Illustrations by Hannah Robinson

In 1966, one million US farms raised 57 million pigs. By 2001, only 80.000 farms raised the same number. On average, 1.47 billion pigs, 50 billion chickens, 545 million sheep, and 300 million cattle are slaughtered annually for food, using up almost ⅓ of the global freshwater

However, the condition of factory farms, the effects of meat production on the environment, and its impact on climate change are common societal knowledge. In fact, 75 percent of people claim to buy ‘humane[ly]’ sourced animal products and 49 percent of Americans are also advocating for a ban on factory farming. Despite this, only less than one percent of the global meat produced does not originate from factory farms – exposing a substantial discrepancy.

With the 2016 Power of Meat report finding that for the majority of customers, meat purchase is still determined by price, it is arguably apparent that the issue does not primarily lie with factory farming itself; rather with society prioritising capital over well-being. 

In an effort to start reforming the agricultural industry, Germany’s Green Party is advocating for a minimum price for meat. A proposed meat tax would increase the current seven percent tax on meat to 19 percent, however with 250 grams of mince currently priced at around 1,11 euros, this would result in an increase of only 12 cents for this particular product.

Whilst this is arguably not sufficient, these propositions have nonetheless resulted in discussions as to how increased meat prices would affect people of lower income, potentially hindering them from being able to afford meat seven days a week. However, rather than presenting daily meat consumption as the attainable norm and social objective, the conversation should centre around the impacts of meat production and consumption, instead urging people to reduce their meat intake. 

What this debate highlights is the still prevalent mentality which is responsible for creating the demand for low-cost meat, and consequently liable for factory farming. With enabling everyone to be able to afford meat products daily still being the objective, what is neglected is the much more pressing and necessary shift towards a decrease in meat consumption and an increase in awareness. 

Though the world population has increased and actually doubled over the last 50 years, the amount of meat consumed has tripled. At the same time, since 1925, the ‘average days to market’ for a chicken decreased from 112 days to only 48, while the market weight increased from 2.5 pounds to 6.2. 

While it might be possible that a lack of education and awareness regarding meat production results in people assuming they are buying ethically sourced meat, what is arguably more probable is that it is precisely this awareness that triggers shame in the respondents, causing them to hide their support of factory farming.

As the data suggests, a large proportion of the respondents are – contrary to their statements – complicit in the system by continuing to buy low-priced meat. However, if that is the case, the question that remains is whether education will be sufficient to help put an end to people’s disregard and ignorance and allow for a shift in mentality.