The Political Economy Of Meat
Scholars have studied the production of meat through a political and economic lens for decades. This article, published this year in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, presents multiple viewpoints concerning “the political economy of meat.” This phrase refers to the social, economic, and political effects of global meat production trends. Given how hugely invested corporations have become in food production, proposals that increase producer autonomy and propose alternative ways of eating often cause great conflict.
Between 1961 and 2013, the average individual’s yearly meat consumption has risen from 23 to 43 kg/year globally. People from the United States continue to consume the most meat globally, followed by those in Europe. Additionally, meat consumption is quickly rising in China and Brazil. In contrast to these huge meat consumer bases, individuals in the world’s 50 least developed countries consume less than 15 kg of meat per year.
Pointing to the heavy reliance on meat in countries classified as more developed by the U.N., rural development scholars argue that the so-called “Livestock Revolution” is a way to advance a country’s economic and social welfare. These scholars argue that producing meat, and using more advanced technology to do so, gives small farmers more power in the marketplace and thus improves their financial status. On the other hand, other scholars argue that small livestock farmers lose both autonomy and money when they become at the mercy of large agri-food companies and vertical integration. These scholars also point out that livestock farming requires more land to grow food to feed the animals, which further increases competition for farmland and makes it even harder to grow enough food to feed the human population.
The authors conclude the article by giving a brief overview of critical animal studies, a new field which studies human interaction with animals with a focus on social and economic aspects. They also bring in the concept of speciesism, referring to the discrimination against other living beings based on species membership alone. Critical animal studies scholars explore the parallels between speciesism and racism, sexism, and ableism.
Advocates and scholars can help both non-human animals and human agricultural laborers by pointing out the flaws in speciesist logic and its ties to global capitalism. In this way, they can help transform the political economy of meat into a more just system, or try to abolish it altogether.