The COVID-19 pandemic should make us think critically about the kind of future we want for our species, for the earth and for animals.

Slaughterhouses are a breeding ground for disease and hotspots for coronavirus, and dozens closed after thousands of workers became ill. President Trump ordered these operations open, and shielded them from legal liability for exposing disempowered workers to intolerable risks. At the same time, the government is spending $200m per month to support the meat and dairy industries, while agribusiness lobbies for more stimulus money to return to killing as normal. Industrial animal agriculture harms people, animals and the earth, and it should not receive government bailouts. It should be dismantled and replaced. To put it bluntly: it’s time to get used to eating less, or no, meat.

Factory farms and slaughterhouses demand a continuous supply of low paid, deemed expendable workers to perform dangerous and difficult tasks. To meet this need, agribusiness has obtained regulatory accommodations to exploit immigrant and prison labor. Still, the industry has faced chronic labor shortages and their killing capacity could not keep up amid the recent spate of coronavirus infections in slaughterhouse workers, causing slaughter-bound animals to back up in the supply chain. Millions of these innocent creatures have been euphemistically “depopulated,” meaning killed and discarded. These deaths are tragic, but so are the billions of needless deaths that occur in the normal course of business. We can live well without exploiting and consuming other animals.

More than 9 billion farm animals are pushed through factory farms in the US, and every year, hundreds of millions die before even reaching the slaughterhouse. The industry considers individual animals, and workers for that matter, to be expendable as long as the system is profitable. Chickens raised for meat, for example, have been genetically altered to grow four times faster and larger than normal, which causes painful maladies and results in millions of birds who die before being sold for slaughter. These early deaths are considered acceptable to the industry because the profits generated by the faster growing chickens outweigh the costs.

Industrial animal agriculture harms people, animals and the earth, and it should not receive government bailouts

As we look to a post-pandemic world, we should envision a more resilient and sustainable food system, one that doesn’t commodify sentient life. We can feed more people with less land and fewer resources through plant based agriculture, which would significantly lighten our ecological footprint and free up millions of acres of land, since we use ten times more land in the U.S. for animal agriculture than for plant farming. Shifting to eating plants instead of animals would enable natural ecosystems, wildlife habitat and biodiversity to return. It would allow the earth to regenerate and heal, and reduce threats from the climate crisis and future pandemics, which have been linked to our abuses of other animals and the environment.

The inflexible supply chains exposed during the pandemic should be shorter and more nimble, with consumers connected more closely with the source of their food and farmers. The widespread interest in gardening spurred by the pandemic is encouraging. Home gardens could supply more food than we realize, like Victory Gardens, which grew 40{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of our nation’s produce during World War II. Urban farming, farmers markets, community supported agriculture programs, and community gardens can provide nutritious food and meaningful jobs in diverse settings, and were spreading before the pandemic hit. These deserve more government and institutional support instead of factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Agribusiness is using its undue influence to obtain billions of stimulus dollars being spent in the wake of this pandemic, and has exploited government programs to fund factory farming for decades. A study released in 2018 found an astounding 73{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of dairy industry income in 2015, more than $22bn, came from the government. In 2018 and 2019, agriculture received $14bn and $16bn respectively for lost trade, on top of the billions it already gets each year. The industry has also had preferential access to scarce resources like water at below market cost, and exemptions from labor, environmental, animal welfare, and other laws that allow it to avoid liabilities, so it can externalize costs born of its irresponsible conduct. This needs to stop.

Instead of killing animals, exploiting workers, and despoiling the environment, we can feed ourselves sustainably and help heal the earth through community-oriented plant-based agriculture. Farmland that is currently growing monocrops with petrochemicals for animal feed can switch to producing legumes, grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds and other crops directly for human consumption. Suburban lawns can be turned into gardens, and in urban settings, food is already being grown on empty lots, in school and church yards, on rooftops, in food forests, in containers and planting boxes, and even in abandoned buildings re-configured into vertical farms. This is a positive trend that should be encouraged.

As we look to the future, let’s seek to create a new “normal,” without factory farms and slaughterhouses. Government policies that have enabled abuses, should be redirected to support a healthier more diversified system that sustains vibrant communities, and produces food that is nourishing, instead of returning to the broken status quo that causes so much pain and suffering for both people and animals. And for our part, it’s time to get used to eating less, or no, meat.

Original source: https://www.theguardian.com