Must We Be Cruel to Be Kind to the Climate?
I walk down the ramp at the Penn State University slaughterhouse, my throat tight, my heart pounding. The walls are grayish and bare, the path winding and narrow, making me think of a cheap slasher movie. Thankfully, the animals are not present, since the previous batch got “processed” yesterday — that is also why I’m allowed to tread this way, following the exact last steps of countless cows and pigs. After a minute or two, I arrive at a bloodstained room that smells of metal. A gunlike electric stunner awaits at the center, ready to be used. There are cables and hooks everywhere I look.
My visit to the Penn State University slaughterhouse, part of the university’s Meats Laboratory, was part of fact-finding for my book Meathooked, and my initial reaction was that of revulsion. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to have anything to do with either the killing or the research that was happening at the 16,000-square-foot facility. As a vegetarian going on vegan, I was tempted to close my eyes to everything that the meat industry was doing, at either the Penn State facility or any other similar institution. Yet in the few years that have passed since my slaughterhouse visit, I have come to realize that things aren’t, unfortunately, that simple. Thanks to the industry’s research, meat and dairy can be made less carbon intensive, which in turn could help us meet our climate goals. Even the intensification of meat production can at times have its pluses, no matter how much I’d prefer to reject the idea upfront.
Humanity is addicted to meat. Global meat consumption has been rising almost 2 percent per year. If all the people on Earth would like to indulge in an American-style diet loaded with beef, chicken, and cheese, by 2050 we’d run out of planet to feed all the necessary livestock. In some places, the rates of growth of meat-eating are so large, they look like errors in print: in the cities of Laos, for example, by 2030 poultry consumption is projected to go up by over 1,000 percent compared with the year 2000; in India, that number is over 1,200 percent in urban areas. With a climate emergency looming, that’s all dire news. The livestock industry is already responsible for 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gases — as much as all the planet’s transportation combined: the entire fleet of Earth’s ships, cars, trains, trucks, motorcycles, and other vehicles. Add to that other environmental impacts of meat, egg, and dairy consumption — antibiotic resistance, deforestation, freshwater depletion, and biodiversity loss — and the overall picture is not pretty.
In a perfect world, we would all go vegan tomorrow. But that’s simply not happening — most people don't want to give up their burgers and sausages. Despite the many calls for a “reducetarian” diet, and despite the plentiful warnings of meat’s negative health impacts of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, in 2018 Americans consumed more meat than ever before: roughly 220 pounds per person, up from 200 pounds in 2014. So how do we avoid a catastrophe? Could the meat industry itself have an answer?
Consider the numbers: between 1944 and 2007, the carbon footprint for the US dairy industry went down from 194 million tons of CO2 equivalent to 114 million tons: 41 percent. In the half century between 1960 and 2010, the American egg industry lowered its greenhouse gas emissions by an astounding 71 percent.N. Pelletier, M. Ibarburu, and H. Xin, “Comparison of the Environmental Footprint of the Egg Industry in the United States in 1960 and 2010,” Poultry Science 93: 253, unitedegg.com.These days, even though it’s the westerners who eat the most meat and dairy, developing countries emit more per pound of such products they consume. Production of a glass of milk in India means on average five times more CO2 equivalent than it does in the US.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that we could reduce global emissions from livestock by approximately 30 percent if all producers were to follow the best practices of the top 10 percent most efficient members of the industry — and that’s just based on already applied technologies. What’s more, meat science (such as that developed at Penn State) suggests that further reductions might be possible with emerging know-how, and that we could even cut down the carbon footprint of making bacon and cheese in the West. Unfortunately, organic and free range are not necessarily where all this is going.
When I buy eggs or milk, I buy organic. I’ve always assumed these were better not just for the animals, but for the climate too. It seems I was wrong — at least about the climate part. In studies done in the UK and Australia, for instance, free-range eggs were shown to be 16–23 percent more costly in terms of CO2 equivalent per pound than conventional eggs from caged hens.I. Leinonen, A.G. Williams, J. Wiseman, et al., “Predicting the Environmental Impacts of Chicken Systems in the United Kingdom Through a Life Cycle Assessment: Egg Production Systems,” Poultry Science 91 (2012): 35; S.G. Wiedemann and E.J. McGahan, “Environmental Assessment of an Egg Production Supply Chain Using Life Cycle Assessment,” Australian Egg Corporation, December 2011, p. 51, fcrn.org.uk.Even the pastoral backyard flocks are not beneficial, it appears. According to a report by the FAO, eggs from such flocks have “higher emission intensity” than “intensively-managed laying hens” by about 11 percent.FAO, Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock, fao.org.Such scavenging birds consume lower-quality diets (poor diet = poor productivity) and are more prone to losing their lives to predators (dead hen = wasted potential).
In climate impact comparisons, organic milk doesn’t come out a winner either. Cows reared in conventional systems can produce almost twice as much milk as those on organic farms. Some emissions, such as those of CO2 and nitrous oxide, are lower in organic systems because no synthetic fertilizers are used to make feed for such animals. On the other hand, emissions of methane from organic dairy cows may actually be higher than from conventional ones. All in all, a review of production systems in Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands revealed that the climate impact of organic milk may be about the same as that of conventional dairy.
With organic meats, the picture is even less rosy. In Italy, according to one study, organic beef is responsible for 24 kilograms of CO2 equivalent, while conventional beef leads to the release of “just” 18 kilograms.C. Buratti, F. Fantozzi, M. Barbanera, et al., “Carbon Footprint of Conventional and Organic Beef Production Systems: An Italian Case Study,” Science of The Total Environment 576 (2017): 129–137.In Germany, the carbon footprint of organic poultry comes out to be 35 percent greater than that of conventional chicken or turkey, while in Denmark, organic pork tends to have a 7 to 22 percent larger climate footprint than meat from intensively reared animals.H. Treu, M. Nordborg, C. Cederberg, et al., “Carbon Footprints and Land Use of Conventional and Organic Diets in Germany,” Journal of Cleaner Production 161 (2017): 127–142.,A. Kool, H. Blonk, T. Ponsionen, et al., “Carbon Footprints of Conventional and Organic Pork: Assessments of Typical Production Systems in the Netherlands, Denmark, England and Germany” (Wageningen: Blonk Milieuadvies, 2009): 30.
There are perfectly good reasons for this disparity. Because organic dairy cows make on average less milk per day yet still have to eat and burp and, well, live — they “emit” more greenhouse gases per each glass of milk they produce. The lower yields are caused, for instance, by something the industry calls “longer production cycles”: that is, cows on organic farms have their first calves later in life and generally get longer breaks between pregnancies. Longer production cycles are also why organic pigs make less meat: they grow slower and are slaughtered at older ages. What’s more, a diet with more roughage in it, with low levels of concentrate supplementation, contributes to lower yields on extensive farms. For example, organic poultry needs to eat about 50 percent more feed per pound of produced meat than do conventional chickens or ducks.Treu et al., “Carbon Footprints,” 135.
Organic and extensive meat and dairy production requires more land as well — for all that pastoral frolicking outdoors (or at least standing on an overcrowded, barren plot under the sky). If you stuff chicken into tiny cages, as is done in some conventional systems — sometimes as many as 11 to a cage, so packed that they cannot move — you don’t need much space. Meanwhile, on one organic farm in my neighboring village, about 15 hens amble around a half-acre orchard. Happy? Yes. Wasted space? Probably.
Or consider grass-fed beef. If all Americans suddenly wanted to switch to grass-fed only, the US cattle herd would have to be ramped up from 77 to 100 million animals, raising the nation’s overall methane emissions by about 8 percent (that’s because grass-fed cattle grows slower than grain-fed animals).M.N. Hayek and R.D. Garrett, “Nationwide Shift to Grass-Fed Beef Requires Larger Cattle Population,” Environmental Research Letters 18 (2008): 08400.Seeing as methane has 28 times the global warming potential of CO2, this switch is not something to be taken lightly.
On average, organic poultry production requires about three times as much land as do conventional systems, while organic beef needs over 50 percent more. This means loss of wildlife and biodiversity, since such farmland could have been returned to nature instead. Were it reforested, more carbon would be sequestered from the atmosphere. One research paper published in 2018 in Nature Sustainability, based on data from five continents and 1,800 species, concluded that lowering the land cost of agriculture “appears central to addressing the extinction crisis.”A. Balmford, T. Amano, H. Bartlett, et al., “The Environmental Costs and Benefits of High-Yield Farming,” Nature Sustainability 1 (2018):477–485.It seems that no matter how you look at it, organic or free-range livestock production is not the ultimate solution to our climate-related woes. The good news is that there exist ways in which we can apply meat science to make animal production more aligned with fighting the climate emergency. Cows, pigs, and chickens may end up better off too.
From the outside, the Kipster poultry farm in the southern Netherlands looks more like a modern office building than an agricultural one. The trendily designed walls are made of glass, and the roof is covered in solar panels. Only the creatures that are milling around the long terrace are not IT workers on a coffee break, but laying hens pecking the soil. The Kipster farm proudly announces on its website to be the first in the world to produce CO2-neutral eggs while being particularly attuned to animal happiness. The plump white hens roam freely among potted trees and thick logs (chickens are forest birds, the owners remind us, so they like these kinds of settings). Their park is covered with a giant net to reduce predation, while the feed consists of leftovers from commercial bakeries. The breed of the hens matters for the climate too — they lay white eggs, which have about a 5 percent smaller carbon footprint than do brown eggs, since they require less feed to produce.
“Sustainable intensification” — that’s the term researchers have coined to describe technological solutions such as those employed at the Kipster farm. These are supposed to help satisfy our addiction to meat, to be better for the climate, and to benefit the farm animals (or at least be neutral for the latter). Foremost, we can help all the cows, pigs, and hens live healthier and longer lives. A healthy animal is better at digesting its food, releasing less unused resources back into the environment; in turn, less waste equals less greenhouse gas emissions. If an animal dies prematurely, before it has managed to provide us with all the milk or eggs it could or to grow big muscles to satisfy our cravings for juicy steaks, from a production perspective, it’s a waste — causing “unproductive emissions” (industry lingo). A new animal has to be brought in as a replacement — an animal that has to spend its early days growing “unproductively” before it’s mature enough to lay eggs, start lactating, or get beefy enough to be eaten. As animal deaths go, studies suggest that contrary to popular belief, extensive systems may sometimes be worse than intensive ones since “free-range systems are generally the most difficult to manage,” to quote one paper.H.A. Elson, “Poultry Welfare in Intensive and Extensive Production Systems,” World’s Poultry Science Journal 71 (2015): 449, cambridge.org.Just think of all the predators, accidents, nasty weather, and other factors.
Longer, healthier animal lives can be achieved through conventional breeding aimed at improving disease resistance or heat tolerance, and as Jack Dekkers, animal geneticist at Iowa State University, tells me, “In general, it’s easier to achieve genetic improvement in intensive livestock production systems.” The reasons? The environment that the animals are kept in and the decisions on mating can be better controlled in intensive systems, while data recording tends to be less complicated and more accurate.
Longer, healthier animal lives can also be achieved by making sure the animals have access to good veterinary care and clean drinking water — which is not as obvious as it should be. If sheep have untreated parasites, for instance, their methane emissions can increase by up to one-third. Animal health also can be achieved by making sure the right types of animals are farmed in the right climates. A perfect temperature for dairy cattle, for example, is between 25 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Put a dairy cow in a far hotter place, and not only will her productivity suffer, but so will her well-being.
And then there is precision farming: using high-tech to redesign farms. Some ideas here include sensors to measure methane emissions in barns 24/7, paired with microorganism filters to clean the air. Or putting pedometers on animals to make sure they move around enough. Or using auditory sensors to monitor the coughing of pigs, which could indicate disease. Or installing infrared thermometers to measure poultry’s temperature to alert the farmers of potential health issues. The list is long — promising gains for animal welfare, productivity, and lower climate impacts. Yet once again, many of these solutions are easier to apply in intensive systems than in extensive ones.
In some cases, modifications that might lower livestock’s carbon footprint appear simply neutral from the perspective of animal welfare. Take feed improvements. What farm animals eat is responsible for almost half of their greenhouse gas emissions, and a large part of those are the so-called “nose emissions” from cattle — in other words, cow burps. The fore-stomach of ruminants such as cattle, sheep, or goats is filled with microbes that digest coarse plant material, producing methane. The animals then belch out the potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Now, if you change the diet of cattle by adding starchy foods or fatty acids to it, for example, the rumen microorganisms may churn out less methane as a result.
Another idea is using tannins in the diet of ruminants, such as wine by-products. Sprinkling tannins into sheep or cows’ troughs may reduce methane emissions by as much as 61 percent, mostly because the compounds are toxic for the methane-producing stomach microbes. For sheep, putting lotus on the menu seems to do the trick (just like wine, lotus is abundant in tannins). In one study, not only did this dietary supplement help with climate-damaging methane, it also reduced the amount of worms in the animals’ guts.
And if a glass of wine with your cow’s meal were not enough, there is also seaweed, which can cut the amount of belched-out methane by more than half (you can check this by using a bovine breathalyzer). What’s more, the lead author of the study, Ermias Kebreab, environmental scientist at University of California, Davis, assured me that the cows are perfectly fine on a seaweed diet: “We conducted a six-month study, and we have not seen any long-term effects of seaweed on the health of animals.”
Going even further, some scientists suggest vaccinating ruminants against methane-producing microbes — the vaccine would cause an immune response against the tiny stomach bugs. As for the resultant well-being of animals, for now, we don’t really have much data to rely on.
What we do know is that although there do exist some ways in which the livestock industry could lower its carbon emissions without hurting cows, pigs, or chickens — and sometimes without the need to intensify production — unfortunately, plenty of solutions put animal welfare and climate goals strictly at odds.
Instead of playing with tannins in the diet or vaccinating cows against methane-making microbes, the industry could arrive at lower methane emissions by having cows grow faster so that you can slaughter them younger. That way, you need less feed per pound of steak or hamburger meat — and less feed means smaller carbon footprints, of course. Such faster growth can be achieved thanks to hormonal implants and other drugs. A combination of muscle relaxants, antibiotics, and hormonal implants given to cattle can lower the carbon footprint of Angus beef by as much as 9 percent — and this is something that is already commonly done on American feedlots. Meanwhile, if you inject dairy cows with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), another growth hormone, they will start producing more milk, and more milk per cow means fewer cows, which equals less greenhouse gas emissions. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA in 2008 showed that if we supplemented one million dairy cows with rbST, the climate impact would be equivalent to removing about 400,000 cars from American roads or planting 300 million trees.J.L. Capper, E. Castañeda-Gutiérrez, R.A. Cady, and D.E. Bauman, “The Environmental Impact of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rbST) Use in Dairy Production,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 105 (2008): 9668–9673, pnas.org.
The downside? Well, cow happiness. rbST not only makes heat stress worse, which is problematic on a warming planet, but it also increases the risk of lameness by 55 percent and of mastitis by about 25 percent (in general, mastitis is more common on intensive farms than on pastures — in some studies, as much as 1.8 timesS.P. Washburn, S.L. White, J.T. Green Jr., and G.A. Benson, “Reproduction, Mastitis, and Body Condition of Seasonally Calved Holstein and Jersey Cows in Confinement or Pasture Systems,” Journal of Dairy Science 85 (2002): 105–111.). The substance is now banned in milk production in the European Union, Canada, Japan, and Australia. It is also not allowed in organic production in the US — another reason why organic is not necessarily the solution if your goal is to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Other production-boosting, carbon footprint–shrinking veterinary drugs are also bad for animal welfare. Ractopamine hydrochloride, which is fed to swine to make them use their feed more efficiently, causes hoof lesions, difficulty walking, and elevated heart rates. Animals given these drugs end up behaving abnormally, for instance, with more aggression (which is hardly surprising considering the hoof lesions and fast heart rates).
If you want to see the discord between high productivity plus low emissions versus animal welfare, look no further than what’s happened to broiler chickens over the last few decades. These unlucky animals now tend to grow four times faster than they did back in 1957. The results are hard to watch: absurd leg deformities (including tendon ruptures in some cases), bone problems, and pain. If you compare farming systems, in conventional ones, more broilers tend to suffer from impaired walking ability — one study done in Denmark found this condition to affect nearly 80 percent of such birds, more than double the rate in organic farms.F.M. Tahamtani, L.K. Hinrichsen, and A.B. Riber, “Welfare Assessment of Conventional and Organic Broilers in Denmark, with Emphasis on Leg Health,” Veterinary Record 183 (2018): 192.On the other hand, a study done in the UK showed that during the past 20 years, genetic changes in broiler chickens caused reductions of greenhouse gases from poultry production of 1 percent per year.H.E. Jones, C.C. Warkup, A. Williams, and E. Audsley, “The Effect of Genetic Improvement on Emission from Livestock Systems,” In Abstracts of the 59th Annual Meeting of the European Association for Animal Production, August 24–27, Vilnius, Lithuania (Wageningen, The Netherlands: Wageningen Academic Publishers 2008): 28.The faster we can grow our chicken nuggets, with less feed, the less CO2 gets pumped into the atmosphere. Sad, but simple.
Other genetic improvements to livestock have proven beneficial from a climate perspective but detrimental from an animal welfare perspective. Take rabbits. If you use CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) DNA technology to edit rabbit genes responsible for the rate of growth of their muscles (i.e., meat), the unfortunate side effects are enlarged tongues and stillbirths.
Another source of potential misalignment between low carbon footprints and less animal suffering is what the animals eat. In some cases, climate-friendly diets can be also better for the animals, or at least neutral (like seaweed, apparently). In other cases, though, there are downsides. Pigs, for instance, are adapted to consume many small meals per day and to chow on roughage that is high in fiber. Meanwhile, food that is highly processed and easily digestible improves feed-to-weight gain efficiency, lowering carbon footprints. What suffers are pigs’ guts — the animals often end up with gastric ulcers.
A similar thing happens with cattle. They grow faster and more efficiently if they are “finished” on energy-dense foods such as cereal grains. They also emit less methane from digesting fiber, which is abundant in grass. This means that the cattle need to be transported from the pasture to a feedlot, which by itself takes a physical and psychological toll. Then they munch on things such as soybeans, to which their digestive systems are not well adapted — leading to liver abscesses and bloat.
And then there is the length of an animal’s life. It all boils down to production efficiency once again — how many pounds of meat or milk produced per input or feed, to use the technical language of the industry. On extensive farms, cattle or poultry tend to gain weight more slowly and live longer before they are sent off to slaughterhouses, emitting more carbon as a result. It gets a bit philosophical here, though: is a longer life for a cow or a pig better per se? It may depend on the quality of life we are talking about. If the animal is truly suffering day after day, perhaps because of mastitis or a tongue that is too large for its mouth, then additional months of such existence might only mean more suffering. On the other hand, if the life in question is decent enough, as it may well be on an organic farm, prolongation might be desirable — at least from a livestock happiness perspective, not a climate one. Other inherent qualities of agriculture with high animal welfare standards are at odds with emissions goals too. For example, on organic farms, animals tend to move more since they have access to outdoor areas, and moving around burns calories. From the viewpoint of production efficiency, such calories are wasted — the feed still needs to be grown, and the carbon from crop cultivation is still released into the air, yet no extra pounds of meat are gained as a result. Similarly, when baby pigs are kept longer with their mothers in extensive systems, sows “produce” fewer piglets in their lifetimes.
Even flooring on organic farms matters. Studies have found that if the floors of pigs’ stalls are concrete with slats in them for easy manure collection, the overall carbon footprint is lower than if the animals are kept on cozy straw. The costs are yet again borne by livestock: pigs housed on bare, hard ground end up with bruising and leg injuries.
Manure is a big issue when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. In general, the easier it is to collect, the higher the chances it may be utilized in a more climate-friendly way. That is why concrete, slated floors lead to less emissions. That is also why free-range pork production in Denmark has been shown to contribute more carbon to the environment than do intensive systems — since the animals poop everywhere, the collection of the manure is complicated.
One way to get rid of methane from manure is to use digesters. Here is how these things work: you pour manure into large tanks — the digesters — which are filled with anaerobic bacteria that transform the waste into methane. The gas, much like natural gas, gets combusted to produce electricity, which can either be used directly on the farm or sold back to the grid. It’s a win for the farmer who saves money, a win for the climate, and, well, a loss for the animals, since digesters tend to work well if production is concentrated. On its website, the US Environmental Protection Agency suggests that “potential candidates for anaerobic digestion” are farms that have a minimum of 500 head of cattle or 2,000 hogs. It adds that smaller facilities could also “support successful recovery projects” as long as they are of a “confined” type. As William Lazarus, University of Minnesota agricultural economist told me, digesters simply “are more cost-effective in large-scale, confinement livestock operations.” So the animals lose again.
According to a 2016 study published in Nature Climate Change, even a 10 percent increase in the digestibility of cattle diets in the developing world, for fewer but more productive animals, could lower emissions by 680 megatons of CO2 equivalent — almost as much as the total greenhouse gas “contributions” of Canada.M. Herrero, B. Henderson, P. Havlik, et al., “Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Potentials in the Livestock Sector,” Nature Climate Change 6 (2016): 452–461.But would it mean extra suffering for farm animals? If yes, would it be worth it to help save the climate?
Further complicating the issue is the fact that lowering our carbon footprints through farming intensification could translate into less animal suffering — if we consider wild animals. Climate change is already causing the sixth mass extinction in which we lose up to 150 species per day. These animals die of thirst, heat exhaustion, and diseases — and much of it is our fault, in part because we love eating meat so much (remember: livestock are responsible for as much greenhouse gas emissions as all transportation combined).
So which life is more worthwhile? That of a polar bear or that of a farm cow? What about a beetle versus a pig? For me, such issues are impossible to solve. Then things get even more complicated if you start to ponder how exactly to judge animal suffering — do we compare the lives of livestock to some pet-like ideal or to their potential lives in the wild, which are not free of suffering, either? Yet if we continue to eat meat, dairy, and eggs, whether from organic farms or conventional ones, we must face such questions. We must be aware that we are making a decision here. Happy chickens or happy penguins? How happy is happy enough? There is no perfect Kumbaya meat, no matter how much we’d like it to exist.
The best decision would be to stop eating any animal products right away, but humanity seems unwilling to do so. What are we to do then? Intensify their production to lower CO2 emissions as much as possible, no matter the costs to animal welfare? I don’t believe that’s the right path to take either, but what I do believe is that we should hold livestock producers accountable for both animal welfare and carbon footprints. For now, most of the world’s top 35 meat and dairy companies either don’t report their emissions at all or underreport them. They should all be held responsible for providing detailed accounts of how their businesses impact the climate.
What I also believe is that meat-eaters should have a choice: maybe we should label our meat. In an interview for Poultry World magazine, Peter van Horne, poultry economist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, suggested three labels for chicken: Environmental, Sustainable, or Welfare — “Environmental” being the low-carbon-footprint one. In general, I believe the idea is good: show customers what kind of choices they are making at the checkout line. What I don’t like is the wording — Environmental, Sustainable, or Welfare — suggesting that all the meat is somehow fine. I’d rather see labels indicating how much greenhouse gases each type of meat is responsible for. Perhaps we could have green, yellow, and red stickers marking low-, medium-, and high-emissions meat production to be paired, on the same packaging, with green, yellow, and red stickers evaluating animal welfare. That way, a customer could choose a “red” for climate but a “green” for welfare, or a “green” for climate but a “red” for welfare. And hopefully, it would encourage meat producers to strive for green–green solutions, which, albeit difficult, are not completely out of the question.
To find such green–green solutions, we should invest more in meat science. Vegans and vegetarians shouldn’t dismiss research that is done by the meat industry. If we reject everything they do as evil, the way I was tempted to do at Penn State University, we may lose an opportunity to save the planet. Maybe humanity will go vegan at some point, or at least reduce meat consumption drastically. I certainly hope this will happen. For now, we are headed in the opposite direction. Meat science can help us find ways to make meat more climate friendly without hurting animal welfare. It’s a Band-Aid solution, yes, but one we badly need.
From a global perspective, one solution to the climate–animal welfare dilemma is to pick low-hanging fruit and go for boosting livestock management in the developing world. An example: improving grazing practices to increase production efficiency — avoiding overgrazing, sowing legumes, and choosing the right types of grasses for the climate — could significantly lower carbon footprints without negatively impacting the well-being of livestock. Other strategies, such as better veterinary care, would benefit both the climate (through higher production efficiency) and animal welfare. Sometimes the solutions are as simple as avoiding overfeeding. A study done in Indonesia showed that farmers there often feed dairy cows too much concentrate, which can lead to digestive troubles for the animals.
At the same time, we should step up calls for both meat-eating reduction and production-side mitigation options. Of course, I do worry that more climate-friendly animal products, like Kipper farm eggs, could discourage people from changing their diets. But the climate emergency means that we need solutions now, and data on growing meat consumption across the globe show that people don’t really want to change their eating patterns anyway. If they did, we wouldn’t have to talk about sustainable intensification. As it is, meat-loaded diets have an enormous impact on the climate. To avoid the worst catastrophe, we need multiple approaches. Let’s not pretend that we can all eat free-range organic meat and save the climate at the same time — the numbers just don’t add up. Yes, there are often trade-offs between climate-oriented intensification and animal welfare. But closing our eyes and pretending there aren’t is not the way to go.