually form muscle tissue…

Change is happening. The global consultancy firm, A T Kearney predicted that by 2040, the plant-based and lab-grown meat industry will overtake the conventional meat sector. This is encouraging if we want a sustainable food source. The challenge is managing this transition without leaving too many individuals in the food industry behind and maintaining the confidence of consumers that new products are safe. SOURCE…