› Environmental impact. The predictions of additional billions of people added the world’s already overcrowded countries, coupled with the world’s growing appetite for animal proteins, is worrisome. Yet far from adding to the problem, modern livestock production is part of the solution, producing hugely significant increases in edible protein per unit of measure: land, water, energy, inputs—however you want to measure the carbon footprint of the animal protein industries. Compared with the so-called “traditional” methods of animal husbandry. Modern animal agriculture has made incredible progress toward reducing its ecological impact in the past 30 years.
› Animal handling. There can be no doubt that conditions have changed dramatically in the area of animal well-being. I spent many hours in “old-school” packing plants, virtually all of which are now shut down and permanently shuttered. The animal care standards, the training of personnel and even the physical infrastructure of production sites, transport systems, holding pens and all the facilities and procedures in between have all been greatly improved. I know, I was there, and industry standards today bear no relationship to even the more progressive operators just three decades ago.
› Sustainability. The argument here is clear: The world cannot continue to project annual increases in meat, dairy and poultry production if that requires continued annual increases in land and other vital resources. Efficiency has to be the focus, not only in the production of animal proteins, but all food products, and on that score nobody can dispute that modern methods compareextremely favorably to those in place in 1981.
› Working conditions. Again, by any measure you like--- accident rates, injury statistics, depth and degree of safety training programs—the meat and poultry industries have practically reinvented themselves on the issue of worker safety. Again, I can testify from firsthand observation that in-plant conditions are vastly improved. OSHA data bear that out, and perhaps the best barometer of all is that activists might fume about economic justice, but they rarely bother to build anti-industry campaigns around safety issues anymore.
The progress that’s been achieved, across the board, in little more than a generation is, by any realistic standards, remarkable.
But you wouldn’t realize it if your only information source is industry critics.
Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator