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Let’s Rebuild the Broken Meat Industry — Without Animals

The current animal agriculture system has failed, and building it back should start with a wholesale shift to plant-based alternatives and meat cultivated from cells.

LIZ SPECHT & JAN DUTKIEWICZ: The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the underlying flaws in many of America’s most iconic industries. In times of stability and abundance, we have staked our national identity on our ability to transform cottage goods into global behemoths, democratizing access to all the luxuries money can buy. Lurking just below the surface are fragilities that this pandemic is laying bare. The American invention of industrialized animal agriculture, which now accounts for over 99 percent of the meat sold in this country, is no exception.

A meat shortage is upon us. Retailers and restaurants are already feeling the pinch, and this situation is unlikely to resolve anytime soon. Slaughterhouses have become hotspots for Covid-19 transmission, endangering workers and rural communities and forcing shutdowns that have threatened America’s meat supply. Now farmers are being forced to cull millions of animals…

Meanwhile, the USDA has used the cover of Covid-19 to deregulate meat production — allowing faster line speeds and relaxing food safety inspection rules, thereby increasing risks for workers and the public—and promised a $19 billion farming bailout… The last thing taxpayers should do is bail out an industry that hurts animals, workers, consumers, the environment, and public health…

All of this is being framed as protecting our food supply chain. The problem, however, isn’t the whole supply chain but its weakest link: industrialized animal farming. Is this really an industry we should save? Or should we read the tea leaves of this pivotal moment in history and build a more resilient replacement?…

Applying an industrialized, economies-of-scale model to animal production is a recipe for disaster. As elucidated by the term “factory farming,” industrial animal agriculture involves not just rearing animals in huge numbers but also regarding them as literal “animal machines,” to quote the late British writer Ruth Harrison, to produce milk, eggs, and meat. But unlike manmade machines, animal machines can’t simply be switched off in times of economic disruption, making them vulnerable to market volatilities.

The current system has failed, and building back better should start with a wholesale shift to plant-based alternatives and real meat cultivated from cells. Incumbent companies, startups, and the government should work together to transition to animal-free protein production rather than fighting to maintain an unsustainable and unsafe status quo…

Plant-based products like Impossible Burgers, Just Egg, or Oatly oat milk boast a number of advantages over their animal-derived counterparts. They can be produced far more sustainably with far fewer inputs, as the primary crop ingredients are converted directly into end products rather than wasting energy through animal metabolism. This translates to less cropland, water, fertilizer, and greenhouse gas emissions. Plant-based products are also much more resilient in times of crisis or volatility…

In the wake of Covid-19, major food companies should divest from animals and invest in plant-based and cellular agriculture, including investing in the many startups doing groundbreaking work in food technology. Governments should fund more resilient and sustainable alternative proteins rather than propping up a dying and dangerous industry. SOURCE…

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