Worldwatch Waffling: The Cowardly Promotion of “Sustainable” Animal Agriculture

Here’s this from today’s Worldwatch Institute’s press release:

“The demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products in developing countries has increased at a staggering rate in recent decades,” says report co-author Danielle Nierenberg, director of Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project. “While industrialized countries still consume the most animal products, urbanization and rising incomes in developing countries are spurring shifts to more meat-heavy diets.”

“Farm-animal production provides a safety net for millions of the world’s most vulnerable people,” says Nierenberg. “But given the industry’s rapid and often poorly regulated growth, the biggest challenge in the coming decades will be to produce meat and other animal products in environmentally and socially sustainable ways.”

While I applaud Worldwatch for drawing attention to the impending crisis of global urbanization and the spiking demand for animal products, I condemn its recommendation as craven. The Worldwatch is aggressively indifferent to veganism.  Despite an abundance of evidence demonstrating that veganism is the most effective response to the environmental degradation caused by global food production, it has stubbornly refused not only to endorse it, but to even mention it as a viable ecological (much less ethical) choice.  I suspect that it fears alienating fundraisers–an assessment that applies to virtually all environmental organizations.

Let’s be clear about the track record of the solution that Worldwatch promotes to meet demand for animal products in developing countries: there is no such thing as environmentally and socially sustainable  production of animal products. Even if there was such a thing, it could never compete against the industrial behemoths that dominate meat production today.  For proof, consider that over the last 25 years—a time when efforts to promote small-scale “sustainable”  systems have been going full throttle—milk consumption in developing countries came close to doubling, meat consumption tripled, and the consumption of eggs grew fivefold. Eighty percent of this demand was met by factory farmed meat. Doesn’t seem as if the alternatives have had much success.

In light of these figures, to fail to promote veganic agriculture as a viable alternative to industrial dominance strikes me as cowardly at best.

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About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

2 Responses to Worldwatch Waffling: The Cowardly Promotion of “Sustainable” Animal Agriculture

  1. CQ says:

    One can’t blame the for-profit animal ag industry for responding to demand for its product.

    But one can blame non-profit environmental organizations for kowtowing to donors and thus aligning themselves with the animal ag industry.

    In that sense, World Watch Institute has more to answer for than all the “producers” of pigs, chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, ducks, cattle, cow-milk, and eggs in the market.

    Three questions for World Watch:

    1. What good is “watching” the world if there is no integrity or urgency in the recommendations that come from your observations?

    2. How can you be sure you won’t attract even more dollars from even more admirers if you take an ethical stand against what you know is unsustainable and for the only ecologically sound food: plants?

    3. What happened to your magazine’s 2009 “Livestock and Climate Change” study, whose authors Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang found 51% of climate change attributable to livestock? See http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf

  2. keithakers says:

    CQ,

    I’m likewise surprised that they disregarded the article by Goodland and Anhang. Instead, they quote the well-known FAO study which put the total at 18%.

    Much of their article (which you can find by doing a Google search on the first sentence quoted in the press release) reads like an indictment of animal foods. They cite the huge amounts of water and land used, the pollution, the deforestation, and the problems created with public health. All they’re missing is a conclusion which specifically mentions veganism.

    Keith

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