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What Covid-19 has to do with meat consumption

by Horst Fiedler (comments: 0)

Covid-19 around the world
To better protect humanity from zoonoses in the future, global meat consumption would have to be significantly reduced © Pexels / Anna Shvets

The call for more quality and less mass in meat production has gone unheard. Instead, according to the Meat Atlas 2021, global meat consumption has doubled in the past 20 years and caused many diseases.

"Livestock and meat consumption are causes of outbreaks of diseases that spread from wild animals to humans. Such zoonoses can be catastrophic - as in the case of Covid-19," states the Meat Atlas 2021 (German: Fleischatlas), published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. It adds, "The International Organization for Animal Health (OIE) estimates that 60 per cent of all infectious diseases existing in humans are zoonoses, diseases transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa. They cause about 2.5 billion human cases of disease - from malaria to Covid-19 infection - and 2.7 million deaths each year."

As more and more land is used for agricultural production, destroying wildlife habitats, the habitats of wildlife and humans are increasingly overlapping, the meat atlas continues. This increases the risk of contracting the disease from infected animals. Intermediate hosts such as ticks or mosquitoes also play a role. "The share of zoonotic diseases in human diseases will increase as the world population rises and consumption patterns change towards more meat, unless there is a political shift." According to the authors, global meat consumption has doubled in the past 20 years.

Slow change of eating habits

However, young people in particular have changed their eating habits compared with older generations. A total of 1,200 people from Germany were surveyed for the Meat Atlas. One result: "Compared with the population as a whole, twice as many 15- to 29-year-olds eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. For many young adults, giving up meat is a political statement." The proportion of flexitarians, which is around 25 per cent among young people, also contributes to the reduction in meat consumption.

According to the authors of the Meat Atlas, the move away from meat for animal or climate protection reasons is accompanied by high growth in meat alternatives: "Experts see an annual growth rate of 20 to 30 per cent worldwide for plant-based alternatives in the coming years." In 2017, the global sales market was already worth 4.6 billion Dollars, he said. This is still small compared to the roughly 1 trillion Dollars global meat market, he said, even though it is growing at a much slower rate and is stagnating in some countries.

The alternatives also include so-called in-vitro-meat: At the end of 2019, 55 companies were already involved in producing artificially created meat products from animal stem cells in the laboratory. The Meat Atlas also provides an overview of the activities of corporations in this area.

Massive behavioral changes required

Society's desire for climate-friendly, environmentally friendly and species-appropriate animal husbandry requires a far-reaching political realignment of agricultural policy, the report says. The current low prices make it difficult for farmers to respond to the increased national demands for more environmental protection and animal welfare. The restructuring must start with both consumption and production and requires a comprehensive political strategy.

"The most important measure proposed by non-governmental organizations and academia is to halve the consumption of animal products by 2050," the authors write. "If meat consumption were reduced from about 1.1 kilograms to 600 grams per week, pig and fattening poultry populations could be reduced by more than 40 per cent." However, such behavioral changes in the population would likely need to be targeted.


The Meat Atlas can be downloaded here.


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