The truth is, I’m still kinda sick -- I tested positive for COVID-19. I recovered from my fever, but am still feeling somewhat fatigued; I anticipate that I'll be fine in a couple of days.
But since I’m exhausted and have only got about an hour to write this, I’m gonna keep this pretty short. I also won’t be writing a traditional debate case; I’ll just be writing down some thoughts, as if in a forum post, because I’m honestly a bit too sick to write a tight and rigorous debate case. I'll be much more detailed in the coming rounds.
Before anything else, I just want to clarify what I stand for. I think governments of developed countries should (1) fund R&D that aims to develop alternative proteins (such as plant-based meat and cell-based meat), which either finds ways to manufacture it at scale cheaply or makes it taste/look/feel more like actual meat and (2) subsidize animal product alternatives that enter the market (e.g., through a subsidy, governments might make meat produced by Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat cheaper). Where this money comes from depends on the country, and I’m happy to debate where it’s likely to come from.
I think this is a good idea because it offers a potential path to significantly reduce the consumption of meat and eggs.
Why is reducing the consumption of “real” meat and eggs a good thing?
Most meat and eggs are produced through animal farming, which results in significant harm to animal welfare. In short, if you’re a large meat producer -- or, in many cases, a small farmer contracted by a large meat producer facing substantial amounts of debt -- trying to maximize profits, the conditions you will raise animals under are unlikely to be good.
It costs money to meet some of the basic needs of animals, like giving egg-laying hens perches, or ensuring they have dust to dust bathe in – heck, even ensuring animals have the space to move around a bit is a signal that you’re not using your resources as efficiently as you can. It also costs money to set up systems that reduce the pain animals experience, like ensuring harvested fish are stunned by paying for a costly stunning system (when it’s easier to allow them to slowly asphyxiate or be crushed to death). In many cases, it’s actively profitable to make animals suffer – for example, broilers are selectively bred to grow really fast, until “26–30% of broiler chickens suffer from gait defects severe enough to impair walking ability,” so “birds at this level of lameness are in [chronic] pain.” (HSUS (2009)
We should extend moral consideration to animals. This doesn’t have to be equal to humans. It just has to be enough to acknowledge that large amounts of gratuitous suffering inflicted on animals is a bad thing. Morality comes from people’s intuitions; most people share the intuition that, say, kicking a puppy on a street is wrong. There’s no morally relevant distinction between a puppy and a pig struggling in a gestation crate in a factory farm. Heck, there’s arguably little moral distinction between animals and some humans, such as infants, or people with cognitive disabilities severe enough that they don’t possess the “intellectual faculties” that are unique to humans.
On top of this, though, widespread (and increasing) consumption of animal products is bad for people. It’s bad for food security; you feed animals with crops (that you need land and resources to cultivate), and you need additional land and resources to rear and maintain the animals themselves. It’s bad for the environment. Poore and Nemecek (2018)
, in a meta-analysis, find that, over “five environmental indicators,” harmful environmental “impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes.” Santo et al (2020)
, in a systematic review of the literature, acknowledge uncertainty about how animal product alternatives might be produced in the future, but observe that “[p]roduction of plant-based substitutes, however, may involve smaller environmental impacts compared to the production of farmed meats.” Finally, it’s bad for disease. Animal farms regularly use high amounts of antibiotics, to avoid the risk of bacterial infection that comes from animals being tightly packed in close quarters. This causes bacteria to evolve resistance to antibiotics. When meat with antibiotic-resistant bacteria ends up on people’s plates, that increases the risk of bacterial pathogens resistant to widely-used antibiotics becoming threats to humans by reducing the efficacy of one of our most important tools -- consider, for example, resistant E. coli
from poultry meat causing human UTIs (Liu et al (2018)
A lot of these problems can’t simply be solved by regulation. Meat is an important part of many people’s lives, so there’s public opposition to regulation that might make meat more expensive. What’s more, the meat industry carries a lot of political sway that allows it to lobby governments against regulation (Corkery, Yaffe-Bellany, and Swanson (2020)
). It’s no wonder that global meat consumption is increasing
– it’s also increasing in developed countries, specifically.
Why is my plan a good way to fight this problem?
Conditional on developing scalable alternative proteins that taste similar to meat, they’re likely to displace a lot of traditional animal products, or, at minimum, improve animal welfare, for two reasons.
First, evidence shows that a lot of people are willing to switch to alternative proteins if they taste similar to meat, because they often have qualms with eating meat and would like a very similar substitute that makes them feel less guilty.
Second, in the long run, cell-based and plant-based meat may become more efficient to produce. This is because you don’t have to develop equivalents of parts of an animal people generally don’t eat – so you aren’t growing/sustaining protein mass that people are likely not going to demand much (e.g., undesirable parts of a chicken).
I think subsidies are crucial in this process, because they’ll help break the current price disparity between alternative proteins and meat (Bollard (2020)
), and accelerate the innovation process.