We managed to give coal the boot, it’s time we did the same to the livestock industry, which is overwhelmingly recognized as a leading cause of the climate crisis. 

Remember the 2009 campaign rallying cry: clean coal is a dirty lie? Now, it’s 2020 and the coal industry collapsed thanks to the decades of hard work of environmental activists, scientists, and political pressure coupled with business innovation. Public opinion matters. Once the mantra “coal is bad for climate” went mainstream, business as usual and governments alike transitioned rapidly; all to appease growing public sentiment demanding a phase out of fossil fuels. As a result, many countries plan to eliminate coal production by 2050, or earlier.

Animal agriculture is overwhelmingly recognised as a leading cause of global warming. If public sentiment catalysed the phase-out of coal, can it also be used to phase-out industrial meat? 50by40 recently convened a dialogue titled, ‘Is Industrialised Livestock the New Coal?’ with a number of global experts ahead of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.

Carina Millstone, executive director of UK food campaign group Feedback Global, remarked, We can really think of industrial meat as the most resource-intensive way to produce protein, just as coal is the most resource-intensive way to produce energy. Both industries are linear, extractive and scar the land and its custodians.”

We can’t afford to ignore the science. The entire livestock sector causes at least 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and industrial livestock is the leading driver of tropical deforestation. Forest clearing causes another 10% of global emissions. Most unsettling, industrial livestock and deforestation show little sign of slowing down.

As renewable energy tackled coal, a food systems revolution is ripe to phase-out industrial livestock production. It’s no easy lift. Industrial systems are the primary ways of ‘farming’ animals in the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom, and increasingly China, India, and Brazil, the list goes on. The U.S. government incentivises this type of farming, as do other countries. These are the production systems which need a whopping dose of negative publicity. We have alternatives, and precedent for how a sector can reinvent itself.

Labor unions and social justice organisations pushed the energy sector into large scale transformation. Food systems transformation must be framed around the same just transition rhetoric. This is especially important in the agriculture sector, which employs over 1 billion people worldwide. The transition from coal and other fossil fuels to renewable energy generated millions of jobs. Diverse, plant-centered agriculture is also posed to deliver better livelihoods, greener jobs, and safer working conditions. It has the potential to revitalise rural communities and contribute to urgently needed socio-economic gains.

The game-changer narrative is clear: Shift policies, subsidies, and incentives from the industrial livestock sector towards farmers. Invest in those willing to try out a different system. The climate benefits derived from plant-based agriculture or a combination of less and better livestock production is the change we need for better jobs, climate change mitigation, and ecosystem restoration.

Will this transformation away from industrial livestock be easy or without tradeoffs? Of course not. Attempts to regulate the coal industry resulted in pushback which ultimately gave way to innovation and alternatives for economies of scale. Food systems are complex, and just as the environmental impacts of coal are not the fault of coal miners, farmers are not the villains in this story. In fact, they can be the heroes with support. What if farmers made a liveable wage by stewarding the land and feeding people diverse, nutritious foods? Wouldn’t that benefit just about everyone?

Let’s pause for a moment. Take off the blindfold of subsidies and antiquated policies protecting a fractured global food system. We made coal history, isn’t it time to imagine the same for industrial livestock?

Original source: https://news.trust.org


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