Meat Free Monday One day a week can make a world of difference

Plant-based revolution being squashed by meat and dairy industries

'Powerful vested interests exerting their political influence' to ensure food system doesn't change, says new study

Posted : 25 August 2023

If you wonder why the whole world isn’t yet tucking in with gusto to plant-based, planet-saving food, look no further than the usual suspects: the meat and dairy industries.

A new Stanford University study has revealed how the power of businesses that exploit animals and the natural world for profit is squeezing out greener eating, mosty by dint of gobbling up subsidies. It is vital that alternatives to meat and dairy become popular if humanity is to respond to and reverse the climate crisis.

The UN has already said cutting meat subsidies could be a “game-changer”, and last year an Oxford University study found that less than a quarter of global agricultural subsidies are being ploughed into growing healthy and sustainable fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts –otherwise known as the kind of food that is actually good for us and the environment.

According to the Stanford study: “Powerful vested interests [exert] their political influence to maintain the system unchanged and to obstruct competition created by technological innovations.” Professor Eric Lambin, who co-authored the analysis of EU and US subsidies, lobbying and policies with his colleague Dr Simona Vallone, added: “The power of the animal farming sector, both in the US and in Europe, and the political influence they have is just gigantic.”

Published in the journal One Earth, the study shows livestock farmers in the EU received 1,200 times more public funding than was given to plant-based or cultivated meat groups, while meat producers spent three times as much as those groups on lobbying. In the US, livestock farmers were handed 800 times as much public funding – and meat producers spent an astonishing 190 times as much on lobbying as did their greener alternatives.

Lambin added that the “amazing obstacles” that prevented meat and dairy alternatives becoming the norm were linked to public policies that overwhelmingly support a food system which, rather than protecting and nurturing the health of people and planet, actively degrades it. In terms of the climate emergency, biodiversity loss and some health issues, he said, “we know it’s really part of the problem”.

What policies ought to be doing, the researchers said, was ensuring the true environmental cost of animal products was reflected in the price people pay for them – up to and including a meat tax, which could save 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – as well as ploughing money into researching alternatives and educating consumers.

Labelling laws have also had a pernicious effect. While the European meat lobby failed in an attempt to ban alternative meat products from using the m-word (the US is considering forcing them to display the word “imitation”), milk and cheese alternatives must toe the non-dairy terminology line. National dietary guidelines, meanwhile, rarely explain the damage done to the planet by meat and dairy: those of just four out of 27 EU member states make the connection – while the US makes no mention at all.

“The new sector needs to be given its chance to expand and gain efficiency,” said Lambin, ruing the lack of a level playing field. “After that, consumers will judge whether they like it or not, and scientists will judge whether it is really better for the environment and for health. But if it cannot even develop to a scale where we can make this assessment, it will be a lost opportunity to transition to a sustainable food system.”

Read the report

Press enter or esc to cancel