Around 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from animal agriculture. 1 kg of meat uses between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water to produce, compared to 1 kg of potatoes which takes around 290 litres. Livestock produces 37 percent of methane emissions. Animal agriculture uses up to 30 percent of our planet’s land mass. And so the list goes on, but the topic of animal agriculture continues to take second place after the issue of burning fossil fuels when environmental protection is discussed. Not that it is not important, but why do we not address the elephant in the room?
It is not unreasoned. The amount of money circulating in the food industry globally has been estimated to be annually around 4.8 trillion USD and counting. And with money comes greed and power and thus, lobbyism.
Lobbying is a form of advocacy from individuals, companies and lobby groups with the purpose of influencing the decisions of the government — and sometimes we forget what the topics being lobbied against or for are about. The overall attitude towards our governments and decision-makers is often that whatever is decided is for the greater good and not to thicken one CEO’s wallet. However, examples from all over the world lead to the question about what actually happens behind the curtains.
Strong meat and dairy lobby
When we, the common folk, see the government published dietary guidelines, the norm is to accept them and follow them, or at least to try to. The dietary guidelines are visible in school lunches and are up on waiting room walls. But if we only listened to independent scientists and not the government on this topic, we would realise that there is a lot that is added to the guidelines and a lot that is left out. As for the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for the US, scientists point out that the amount of red meat recommended is far more than actually recommended. Why? The guidelines are issued by the US Departments of Agriculture (USDA). The aim of the departments is to help the market for US grown meat and animal produce, and in the US alone the USDA spends 550 million USD annually to advertise animal products with slogans such as “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.”
Legislation such as the US Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is supposed to protect all animal enterprises from damages caused to the property or profit line. With the legislation, even acts committed without violence, such as blogs posts and Youtube videos, can be convicted as acts of terrorism. The legislation was passed in the US Congress after heavy lobbying from pharmaceutical, fur and farming companies in 2006, and has since then faced criticism on its infringement of the right to free speech.
As someone who grew up in Finland for most of my childhood, I vividly remember the school cafeteria walls being covered in milk advertisements sponsored by Valio. Valio receives 1,8 million euros as campaign funds from the European School Milk Scheme of the EU. The European Milk School Scheme does not only provide campaign funds for privately owned companies like Valio, they also subsidise the cost of different dairy products for the EU states.
The US and Finland are not singular nor peculiar examples; this sort of lobbying affects legislation all around the planet.
Burning of the Amazon Rainforest for the use of animal agriculture
Towards a more sustainable diet?
Those who have made the decision to stop consuming animal products are often labelled as eccentric hippies or met by counter-arguments about the lack of protein and other nutrients, and how soy production for vegan food has a tremendous impact on climate change and Amazon deforestation. However, according to WWF, 75 percent of the soy produced is fed to the animals, which are then consumed as food , although 12 billion of those animals are thrown away as food waste yearly. And only about 6 percent of the remaining soy is actually used in human food. The rest is used in other soy products like biodiesel.
Even though it needs to be recognised that livestock produces vital food and resources for many people, meat and other animals products cannot be sustainably produced for the whole population of this planet. And just by doing the maths for this; land and water use of the animal agriculture industry are far beyond sustainable.
Although meeting someone whose diet and lifestyle is 100 percent sustainable has so far been a mission impossible, it is more and more common to see how people continuously weigh their choices. We are repeatedly put into the test of sustainability, and whether we fail or succeed, the impact of the result will be global.
To realise that we all – not excluding animals – live on this same planet and breath the same air is vital for our survival. The separation of ourselves into different groups, into a pyramid of hierarchical order, acts as a hindrance for our goal of sustainable living. As sustainability becomes more and more critical to incorporate into our everyday lives, we could make a start by supporting each other in the process.
By Laura Korte
Livestock in captivity by P.V.Kavya, CC BY-SA 4.0
Burning of rainforest for the use of animal agriculture by Genetic Engineering Network, noncommercial use only