(UK) Should we kill trillions of animals to save the planet? (hyper-morality style)

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EXCERPTS: . . . While all-out vegetarianism and veganism is becoming more popular, it’s still a minority position. Recent polls suggest that just five per cent of adults in the UK, and three per cent in the US are vegetarian. Most don’t want to eliminate animal products completely, but do want to cut back.

This raises the question of not just how much meat we should eat, but what types. We often talk about steak, lamb chops, bacon and chicken nuggets as if they’re on a level playing field. Just ‘meat’. But their impacts are vastly different. Per gram of protein, beef has almost ten times the carbon footprint of chicken. It uses 23 times as much farmland. If we were to rank them in order: beef and lamb have the highest cost; pork has significantly less; chicken is even lower; and many types of fish are better still.

[...] Eat less meat overall, but also replace the beef steak with chicken or tuna. In fact, it’s the diet I choose for myself: I’m a pescatarian because of the low environmental footprint of fish. Problem solved, right? Well, not quite. This recommendation has a darker side. It’s completely at odds with animal welfare...

[...] First, low-impact meats tend to be the smallest animals. In fact, it’s the very fact that they are small that makes them so efficient. ... Globally we slaughter 320 million cows for meat each year. If we sourced all of that meat from chicken instead, we’d be killing an extra 41 billion animals. But, we’d also shave off around four billion tonnes of CO2-equivalents from global emissions. That’s equivalent to the emissions of the EU and UK combined.

[...] Second, we might consider animals’ quality of life. I’ve never experienced the life of a farm animal but my guess is that cows probably have a nicer one than chickens. If you gave me the choice of living another life as a cow or chicken, I’d pick the former. Probability would suggest that as a chicken you’d end up in an intensively-raised farm. Packed into a cage. Possibly pumped with growth hormones – so big that your legs would buckle beneath you. Some cows are not treated much better, but I think you’d have much better odds of a kinder life with more space. So, eating more chicken means more animals living worse lives.

Finally – regardless of the animal – the more intensively it’s raised, the lower its footprint tends to be. From the perspective of efficiency, we want livestock to move as little as possible. When they’re moving, they’re burning energy that could otherwise be turned into meat...

This puts us in a difficult position. The truth is that ‘eating sustainable meat’ means slaughtering many more animals and subjecting them to crueler lives. How can we overcome this dilemma? I think we have a few options.

The first, and most obvious one, is to go vegan. Vegans can rightly claim the moral high ground here...

[...] those that want to eat some meat – myself included – probably can’t get around this completely. But there are things we can do to weaken the trade-off. ... Eating free-range chicken or eggs is an obvious place to start. In the UK, nearly half of our eggs still come from caged hens. In the US, around 70 per cent do. Globally, this share will be even higher.

[...] Personally, the moral cost of torturing animals is not worth it to shave mere percentage points off my carbon footprint. ... That’s where our final option comes in: investing much more in alternative proteins.

This welfare-environment trade-off is the perfect marketing strategy for alternative protein companies. But it’s one that they’re not leveraging enough. Most put the environmental benefits at the core of their messaging. [...] More people care about the environmental message than the animal ethics one, so I guess this strategy makes sense. But ... If alternative proteins want to dominate the market ... The environmental argument isn’t that strong. But the animal welfare one is.

These emerging technologies offer us a ‘get out of jail free’ card for this ethical dilemma. We could enjoy the same experience of eating meat without the environmental or the welfare cost that comes with it... (MORE - missing details)

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