The EU and US are providing the meat and diary industry with around 1,000 times more subsidies than plant-based and lab-grown alternatives, a new study has found.
After reviewing major agricultural policies from 2014 to 2020, the researchers found that, in the EU, about 1,200 times more public funding, and three times more lobbying money, goes to animal-sourced food products.
In the US, approximately 800 times more public funding, and 190 times more lobbying money, goes to meat and dairy products than it does to alternatives.
Governments “consistently” devoted most of their agricultural funding to livestock and feed production systems, avoided highlighting sustainability in nutrition guidelines, and attempted to introduce regulatory hurdles for meat alternatives, according to the researchers.
Furthermore, they claim that major US meat and dairy companies actively lobbied against environmental issues and regulations to tip the scales in their favour.
“It’s clear that powerful vested interests have exerted political influence to maintain the animal-farming system status quo,” said study senior author Eric Lambin, the George and Setsuko Ishiyama provostial professor at Stanford University, which carried out the study.
“A significant policy shift is required to reduce the food system impact on climate, land use, and biodiversity.”
Subsidies accounted for at least 50% of EU cattle producers’ income during the period studied, with some of these payments incentivising farmers to maintain herd size, keep pasture in production, or increase overall output, according to the researchers.
This is despite livestock production being the agriculture sector’s largest emitter of methane, and also the main direct cause of tropical deforestation, due to pasture expansion and feed crop production.
The findings come after the European Court of Justice ruled in 2017 that dairy terms such as milk and cheese could no longer be used to market most alternative milk and dairy products.
Similarly, a proposed amendment to the US Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act would prohibit the sale of alternative meats unless the product label included the word “imitation” and other clarifying statements.
To ensure a fair marketplace, policymakers should craft legislation that ensures meat’s price reflects its environmental costs, increases research on alternative meat and dairy products, and informs consumers on alternatives to meat via dietary guidelines, according to the researchers.
Simona Vallone, an Earth system science research associate at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability at the time of the research, said: “The lack of policies focused on reducing our reliance on animal-derived products and the lack of sufficient support to alternative technologies to make them competitive are symptomatic of a system still resisting fundamental changes.”
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