A coalition of global investors has launched a campaign warning of the ticking time bomb that our hunger for meat has become. Now, they're urging some of the world's chief food producers to invest in plant-based proteins and other meatless innovations that they say must sate our hunger in the future if we are to survive.
FAIRR, the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return, is an investment initiative made up of 40 different groups with more than $1 trillion in assets under their management. Citing an ever-growing list of potentially catastrophic issues caused by the global animal agriculture industry's attempt to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for a protein-rich diet, FAIRR is waving a warning flag about the unsustainability of the entire feedback loop.
Farm animal emissions measure higher than the entire transportation industry's collective output, and will continue to accelerate climate change. Continually increasing demand for animal feed crops is one of the chief causes of global deforestation. Look no further than factory farms if you want to pinpoint the United States' overuse of antibiotics—the industry is responsible for 80 percent of all antibiotics used each year. It's hard to not get a chill as you see these truths illuminated on FAIRR's Factory Farming infographic and report. Who ever stopped to consider that our love of burgers is going to be the death of us all, and our planet along with us?
At a certain point, FAIRR argues, the entire system will come crumbling down upon itself. Divesting in animal factory farms is simply good business, but will require major players in the food industry to dedicate resources to developing and marketing plant-based protein substitutes.
In this spirit, FAIRR has sent a letter to 16 global food manufacturers urging them to make a change in their business practices. Household names on both the manufacturing and retailing ends of the food spectrum including General Mills, Kraft Heinz, Unilever, Costco, Kroger, Walmart, and Whole Foods were selected for their leadership positions in the global food business. FAIRR believes the group is "both exposed to the risks of reliance on factory farmed animal products to meet protein demand, and ideally positioned to seize the opportunities linked to protein diversification."
The letter was sent out just last week, and at press time, none of the companies had acknowledged receiving FAIRR's report. But the organization is hopeful that the timing is right for a cultural sea change.
If the industry as a whole earns a collective failing grade, are there any winners within the fold? Who is investing in innovative research and products that can tip the scales on our meat obsession? FAIIR spokesperson Rosie Wardle tell us that there are some good apples out there.
"General Mills are a pretty good example. They've set up something called 301 Inc., which is collaborating and investing in emerging food tech brands, which is excellent. Unilever and Nestle have also acknowledged this issue in their annual reporting. For example, Nestle asked in their 2015 report: 'How can we accelerate the usage of plant proteins and reduce our reliance on animal proteins which require less resource to produce?' For all companies, there's much more that can be done though, as we are just at the beginning of addressing this issue."
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It would be easy to crack a vegan joke or two and laugh off the entire affair, but FAIRR's requests for plant-based protein innovation are actually pretty on trend. Denmark has been considering a red meat tax for much of the year to offset climate change, and China has laid out an ambitious plan to halve the nation's meat consumption by 2030, with climate change once more credited as the driving force. So shrug all you want, but the future of food is looking decidedly post-meat.