Aerial view of cows grazing and ruminating in a green grassy field.

Photo: Frans Lemmens / Getty Images

The world’s appetite for animal products continues to grow, with profound implications for the environment, human health and animal welfare. The production of animal-based foods is found to be responsible for at least 16.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions. If meat consumption continues on current trends, it will be impossible to keep global warming below 1.5°C, and difficult to stay below 2°C. The sector is also a key driver of biodiversity loss, and industrial farming methods undermine animal welfare goals.

Yet, despite the robust evidence that we need to shift to more plant-based diets, both for the planet and to address a slew of health risks, policymakers have been reluctant to adopt measures to scale down meat production and consumption. Indeed, many governments in high meat-consuming countries continue to support industrialized meat production through subsidies, promotional campaigns and more.

Meat supply chains support many livelihoods. Meat is an important part of many people’s diets and cultural traditions and there are powerful business interests involved – meat is a US$1 trillion industry. But rather than continue to postpone the inevitable, governments in high-income countries – which have very high levels of meat consumption –  should move swiftly to plan and implement a just transition towards a more sustainable food system.

The concept of just transitions has become a pillar of climate policy, leading governments to prioritize job training and economic development in communities where coal mines are shut down, for instance, and to consider the disparate impacts of higher energy prices on low-income households. Over time, the concept has expanded beyond mitigating harm, to seek transformative change and correct past injustices. Now, awareness is growing that a just transition is not only needed in the energy sector, but in our food system, as well.

SEI is working with partners to map out what a just transition in the livestock sector could look like; examine what is currently holding back progress in dietary shifts; and assess the role that new and emerging alternatives to conventional animal products can play in supporting such a transformation.