It’s deeply frustrating, though not at all surprising, to see the endless parade of op-eds, social media posts, online petitions and more from activist groups, activist authors and others taking advantage of current circumstances to call for an end to animal agriculture and meat consumption. An opinion column in the New York Times was even bold enough to declare “The End of Meat” is here. Quite the statement, especially considering the fact that meat sales are up by double digits compared to 2019, which was a record year for consumption. The Alliance wants to put your mind at ease – meat is not going anywhere, and you can remain confident about eating it, given the animal agriculture and meat community’s commitment to food safety, worker health, animal welfare and sustainability. Never fear – meat will still be here.
We’d like to take a moment to correct some of the false narratives that are running rampant, thanks to the efforts of animal rights extremists who are determined to take meat, milk, poultry and eggs off of our plates.
- The COVID-19 pandemic IS NOT connected to animal agriculture.
This rumor continues to float around, despite expert after expert debunking it, including former USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Richard Raymond, MD, UC-Davis’ Alison Van Eenennaam, PhD and Iowa State University’s Dan Thomson, DVM, PhD. The exact origins of the pandemic have not been determined, but there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that it has anything to do with animal agriculture or eating meat, nor does eating meat increase your risk of being infected.
- Farms and plants ARE taking extraordinary measures to protect worker health and safety while remaining operational to fulfill their critical role in the food chain.
Processing plant workers are heroes for coming to work to feed families around the world. Meat and poultry companies’ first responsibility is to the safety of their workers. They are conducting temperature checks, providing masks, erecting station dividers, slowing lines to spread out shifts, building temporary tents for more space for break rooms and taking other measures to keep employees safe. Additional guidance has been provided by CDC and OSHA to ensure the health and safety of meat and poultry processing employees. This additional guidance provides state and local governments with the information they need to protect worker safety, while continuing to support the operation of processing plants.
- Meat, poultry, dairy and eggs ARE sustainable food choices that have a role to play in a healthy, balanced diet. Animal agriculture is NOT the leading cause of climate change.
Activists claiming that animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change is a tale as old as time, but it is still far from the truth and repeating it over and over does not make it more accurate. Animal agriculture in the U.S. is responsible for less than 4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is a distant fourth in a sector-by-sector comparison of contributions to total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The industry is also committed to continuous improvement and doing more with less. For example, due to innovative farm practices and new technologies, the environmental impact of producing a gallon of milk in 2017 shrunk significantly since 2008, involving 31% less water, 21% less land, and a 20% smaller carbon footprint. On the beef side, the modern U.S. beef industry uses 19% less feed, 12% less water, 33% less land and has a 16% lower carbon footprint compared to beef production in the 1970’s. Other parts of the animal agriculture community have similar stories to tell.
- Farmers and ranchers ARE committed to responsibly caring for livestock and poultry and animal welfare remains top-of-mind.
Farm families take the ethical obligation of providing the best quality care to their animals very seriously. Although farm size and type of production practices may vary, one thing farmers and ranchers have in common is the commitment to caring for their animals. Each sector of the animal agriculture community has animal care guidelines that are aimed at continuous improvement and help farmers and ranchers ensure they are providing the best care to their livestock and poultry. Animal welfare includes responsible antibiotic use. America’s farm families have a long-standing commitment to protect the health and safety of their animals, families, employees and consumers. Antibiotics are an important tool in ensuring animal health and high standards of animal care. Farmers work closely with veterinarians to use antibiotics responsibly and provide consumers with safe food.
- Some farmers are having to make incredibly difficult choices involving euthanasia due to production issues, but they ARE doing everything possible to prevent this and ensure it is done responsibly as a last resort.
Farmers and ranchers – and the animal agriculture community as a whole – are doing the best they can as they face unprecedented challenges such as processing plant closures or capacity reductions and drastically decreased foodservice demand given the extended closures or operating restrictions impacting restaurants, schools, sports arenas and other foodservice venues. Humanely euthanizing livestock and poultry is the absolute last resort after other measures are taken, such as finding alternative markets, changing feed to slow growth or getting creative to find extra space. Farmers and companies are exhausting all other avenues before turning to humane euthanasia. Unfortunately, keeping animals on farms indefinitely is not an option as they will continue to grow and overcrowding will lead to animal welfare issues. If humane euthanasia is determined to be the only path forward, it is done with the involvement of veterinarians and following the American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines as well as all state and local laws.
- Meat alternatives ARE NOT taking over the meat case.
Despite some opportunistic groups (that want to sell more plant-based meat alternatives) trying to spin the facts to say otherwise, the vast majority of Americans are continuing to purchase meat and poultry and the market share of plant-based alternatives remains a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it blip on the radar screen. According to Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics, since the onset of the pandemic-related changes in grocery patterns, the meat department has seen an additional $5.0 billion in sales, versus an additional $100.3 million for plant-based meat alternatives. Anne-Marie goes on to point out that as a percentage of the total (meat department plus plant-based meat alternative sales), the share for plant-based alternatives stood at 1.50% during the week of March 1. Because of the absolute gains in meat dollars, the market share for plant-based alternatives has since dropped to a low of 1.18% during the week of April 12 and stood at 1.27% the week ending May 10. A drop in the bucket, despite the exaggerated claims that these products are selling like hotcakes. Make no mistake – the vast majority of people want real meat and poultry, and our farmers and ranchers along with the rest of the food chain are going to continue to work around the clock to get it to them.
As long as there is animal agriculture (which we strongly believe there always will be, despite what some columnists have to say), there will be critics doing everything they can to undermine its reputation – even in the time of a global pandemic and heightening fears about food security. Rest assured our farmers and ranchers will remain undeterred in their work to provide you with nutritious, affordable choices. Farmers and ranchers (and all workers along the food chain) deserve our applause and support and we hope you will join us in giving it to them.