Updated: Mar 5
As we leave a torrid year behind I cannot help but wonder if any of us fully comprehend the reasons that have made 2020 so alarming. From the origins of COVID-19 to the imperative creation and distribution of the Pfizer vaccine and others, the questions of how, why, and when seem to be more relevant than ever.
If there are any considerations to be made heading into 2021, they have to include our ever-growing consumption of meat. The importance we put on meat in our diets has increased significantly in recent decades but our understanding and our awareness of the process and the implications have not.
From 1961 to 2013, the consumption of meat around the world has gone from an average of 23,09kg to 43,22kg per capita per year. The rapid expansion of the meat industries has led to an ever- increasing consumption, inducing a lifestyle in which indulgence has become the norm.
If we take into account the surge in the population globally over the same period of time, the numbers are truly shocking.
Historically associated with wealth and notable occasions, meat was a luxury and not a staple. Today modern society, especially in the richer nations of the world, has completely forgotten about the true value, or should I say cost, of the meat in our diets.
Our ever-growing consumption is having a profound effect on the world we live in, and these changes have become acutely apparent in 2020. The appearance and proliferation of factory farms to fulfil the increase in demand for meat and other animal products, to reduce costs and to maximise profit may have shifted from being a solution to the problem.
Factory farms centralise operations, thus reducing the space required while increasing the volume of livestock processed and the profits. But there is also evidence that these types of farms may be as unsustainable as they are unethical.
Several important issues arise out of the production of animal products on a large scale. The amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by livestock is higher than the emissions of all modes of transport put together. The amount of land needed to cultivate food for livestock is the main cause for deforestation around the world. And, last but not least, the appearance of viruses that jump between species are more likely due to industrial-style farms.
Two of the points raised above have been a cause for worry for some time, although nothing has changed. But the trauma and loss due to COVID-19 may now make us stop and think about the logical answer to this problem.
The industrialisation of farming, especially of livestock, has created conditions for the appearance and dissemination of viruses across the globe. Over the past few decades this has become a recurring truth, occasionally also creating the conditions for a virus to jump to humans.
Several examples such as H1N1 influenza virus or swine virus and COVID-19 show the devastating consequences of our ever-growing consumption of animal products. The cramped conditions within industrial livestock farms are conducive of the spread of disease.
So if these farms are proven to be hazardous, what should we be doing to reduce the risk before another pandemic brings further crisis? Do we stop eating meat and other animal products altogether?
We do not have to stop eating animal products completely. Yes, that may be the ultimate goal for part of the population, myself included. But the real importance should be placed on reducing the quantity of animal products we eat every day and where we source these from.
By prioritising the quality over quantity of animal products we eat, we are greatly reducing the impact we have on the planet. Not only are we making a defensive decision against future viruses that could affect global health, but we are also greatly reducing the consequences for the environment.
As a side note worth discussing, as plant-based diets have grown and continue to grow (and the economic opportunities with them), the amount of alternatives being created appears endless. The adjustment may be difficult or unfamiliar at first but if we wish to avoid (or greatly reduce the chances of) another virus grinding our lives to a halt and taking away loved ones, then the alternatives are already here. I urge you to try them.
For me, one solution appears obvious. Having spent most of a deeply unsettling 2020 attempting to continue on the path of university learning but from forced distance away from campus, community and mentors, I want to stand up and pledge myself to what I see as a fundamental, immediate way we can all change and sustain, for the benefit of species and our planet.
Is it wise to continue ignoring all the signs just to satisfy our cravings, or do we value our lives and those of the generations who will follow? Ultimately, our daily decisions matter.