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Vegetarianism and Food Governance: Sustainability and Ecological Justice

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Many people are overwhelmed with stories of environmental and economic doom and gloom. Climate change and environmental destruction seem insurmountable problems, or at least ones whose solution requires overwhelming sacrifices and huge costs, from individuals to major corporations, from the local to the international level. However, recent evidence suggests that by doing one thing - reducing the consumption and production of meat, particularly meat produced by intensive industrial farming – it is possible to achieve a win-win-win situation: improved environmental sustainability, improved human health, and greater social justice. So why are laws, policies and individual actions not moving in this direction? How does the structure of food governance as it currently exists encourage and structure a mode of food production that places the dietary desires of wealthier individuals and nations, as well as the agricultural and trade priorities of a handful of countries and multinational corporations, above the food, economic and environmental survival needs of the current and future generations of the rest of the world? This paper will address some of these questions.

Intensive livestock production and the consumption of its products (meat, eggs, dairy) has grown exponentially in the last 50 years, primarily at the demand of wealthy countries, and wealthier individuals in all countries. Yet the economic, social and environmental impacts of animalbased diets, and particularly intensive livestock production, have been all but ignored in the law and policy contexts.

While the relationship between meat eating and climate change has been very well-documented by Goodland and Anang, among others, I want to particularly emphasize the harms of industrial livestock production. Intensive Livestock Operations in Canada (ILOs), or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations in the United States (CAFOs), gather very large numbers of cows, pigs, chickens or other animals into industrial warehouses. The scope of these ILOs is astounding. “Each year in the United States, 10 billion land animals are raised and killed for meat, eggs, and milk. Statistically, farm animals comprise 98 percent of all animals in the country with whom we interact directly, and that staggering percentage does not even include the estimated 10 billion aquatic animals killed annually for human consumption.” The purpose was to make livestock production faster, less labour-intensive and less economically costly for producers. Yet feeding these animals grains they were not designed to eat, gathering their waste into large storage facilities, and using antibiotics to treat their increased diseases and health problems resulting from confinement, unnatural conditions and close proximity, have all made this mode of livestock production far more costly for the planet, in economic, environmental and social ways. Eliminating or reducing the consumption of animal products would eliminate most of these harms. More traditional approaches to farming and animal husbandry would at least significantly reduce them.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

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