Meat consumption research – Part 9 Conclusions/Solutions

See Introduction/aim of research for the background to this work.

Solutions can be divided into what we can do personally as individuals and what can be done at a wider level by corporations, governments and other organisations.

Personal responsibility

To summarise the issues detailed in previous sections, continued human population growth and expanding meat consumption both require expansion of agricultural output. Deteriorating resource and environmental conditions for agriculture and the dangers of rainforest destruction make that expansion difficult to achieve without compounding ecological damage. Western populations have relatively little control over global population growth but certainly have the power to affect meat consumption rates – a relatively small reduction of Western consumption rates could eliminate global growth. Consumers have to become aware of the wider costs that their food choices have in a world with, possibly, billions of similar consumers. With that knowledge, consumers with an interest in environmental protection would have to reject high consumption of meat from modern intensive production. Furthermore, consumers with an interest in animal welfare have to understand that most meat from intensive production systems fail to deliver that welfare due to the conditions in which animals are raised.

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Meat consumption research – Part 8 Ethical considerations

See Introduction/aim of research for the background to this work.

Fundamental ethics of meat-eating

As discussed in parts 1-4, historically, meat-eating has been a fundamental part of life throughout human history and for our evolutionary ancestors. Indeed, modern humans may never have evolved if it was not for the meat in their diet. In nature, the hunting and consumption of other animals by carnivores and omnivores is part of a survival strategy and philosophical questions regarding the ethics of eating of meat have only been available to relatively modern humans. Before the introduction of agriculture the consumption of animal meat appears to have been almost essential for human life. Therefore, it’s possible that hunter-gatherer humans had a similar relationship and dependence on hunting as carnivores such as the tiger.

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Meat consumption research – Part 7 Other impacts

See Introduction/aim of research for the background to this work.

Economic factors

The development of the modern agricultural system summarised in part 4 has resulted in an enterprise with some perverse economic realities. Supply has been partly decoupled from demand, prompting over-production. These surpluses have depressed agricultural market prices and subsidised Western farmers have had an unfair advantage over unsupported farmers, often in poorer parts of the world.

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Meat consumption research – Part 5 Impact on the environment

See Introduction/aim of research for the background to this work.

Due to there being fairly extensive information about agriculture’s impact on the environment and my focus on some of the less investigated areas, this section only briefly outlines some of the major environmental impacts.

According to research carried out by FAO (2006), around 70% of the total agricultural land area is used in the raising of livestock. That area accounts for about 30% of the total ice-free land surface. However, much of this land is marginal and is used for grazing and would not be productive for other types of agriculture. Raising of livestock utilises about a third of the total arable land supply for growing of feed-crops. Given these figures, it is clear that continued expansion of the industry presents a challenge in terms of environmental and food supply security as either more land needs to be used or more crops needs to go towards animal feed. Intensive livestock production is still mostly the preserve of the more economically advanced countries and the livestock feed is also mainly produced in OECD countries. Current levels of livestock production let alone expansion look unsustainable due to their dependence on large energy inputs, heavy impact on the environment and dwindling global water security.

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Meat consumption research – Introduction/Aim

I spent the last 4-5 months working on my final thesis for the University of Gastronomic Sciences.  I chose to look at meat consumption, the growth of which is exacerbating agricultural sustainability issues.  Following my time at the university, I was especially interested to look at some of the historic and cultural issues that make meat such a valued part of the diet.  I was also interested to look further into the health implications of diets.  The work was helped and inspired by my reading of Richard Manning’s book Against the Grain, Massimo Montanari’s teaching at the university and his book The Culture of Food and Michael Pollan’s books The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defence of Food.

The title of my work is…

Towards a more sustainable food system: Understanding the history, culture and impact of meat in human diets

and a brief synopsis…

High and rising global meat consumption threatens the sustainability of our food system with ever more resources devoted to livestock farming while much of the world remains hungry. I look at the history and culture of meat in human diets, the way we produce meat, it’s role in human health, ethical issues and solutions to restore sustainability.

In the end I think I was a little over-ambitious with the wide scope of the research.  It was more work than was required for the university but I was interested in doing it and felt that I was looking at the issues from a unique set of perspectives.  Unfortunately, I had to rush at the end to get it finished for the deadline and some parts could have done with some more work.  I will publish it here over the coming weeks, tidying up some bits that I was not satisfied with.

The work was a real challenge and a valuable exercise.  In places it was very difficult to keep objective and construct defendable arguments.  Please comment if you find anything you think is poorly argued or wrong.

See below for the aim of the research

Part 1: Meat and diets in our evolutionary history is here

Part 2: The introduction of agriculture is here

Part 3: Between agriculture and industrialisation is here

Part 4: Industrialisation and modernisation is here

Part 5: Impact on the environment is here

Part 6: Impact on human health is here

Part 7: Other impacts is here

Part 8: Ethical considerations is here

Part 9: Conclusions/Solutions is here

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India trip and Navdanya

Navdanya logo made from seeds

We just got back from a two week trip to India, mainly looking at the work of Vandana Shiva’s organisation Navdanya

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Coffee, Fair-Trade and Quality

Lavazza coffee cup

In January 2006 we spent a week at Lavazza in Turin learning about coffee. It was one of the most informative and well-managed learning field-trips we have had with the university and Lavazza really came across as a great company with a real commitment to the quality of their products. Here is a report I wrote for the university on our field trip looking at one aspect they presented to us that I wasn’t wholly convinced by. However, I do commend them for having done something, which is more than many of the other big coffee companies…

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