The Animal Ag Industry Just Had a Really Bad Week

The animal agriculture industry just had a really bad week… and it’s probably going to get worse.

Creative Commons. Photo by Ian Britton.

Creative Commons. Photo by Ian Britton.

It all started a week ago, last Monday, when Canadian Cattlemen, a magazine and online publication, published an article called “Advocates still calling for the elimination of meat consumption.” Magazine editor Gren Winslow penned the piece, in which he describes the findings of a report by the Animal Agriculture Alliance, an industry group which had sent two interns to the National Animal Rights Conference, the world’s largest annual conference on animal liberation, this past July. The interns were sent as spies “to gain some insight into the movement’s plans.”

In his article, Winslow admits that tactics such as undercover investigative footage are successful in adversely impacting the animal ag industry; specifically, the fight against battery cages was highlighted as a success. Winslow writes that as suppliers are switching to cage-free systems, the industry will incur higher costs. A Canadian egg supplier for McDonald’s, for example, will now have to change the cage system for 3.2 million hens over the next decade.

Winslow goes on to explain that the livestock producers are busy trying to improve animal welfare conditions, sustainability issues, etc, in an effort to demonstrate that livestock are raised humanely. He concludes: “But we know it will never be enough.”

He’s right. It won’t be enough because activists know, for example, that simply removing a cage for an egg-laying hen is not going to eliminate suffering. The only way to reduce the suffering animals in a significant way is to replace our consumption of animal products with consumption of plants.

4641033994_e68b8ec2a5_oAnd if animal welfare issues aren’t enough to influence consumer behavior by replacing animal products with plant foods, then maybe their devastating health effects will. The animal agriculture industry is probably not very happy with the headline “Bacon and other processed meats cause cancer, claims WHO Report” that accompanied a recent article detailing the World Heath Organization’s findings: that a diet full of processed meat products is linked to cancer, and that red meat “is probably carcinogenic to humans.” A team of scientists from ten nations, after reviewing more than 800 epidemiological studies, “agreed processed meat is ‘carcinogenic to humans’, the highest of five possible rankings, shared with alcohol, asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes.”

The animal ag industry was quick to respond. Of course, they “simply don’t think the evidence support[s] any causal link between any red meat and any type of cancer,” according to Shalene McNeill, executive director of human nutrition at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The reaction is not surprising: the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer stated that “each 50-gram (1.8-ounce) portion of processed meat eaten daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.”

The meat industry is ready to spend billions of dollars denying the health concerns of meat products and convincing consumers to continue eating them:

“If they determine that red and processed meat causes cancer – and I think they will – that moniker will stick … It could take decades and billions of dollars to change that.” — Betsy Booren, The North American Meat Institute (Bacon and other processed meats cause cancer, claims WHO Report)

But will the industry’s tactics work? That meat products are linked to cancer is not a new revelation. However, this announcement has caused a media firestorm, from Reuters (“Bacon and other processed meats can cause cancer, experts say“) to the Washington Post (“Hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats cause cancer, World Health Organization declares“) to the New York Post (“OMG! Bacon Causes Cancer“).

eggs creative commonsThe animal ag industry suffered further embarrassment this past Friday when the CEO of the Egg Board, Joanne Ivy, resigned early:

The CEO of the American Egg Board has stepped down earlier than planned, following the release of emails indicating she tried to stop the sale of a vegan mayonnaise at Whole Foods. […]

The early departure comes as the USDA investigates the egg board regarding its actions related to Hampton Creek, a San Francisco startup that makes the eggless mayonnaise alternative Just Mayo. On Sept. 2, The Associated Press reported on emails in which Ivy told a consultant that she would “like to accept your offer to make that phone call to keep Just Mayo off Whole Foods shelves.”

The request, made in 2013, was not successful, as Just Mayo is still sold at Whole Foods.

These setbacks are not isolated, but appear part of a growing trend of problems for the animal ag industry. According to The Humane Society of the United States, 400 million fewer animals were killed in 2014 than in 2007, and back in January of this year, the online investing guide Street Authority warned that, as meat consumption has sharply declined, and will likely continue to decline, investing in the meat industry is becoming riskier. If I had to guess, I’d say that the turning point for the animal ag industry is around the corner.

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