The End Of Meat?: Peter Singer Weighs In
It’s not every day that a renowned animal rights professor writes an opinion piece for a national newspaper, but that’s what happened recently in Canada when Peter Singer (author of Animal Liberation) wrote a piece for the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail entitled With Veganism on the Rise, Is Meat Cooked?
The number of vegans is increasing worldwide, Singer notes, with Germany and the U.K. taking the lead in Europe. This year in the U.S., over half of restaurants added vegan items to their menus. In Canada the consumption of all types of meat has been falling since 2007. In Canada, the number of young people (under age 35) who are vegetarian has been described by one professor as ”mind blowing.” In the province of British Columbia, over 40% of the population under 35 self-identifies as vegetarian or vegan.
Vegan food is big business. Canadian meat-company Maple Leaf Foods recently bought plant-based sausage and cheese business Field Roast for $120 million. And they are not alone. Who would have guessed that the biggest chicken producer in the world, Tyson Foods, would invest in vegan and cultured meat companies?
Singer identifies two key areas that may cause the decline and fall of the meat industry: An increasing awareness of the cruelty of animal agriculture could make eating meat socially unacceptable, and innovations in plant-based and cultured meat production could make traditional farming redundant.
Animal rights has come a long way. When Peter Singer was a student in the 1970s, very few people considered the moral implications of eating animals. In his groundbreaking book Animal Liberation, published in 1975, he argued that animals do suffer greatly, and that it is our moral responsibility to stop the abuse and exploitation of animals. Since then, there have been great advances in recognizing animal intelligence and suffering. We have come to understand, for example, that animals such as chickens, fish, and crabs feel pain and have complex emotions. The suffering of factory farmed animals is enormous, as is the death toll, with approximately 60 billion animals consumed annually worldwide.
Meanwhile, the United Nations recommends that people reduce their consumption of animal products in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Greenhouse gas emissions from animal farming are greater than those produced by the entire transport sector combined. Studies have shown that eating vegan can reduce one’s carbon footprint far more than other measures like eating locally reared meat or driving an electric car.
Singer emphasizes that new studies continually reveal other environmental damage caused by animal farming. The use of land required for animal farming needs is enormous, in order to grow the maize, wheat, soy, and other crops that are fed to the animals. Wild animal populations are in serious decline partly because of a loss of their habitat to cropland or grazing pastures. The runoff of animal-farm manure creates ocean dead zones along our coastlines. The water used to produce a pound of meat can be between 10 and 100 times that needed to produce the same amount of plant-based food.
Interestingly, Singer argues that without the endorsement of vegan-eating celebrities, the movement would not be where it is today. The stellar roll call includes Bill Clinton, Beyoncé, and Oprah Winfrey, all of whom have many millions of followers on social media. Sports stars like Venus Williams and Lewis Hamilton are also helping the cause. These celebrities show that plant-based food is exciting and beneficial, incentivizing people to try it through the sheer force of their personality and celebrity. Studies show that by reducing animal product consumption, people become more open to agreeing with the ethical arguments for veganism.
In conclusion, Singer believes that while many people may completely stop eating or reduce their consumption of animals for health or environmental reasons, this can open the door to ethical lifestyle changes. Optimistically, he believes that—within the next generation or two—society will embrace the idea that eating animals is no longer acceptable.