Does a meatless, milkless future loom?

Anti-meat and anti-milk activists have focused steadfastly on the negatives of the livestock industry. Yet livestock and dairy farmers have done precious little to defend animal farming from these attacks.

‘Goodbye and good riddance to livestock farming.’ I clearly remember my shock when I read this headline to a Guardian article by George Monbiot a few years ago.

He suggested that future generations, looking back on our age, would equate animal agriculture with horrors such as slavery. These provocative words were no doubt penned with the intention to shock.

Two Farmer’s Weekly articles, namely ‘Fake food threat to the livestock industry’ (8 November 2019) and ‘Get ready to profit from plant and insect-based proteins’ (15 November 2019), reminded me of Monbiot’s troubling article, so I decided to catch up on the assault levelled at the livestock industry, hoping to find it had waned somewhat.

A vain hope! What I discovered was the opposite. ‘Save the planet’, ‘Save mankind from obesity’ and animal welfare organisations are pouring out information and misinformation in profusion.

The anti-sugar brigade, having won the battle to get governments around the world to tax sugar, is now backing off, opening a media gap for the anti-meat, anti-cow’s milk and anti-egg brigade.

Profound disruption
Take Silicon Valley think-tank RethinkX’s forecast for the future of animal agriculture, for example:

“We are on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruption of agriculture in history. By 2030, the number of cows in the US will have fallen by 50% and the cattle farming industry will be bankrupt.

“All livestock industries will suffer a similar fate, and the knock-on effects for crop farmers and businesses throughout the value chain will be severe.

“The cow milk industry will start to collapse once modern food technologies have replaced the proteins in a bottle of milk (just 3,3% of its content). The industry, which is already balancing on a knife edge, will thus be all but bankrupt by 2030.”

If Monbiot had shocked me, this view, despite my scepticism, frightened me, as it will livestock and dairy farmers. Entrepreneurs have been fast to exploit the growing number of vegan eaters, with companies such as Beyond Meat finding no shortage of investors.

Founder and CEO of Impossible Foods, Pat Brown, decries animal agriculture as “destructive, unnecessary and catastrophic for climate, water resources, biodiversity and the ecosystem”, and states that his company has a mission to “replace the need for animals as a food production technology globally by 2035”.

An impossibly ambitious goal, I thought, certainly in Africa, until I discovered that Beyond Meat is already in South Africa, with its products on offer in many traditional city-based burger restaurants.

More and more of the anti-animal farming activists and organisations are calling on governments to tax animal-based meat. Researchers at the University of Oxford have proposed a tax of 20% on red meat and 100% on processed meats. There are also calls from the more fanatical anti-meat activists in Europe to ban animal meat entirely.

Where is the counter-argument?
In scanning the deluge of Internet coverage promoting animal-free agriculture, I searched for articles telling the other side of the story. They are conspicuous by their paucity.

I specifically visited websites of animal-based farmers’ organisations in South Africa, and found not a word rebutting some of the specious nonsense from the supporters of an animal-agriculture-free future.

Meatless meat. Fake meat. Simulated meat. Faux meat. Plant-based meat. Laboratory-grown meat. Cell-based meat. Call the industry what you like, it is rapidly gaining momentum.

While it may take some time to affect South African agriculture, our livestock and dairy farmers ignore the threat at their peril.