Current EU food policies encourage intensive livestock production. Instead of being respected as sentient beings that provide important products, farmed animals are often treated simply as tools to maximise production and profit.
A trend towards industrialised farming methods that prioritise quantity over quality of production has led to the use of increasingly productive breeds in systems where animals are confined for their entire lives or prolonged periods of time. Animals are selected for traits that are desirable for meat, eggs or milk production, to the detriment of their health and welfare. This negative impact goes beyond farmed animals, impacting also the environment and public health.
The way forward for the farming sector is to produce “fewer and better” animal products. A shift from intensive livestock farming to extensive, animal-friendly farming is therefore needed, and a reduction of meat, dairy, fish and egg consumption, combined with the development and introduction of alternatives and the uptake of higher welfare animal products, can contribute greatly to this.
Innovations in food technology, plant-based substitutes and cellular agriculture, or cultured meat, could provide a viable alternative to the consumption of animal-based food from intensive livestock production. Plant-based meat substitutes include Quorn and Tofurky, which were launched as far back as the 1980s and 1990s, as well as more recent innovations including Impossible Foods and the Beyond Burger.
Cellular agriculture, on the other hand, is still a developing technology. It creates food from cells rather than from slaughtered animals, producing ‘cell-based”, “clean” or “cultured” meat. Because cultured meat is grown outside the animal, the industry would rely on fewer animals compared to the tens of billions of animals currently used in conventional animal agriculture. Moreover, the few animals used in cellular agriculture are less likely to undergo transportation, and will not need to be slaughtered.
Another benefit of cultured meat would be a shift from high-yield breeds, the physical features of which have almost always been selected to the detriment of the individual animal’s welfare, to heritage breeds.