To feed our growing human population while protecting our health and environment, we must find better ways of producing food. Reducing our reliance on the industrial production and over-consumption of livestock is central to this. Fortunately, food science and human ingenuity give us the ingredients we need to create nutritious food without the severe problems inherent in our current systems. Here are just some of the opportunities for a better food future.
Reduce Chronic Disease
In western countries like Australia and the USA, most people eat around 100 kilograms of meat every year. That’s more than double the global average. The leading causes of death in these countries - like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancers such as colorectal cancer - have all been linked to high levels of meat consumption in a large range of peer-reviewed studies.
Improve Food Safety
Infectious diseases can spread quickly among livestock, decimating animal populations and resulting in disease epidemics in humans. Faecal bacteria present during the slaughter process can cause food-borne illnesses in consumers. Food Standards Australia New Zealand found that 4 in 5 portions of raw chicken tested in a study were contaminated with campylobacter bacteria, and 2 in 5 had salmonella.
Curb Antibiotic Resistance
Intensive livestock farming is a key concern in the battle against antibiotic resistance. 80% of all medically important antibiotics are fed to farmed animals to prevent infection or to promote growth, rather than to treat illness. The world’s leading health authorities warn that overuse of antibiotics in animal farming could threaten our ability to treat common infections in humans.
Act on Climate Change
To keep people and ecosystems healthy, it is critical we reduce emissions from the highest polluting industries, including agriculture. Some estimates place livestock emissions ahead of the global transportation sector. According to Chatham House, without a reduction in consumption of animal products, it is unlikely that global temperature rises can be kept below the critical tipping point of two degrees Celsius.
Decrease Water Pollution
Waterways and oceans are impacted by livestock production. A farm with 5,000 pigs can produce as much effluent as a town of 20,000 people. Effluent from intensive pig farms can contaminate underground drinking water and cause run off into rivers and oceans. This contributes to ocean 'dead zones’, where water becomes low in oxygen and unlivable for marine life.
Prevent Marine Damage
The UNFAO found that existing fish populations are inadequate to keep up with demand. They found that, as of 2013, almost one-third of fish stocks were over-fished. On top of this, in the process of commercial trawling for fish, sea life such as dolphins, seals, turtles, and endangered species are often inadvertently caught. This ‘by-catch’ can be as high as 90% in the case of prawn fishing.
Halt Habitat Loss
Farming animals for food uses a vast amount of land, both for grazing and to grow feed for grain-fed animals. In fact, it is the leading cause of deforestation worldwide . 26% of the world’s non-ice land surface is used for grazing livestock, and an additional 33% of all croplands are used for livestock feed. From 2013-2015 in Queensland Australia, 91% of deforestation was for cattle grazing, including the habitat of iconic animals like the koala.
Reduce Food & Water Wastage
Farming animals is a resource-intensive method of protein production. Cattle in feedlots require 25 kilograms of feed to produce a single kilogram of edible meat. A considerable amount of the world’s edible grain is fed to livestock, making it less accessible to people in poverty affected regions. It also requires an average of 15,400 litres of fresh water to produce a single kilogram of beef.
Improve Animal Welfare
Most livestock – about 70 billion individuals worldwide – are raised in factory farms. Producing meat in a way that meets consumers’ concerns about animal welfare can often be less cost effective, requiring more space and more veterinary resources. For this reason, many surgical procedures on farmed animals like the removal of tails, teeth and beaks can be performed legally without anaesthetic, even in Australia and New Zealand.