When people think about animal agriculture, it can be easy to summon up a romanticized version of the truth, especially with labels like "cage free" eggs, "grass-fed" beef, and "humane certified" dairy painting a family farm-like image with rolling green hills and free-roaming animals.
Many consumers go out of their way to purchase these products in an attempt to minimize animal cruelty, even paying considerably more. (Before I went vegan, I was certainly one of them.)
These consumers have good intentions. Most people do care about animals, which is why advocating for veganism isn't necessarily a question of changing people's moral values. It's a question of encouraging people to reflect upon their values and live in a way that accurately reflects them.
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One could argue that the sustainable/"humane" meat movement misdirects consumers, leading them to believe that purchasing local, "humane" animal products is the appropriate alternative to cruel factory-farming practices, while in reality, all animals raised for food experience the same terrifying slaughterhouse fate.
Consumers generally don't want to contribute to animal suffering, but the cognitive dissonance lies in each bite of meat we consume as they are inextricably tied to common industry standards that are pretty horrific for animals.
In a recent article, Tara Duggan of the San Francisco Chronicle highlights some of the common industry practices that plague animal ag: "Animal advocates cite a litany of farming practices they regard as problematic. Male calves and piglets are routinely castrated without painkillers to reduce aggression. Dairy cows are separated from their young soon after birth, which dairy farmers chalk up to health and safety concerns as well as increased milk production. When animals stop producing milk or eggs or piglets, they are killed."
The Future of Meat
The current state of meat, dairy and egg production is pretty sad, wasteful and outdated. With the economic power of US animal agriculture (the beef industry alone is worth $76 billion and the dairy industry $35 billion, according to the US Department of Agriculture), it can be difficult to envision a future that removes animals from the equation entirely. Advocates for animal-free farming are also at odds with the local, organic farming movement, which puts the emphasis on improving animal welfare, rather than removing animals altogether.
Investing in "Clean Meat"
Big names like Bill Gates and Twitter cofounders Evan Williams and Biz Stone have on board the animal-free farming game for years.
"The relative inefficiency of animal agriculture is a leading reason that hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in companies developing modern meat and dairy replacements, such as Redwood City’s Impossible Foods and San Francisco’s Hampton Creek, which both have made significant inroads into the mainstream," says Duggan.
Additionally, companies like The Good Food Institute are helping these companies pave the way and educate the public about the future of "clean meat."
As grim as the current state of agriculture is for animals as mere pawns in a game of profit and palate pleasure, moving away from traditional animal agriculture and towards a more sustainable, ethical method is a shift that's already in progress.
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Source: SF Chronicle