Where Is Meat In Our Future?
Is meat in our future? Not in the fields, it seems. We have heard the disheartening stats before:
- Livestock farming is central to climate and environmental degradation.
- Air and land are polluted.
- Economic damage outweighs the value of livestock farming.
Then there is disease risk, perhaps most resonant, due to the impact of Covid 19. Large-scale factory farming (not necessarily a huge issue in the UK), cramped, faeces-ridden conditions, and overzealous antibiotic countermeasures invite future pandemics of great destruction. Antimicrobial resistance is already killing humans by the millions, particularly in low and middle-income countries.
But brighter prospects are on the horizon. Issues of livestock farming have birthed new innovations. First, plant-based meat substitutes arrived. These are growing in popularity as people make more health-conscious and sustainable food decisions. Consumer demand suggests regular meat consumption will experience significant drops during the 2030s, which means a decreased need for grain. In an interview with Steve Howard of Temasek, he said, “in some markets, 80% of grain is fed to livestock“. Human grain provisions will increase as the need to feed animals declines. Land can then be harnessed for food, textiles, construction and more.
Cell-based meat production is next to hit the world by storm. As a result, the rate of transition is ramping up!
The reduction of animal products means we can grow more arable crops. The question is, which ones? Current crop rotations are usually limited in diversity. Fewer crops = more pesticides and fertilisers. These reduce soil quality, increase harm to human health and create unnecessary costs.
Adding different crops, such as hemp and fungi, to common rotations can counter issues. These crops diversify farming due to their vast difference from grains. The inclusion of fungi reduces other crops’ susceptibility to stress. Hemp’s long, fibrous roots strengthen the soil and invite regenerating soil organisms. This resilient crop also sequesters more carbon per acre than trees. With immediate food concerns, hemp and fungi offer sustainable alternative proteins to meat.
However peculiar our future food systems may sound, they will play a role in regenerating the land, our health and our relationship with it.