With the emergence of meat-free meats as a mass consumer option via fast-food outlets like Hungry Jack’s and an increasing diversity of meat-free products in supermarkets, even the trivial objections to ceasing to use mammals as a food source have now vanished. The shuttering of the livestock and dairy industries would be a sensible policy goal in any polity that actually embraced, rather than simply spoke about, evidence-based policy.
Meat and dairy are monstrously cruel, poorly regulated industries, even if you’re OK with the ethics of killing intelligent, social creatures of the same animal class as us for the production of meat and milk that we don’t need to consume. And even if you’re OK with mammals being killed, abused and immiserated for your taste buds, the environmental impact is frightening: while livestock’s climate impact has been overstated, it is still a major source of greenhouse emissions worldwide and only likely to increase as incomes in developing countries grow, bringing meat into the diet of more and more people.
Beyond those, there remain only trivial reasons for not ceasing to eat meat, mainly around special dietary needs that can be addressed through supplements, and the diversity of substitute products on offer for those who refuse to subsist on vegetables, free-range chicken and sustainably sourced fish. As the humble Not Burger is being supplemented in supermarket freezers by products that, with greater or lesser degrees of success, mimic the taste and texture of meat, that reason is vanishing. And as a greater variety of non-dairy milk products become available (with soy milk probably being the least worst in terms of environmental impact, given almond milk production relies heavily on water consumption), continuing to consume dairy milk also becomes an egregiously unethical act.
The politically powerful livestock industry, however, isn’t going to go quietly. Meat producers have used their influence in a dozen states in the US to ban producers of non-meat product from using words like “meat”, a tactic that may end up not flying in a country with a guaranteed right to free speech. Other, bigger US meat industry players, however, are anticipating the shift and moving into non-meat themselves. In Australia, where there are precious few rights to do anything, Nationals MPs have called for bans on non-meat products themselves, and recently began lobbying to impose Arkansas-style bans on the use of certain words for non-meat and non-dairy milk products. In the UK, meat producers are either dismissive of the “fad” of non-meat, or think a better marketing campaign will convince Britons to eat more mammals. A new European pro-livestock group is warning consumers that they need “livestock’s contribution to biodiversity, bioenergy and the rural economy”.
Marketing campaigns and attempts to ban product descriptions by the minions of the animal slaughter industry are one thing; more problematic is that the livestock industry receives massive handouts from taxpayers. Currently the government is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the livestock industry on the basis of drought relief, despite decades of advice from sources like the Productivity Commission that the government should be funding resilience, not relief. But that’s on top of ongoing assistance, including tariffs, calculated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
This is an industry that should, in the long-run, become a niche contributor to our dietary needs at best, to minimise its dire impact on the planet and its horrific animal welfare outcomes. Instead, we’re propping it up at taxpayer expense.
Is the end of the meat and dairy industries in sight? Will substitutes take over our menus? Let us know your thoughts at [email protected]. Please include your full name if you would like to be considered for publication.