The suffering and ecological destruction inherent in livestock farming can no longerer be justified. The growth of the artificial meat eat industry offers a sustainable alternative
What will future generations, looking back on our age, see as its monstrosities? We think of slavery, the subjugation of women, judicial torture, the murder of heretics, imperial conquest and genocide, the first world war and the rise of fascism, and ask ourselves how people could have failed to see the horror of what they did. What madness of our times will revolt our descendants?
There are plenty to choose from. But one of them will be the mass incarceration of animals, to enable us to eat their flesh or eggs or drink their milk. While we call ourselves animal lovers, and lavish kindness on our dogs and cats, we inflict brutal deprivations on billions of animals that are just as capable of suffering. The hypocrisy is so rank that future generations will marvel at how we could have failed to see it.t.
The shift will occur with the advent of cheap artificial meat. Technological change has often helped to catalyse ethical change. The $300m deal China signed last month h to buy lab-grown meat marks the beginning of the end of livestock farming. But it won’t happen quickly: : the great suffering is likely to continueontinue for many years.
The answer, we are told by celebrity chefs and food writers,ters, is to keep livestock outdoors:s: eat free-range beef or lamb, not battery pork. But all this does is s to swap one disaster – mass crueltyuelty – for another: mass destruction.ion. Almost all forms of animal farmarming cause environmental damage, mage, but none more so than keepinging them outdoors. The reason is inefficiency. Grazing is not just slightly inefficient, it is stupendously ly wasteful. Roughly twice as much of the world’s surface is used for grazing as for growing crops, yet animals fed entirely on pasture produce just one gram out of the 81g of protein consumed per person per day. A paper in Science of the Total Environment reports that “livestock production is the single largest driver of habitat loss”. Grazing livestock are a fully automated system for ecological destruction: you need only release them on to the land and they do the rest. Their keepers augment this assault by slaughtering large predators. In the UK, for example, sheep supply around 1% of the nation’s diet in terms of calories. Yet they occupy around 4m hectares of the uplands. This is more or less equivalent to all the land under crops in the country, and more than twice the area of the built environment (1.7m hectares). The rich mosaic of rainforest and other habitats that once covered the UK’s hills has been erased, the wildlife reduced to a handful of hardy species. The damage caused is out of all proportion to the meat pr produced. Replacing the meat in our d diets with soya spectacularly re reduces the land area required per kilo of protein: by 70% in the case o of chicken, 89% in the case of pork a and 97% in the case of beef. One study suggests that if the UK’s pop population were all to switch to a plant-basedp diet, 15m hectares of land in Britain currently used for farming could be returned to na nature. Alternatively, the country cou could feed 200 million people. An end to animal farming would be t the salvation of the world’s wild wildlife, natural wonders and magn magnificent habitats.
Understandably, those who keep animals have pushed back against such facts, using an ingenious argument. Livestock grazing, they claim, can suck carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the soil, reducing or even reversing global warming. In a TED talk watched by 4 million people, the rancher Allan Savory claims that his “holistic” grazing could absorb enough carbon to return the world’s atmosphere to pre-industrial levels. His inability, when I interviewed him, to substantiate his claims has done nothing to dent their popularity.
A recent report by the Food Climate Research Network, called Grazed and Confused, seeks to resolve the question: can keeping livestock outdoors cause a net reduction in greenhouse gases? The authors spent two years investigating the issue. They cite 300 sources. Their answer is unequivocal. No.
As the final argument crumbles, we are left facing an uncomfortable fact: animal farming looks as incompatible with a sustained future for humans and other species as mining coal.
That vast expanse of pastureland, from which we obtain so little at such great environmental cost, would be better used for rewilding: the mass restoration of nature. Not only would this help to reverse the catastrophic decline in habitats and the diversity and abundance of wildlife, but the returning forests, wetlands and savannahs are likely to absorb far more carbon than even the most sophisticated forms of grazing.
The end of animal farming might be hard to swallow. But we are a resilient and adaptable species. We have undergone a series of astonishing changes: the adoption of sedentarism, of agriculture, of cities, of industry.
Now it is time for a new revolution, almost as profound as those other great shifts: the switch to a plant-based diet. The technology is either here or just around the corner. The ethical switch is happening already: even today, there are half a million vegans in the land of roast beef.
It’s time to abandon the excuses, the fake facts and false comforts. It is time to see our moral choices as our descendants will.
GrazingGr is not just slightlysli inefficient, it iis stupendously wastefulwa