Food: The Global Food System

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The Problem

The Link

The novel coronavirus pandemic has shed a light on the connections between human and animal rights, health, and wellbeing, and it has also created opportunities to reenvision our relationships with each other, other beings, and our life-sustaining planet. 

Worldwide, more than 72 billion land animals, and more than 1.2 trillion aquatic animals, are killed to become food each year. Most of these animals are forcibly bred, separated from their families, confined in cruel conditions, and suffer immeasurably before they are killed—usually in ways that cause enormous pain and distress.

Industrialized farms and factories often rely on workers recruited from communities of color, migrant communities, and economically and environmentally impoverished areas worldwide. As a result of the violence inherent to the industry, workers are subjected to excessive physical and psychological injuries. Women and children who labor in meatpacking in the US and abroad are also at increased risk for sexual harassment and violence. Undocumented slaughterhouse workers recruited from immigrant communities are sometimes subjected to terrifying raids, arrest, and deportation.

Disease Risk

Three-quarters of diseases are zoonoticApproximately 75 percent of new and emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals. These diseases originate in live animal markets, factory farms, or other environments that compromise the rights, health, and wellbeing of animals and workers. These diseases can spread rapidly, and they can become deadly, as seen in the case of COVID-19, SARS, and other viral, bacterial, and parasitic diseases. People living with malnutrition and chronic diseases are at greatest risk for severe illness associated with new and emerging infectious diseases.

Consumption of animals’ flesh, milk, and eggs also contributes to the chronic disease pandemic associated with a global transition from historically plant-based fare to meat-based economies. People living in economically and environmentally impoverished areas disproportionately vulnerable to these diseases, which include heart disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer, among other chronic illnesses.

The Climate Crisis and Environmental Injustice

The production and consumption of meat and dairy products is a major contributor to climate change, which disproportionately affects people living in poverty around the world. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that the meat and dairy sector was one of the top contributors to serious environmental problems, including climate change.

Factory farms, in particular, are responsible for environmental injustices against vulnerable human communities, including polluting their air, water, and soil.

Using animals for food production fuels global hunger, both because of the link between climate change and food insecurity and because land, water, and soil are more efficiently used to grow grains, beans, and many other plant-based foods. Large corporate production systems commonly violate the sovereignty of local communities committed to sustainable farming strategies.

Global Food System

The Promise: When the World Is a Phoenix Zone

Food is a basic need for humans and all other life on the planet. The current food production system, however, creates more problems than it solves. It does not need to be this way. We envision the world’s human population nourished by plants, supported by governments that implement programs and policies that value social and environmental justice above corporate profits and that reward human ingenuity when it is directed toward nonviolent, regenerative, and healing solutions to social and material challenges.

Food production systems, uniquely fashioned by and for communities based on their social and environmental ecologies, will promote health, wellbeing, and the opportunity to thrive at every step of the process. No food production worker will be subjected to physically or emotionally toxic conditions of employment, nor will they need to travel far from their loved ones for months at a time in order to help provide for them. Animals will be free from the harms of coerced labor and death at the hands of humans, and of the effects of human encroachment into their habitats.

By respecting the rights of all humans to nourishment and to nontoxic means of meeting their individual, family, and community needs, and by respecting the rights of animals to be free from human use and to live in environments conducive to their physical and psychological needs, we can also greatly reduce the risk of disease and establish conditions for natural systems to rebalance. Humans can do this; with your help, this vision can become a reality.

Our Response Toward Effective Solutions

Research and Analysis

Although much of the conversation about the global food market has centered on demand, supply-side factors—including public-private partnerships—also drive meat and dairy production, particularly in regions that are ill-equipped to address a rise in infectious and chronic diseases.

Often, factory farms and slaughterhouses are introduced into communities despite public opposition. Many existing policies and partnerships between governments, industry, and some large foundations promote meat and dairy production rather than healthful and more sustainable fruit, vegetable, bean, and whole grain production that respects the rights and labor of farmworkers and the needs of communities.

At the same time, in many places around the world, people who have eaten meat-based diets are moving to plant-based diets. Norms and values are shifting, and international bodies like the United Nations have called for a global shift to a diet free of meat and dairy products. Some communities are beginning to push back against corporate greed.

There is general consensus within the medical community—as articulated by international health organizations, medical societies, and leaders and experts in the field—that humans benefit most from a whole-foods plant-based diet, and that such a diet has been shown to reduce public health costs, lower risks of chronic diseases, and decrease the risk for pandemic infectious diseases. These findings are of critical importance to vulnerable and marginalized communities disproportionately affected by these conditions.

Education, Advocacy, Coalition Building, and Policy and Practice Change

Using a systems-based approach that acknowledges the importance of shifting values and legal, policy, and economic drivers, we work with others to leverage opportunities to end violence and exploitation in food production.

We advance an ethical, compassionate plant-based future that respects the rights of people and animals.

Our research and analysis shows that there are clear pivot points that can be influenced by strategic outreach, diverse coalitions of stakeholders, and scalable, evidence-based interventions.

Through the use of early metrics and key partnerships, and the engagement of policymakers and other leaders, we advocate for high-yield systems-level reforms within international, governmental, nongovernmental, and corporate entities.