It’s Time to Stop Exporting Bad Food Policy
by Marsha Rakestraw
February 14, 2023
Like the tobacco and fossil fuels industries, despite the threats they cause to people, animals, and the planet, the meat, dairy, and egg industries continue to push back against attempts to regulate or reduce their harms–and to push forward into new and expanding markets.
Worldwide, industrial animal farming continues to increase significantly. This trend is partly due to industry marketing efforts, and to the policies of wealthy countries and international financial institutions.
Considering the grave harm these industries pose to individuals, communities, and our shared environment, such a trend has many consequences.
In “Africa’s Meat and Dairy Industry: A Threat to the Continent’s Future?,” PZI’s president, Dr. Hope Ferdowsian, examines trends in meat, egg, and dairy production and consumption across the continent of Africa, where she has worked on medical, public health, human rights, and animal protection issues with her colleagues.
She was asked to contribute the chapter by editors of the book Africa and Her Animals. She looks at the harmful effects of the increased consumption of animal products and offers potential solutions for how to reverse these troubling trends and create a more just, sustainable food policy.
From Traditional to Colonized
As Dr. Ferdowsian notes, historically, most people across the continent (as in other areas of the world) have centered their diets around plants–such as grains, root crops and other veggies, beans, and fruits.
Some of these changes in diet started with colonization and have increased with the push of unhealthier foods by countries such as the US.
Many assume that, as countries develop, their demand for animal products increases. But, as the author highlights, there are many other factors at play:
The reality is that a combination of private investment, public policies and private-public partnerships have contributed significantly to the global growth in meat and dairy production and consumption. . . . Increased demand and production also result from successful marketing, funding through international finance institutions and national policies.
The Consequences of Eating More Animal Products
The data is clear that animal farming hurts people, animals, and the planet.
Here are just some of the consequences outlined in the chapter:
- Chronic non-communicable diseases (in humans)
- Increased risk of pathogens that threaten the health of humans and other animals
- Climate change, water and air pollution, soil erosion, rainforest destruction, and land displacement
- A negative economic impact on both workers and economies
- The exacerbation of micronutrient deficiencies and other forms of malnutrition
- The use of significant resources, including water and land that could be used in more efficient and equitable ways.
Embracing a New Food Policy
While the animal farming industries have a strong hold on the food and economic systems of many countries in Africa (and elsewhere), their dominance is not a foregone conclusion.
As Dr. Ferdowsian notes, “A new model of development is essential, particularly one in which corporate interests do not trump the interests of . . . people, animals and the environment.”
There are numerous interventions that could transform the current trajectory to focus on creating an ethical, plant-based food system. Here are just a few touched on in the chapter:
- Reduce the supply and demand for animal products, including through educational campaigns, marketing regulations, incentives for healthier food production and consumption, programs to increase access, and the removal of subsidies and supports for animal farming
- Enact policies that promote plant-based crop production and that discourage meat, egg, and dairy production
- Increase the health and nutrition literacy of policy makers, healthcare providers, public health professionals, and the public
- Engage farmers and the food industry in producing more plant-based foods, including by offering incentives
- Launch a media campaign, with clear messages about the adverse effects of expanding animal farming
Whether we’re trying to address pollution, poverty, chronic or infectious diseases, animal cruelty, workers’ rights, the climate crisis, colonialism, or any number of other global challenges, making a dramatic shift in how we produce and consume food is a vital solution.
Ferdowsian, Hope. “Africa’s Meat and Dairy Industry: A Threat to the Continent’s Future?” In Africa and Her Animals, edited by Anteneh Roba and Rainer Ebert. Pretoria, South Africa: University of South Africa Press, 2018.
Marsha Rakestraw is a senior education, outreach, and communications specialist with Phoenix Zones Initiative.