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Feeding the world in the face of climate chaos and rising animal disease outbreaks requires protein in the future to come mainly from plants, says former UK Defra Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir Ian Boyd.

The meal of the future will have very little animal protein,” Boyd told The Sunday Times. “It will have to be based on plant protein. We cannot feed the 11 billion people who will be on the planet by mid-century — including 75 million or so in the UK — using the food production system we have now.”

Boyd foresees a major move away from farm animal production with protein being produced from plants, including using fermentation-style techniques in factories based close to the point of consumption. “We have to find new ways of manufacturing food in a systemic way, meaning we know where the materials and nutrients come from, where the energy comes from and where the markets are, so we build food factories nearby,” he said.

This very much echoes the findings of a new report by US think-tank, RethinkX, which foresees the collapse of the US intensive beef industry through the development of new sources of protein that do not involve slaughtering farm animals. Meat from stem cells and the ‘precision fermentation’ of proteins are just some of the disruptive technologies that the report sees as coming on stream within a decade, leading to the rapid decline of the current animal farming industry. By 2030, the report predicts that US cattle numbers will have halved, leaving the beef industry “all but bankrupt”.

A meat tax system would discourage the cruellest and the most environmentally damaging systems

Meat Tax

In his former role as Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Environment Secretary at Defra, Professor Boyd helped draw up plans for farming after Brexit. He now considers that livestock farming should be replaced by less damaging methods of producing food and part of the solution could be taxing some food products.

Compassion has long advocated a tax on meat from factory farms. In this way, it would be targeted at production methods responsible for the most environmental damage as well as producing poorer quality food.

A meat tax system would discourage the cruellest and most environmentally damaging systems, like cages and crates, whilst encouraging better, more regenerative forms of farming. By taxing the bad stuff, it would encourage much less meat consumption, helping to ensure those animals that are farmed are kept in well-managed pasture-based herds, integrated rotational crop-livestock systems or extensive indoor or free range systems.

Money raised from meat taxes on factory farmed produce should then be used to subsidise healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables, legumes and whole grains, thereby enabling greater access to good, healthy food. 

Plants for a Future

What is abundantly clear is that for any kind of liveable future, our global society has to drastically reduce consumption of livestock-produced meat and dairy. Farmland already covers nearly half the useable land surface of the planet. Of that, more than four-fifths is devoted to meat and dairy production, which provides a mere 37 per cent of humanity’s protein and 18 per cent of our calories. In terms of return on investment, we are clearly being short-changed.   

According to The Sunday Times, Professor Boyd entered Defra as a carnivore. He now advises that he almost never eats meat and eats very little dairy. “It’s not just the climate impacts, it’s other welfare and food issues such as avian influenza and bovine tuberculosis. You realise the system does not make much sense, you have to change,” he said.

We can all help end animal suffering, reverse wildlife declines and ensure a decent future for our children by choosing to eat more plants and less meat and dairy, ensuring any we do eat comes from pasture-fed, free range or organic sources.

Never has there been more need to take action on our plate. Never has there been greater urgency to end factory farming and its running mate of high meat consumption.

Thank you for being part of the solution by getting involved in the cruelty-busting, planet-saving campaigns of Compassion in World Farming.

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