As concerns over the huge impact on the environment, human health and animal welfare grow, what future is there for the meat industry, asks Bibi van der Zee
What are the economics of meat?
Food and farming is one of the biggest economic sectors in the world. We are no longer in the 14th century, when as much as 76% of the population worked in agriculture but farming still employs more than 26% of all workers globally. And that does not include the people who work along the meat supply chain: the slaughterers, packagers, retailers and chefs.
In 2016, the worlds meat production was estimated at 317m metric tons, and that is expected to continue to grow. Figures for the value of the global meat industry vary wildly from $90bn to as much as $741bn.
Although the number of people directly employed by farming is currently less than 2% in the UK, the food chain now includes the agribusiness companies, the retailers, and the entertainment sector. According to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in 2014 the food and drink manufacturing sector contributed 27bn to the economy, and employed 3.8 million people.
It is not simple to separate out the contribution that meat production makes to this particularly globally. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation states that livestock is about 40% of the global value of agricultural output and supports the livelihoods and food security of almost a 1.3 billion people.
What about its cultural and social importance?
Cooked meat may have been partially responsible for the large brains that characterise Homo sapiens and have put humans where we are now. Cooking made calories from meat (and from vegetables) easier to consume and absorb than in a raw form.
And the domestication of certain animals along with the domestication of wild grains and vegetables marked the beginning of human agricultural history in the fertile crescent. Throughout human history the hunting and farming of meat has been part of our stories and mythologies and some of our legal and religious systems; the fatted calf for the prodigal son; the medieval forest laws that created areas where no one but English royalty could hunt; the sacrifical sheep to mark the beginning of Eid Al-Adha; even the roasted wild boars consumed at the end of every adventure by Asterix and Obelix.
But is meat still crucial to human life? Some argue that, just because weve always eaten meat, that doesnt mean we always have to. If we can get all the dietary nutrients and protein that we need elsewhere, should we?
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