Transitioning to Plant-Forward Food Systems
With over 92 billion animals in our global food supply, we cannot end animal suffering without drastically reducing the demand for animal-sourced food products. Shifting to plant-forward diets can prevent millions of animals from ever suffering in industrialized farms—the leading cause of animal cruelty— while also reducing pollution, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, safeguarding biodiversity, and curbing non-communicable diseases.
According to research, the United States must reduce its meat, egg, dairy, and seafood consumption by at least 82%, 70%, 60%, and 6%, respectively, to align with levels that are safe for the climate, planet, and human health.
Why are plant-forward diets important to saving farmed animals from suffering?
Our nation's high meat, dairy, and egg consumption is only made possible by keeping farmed animals in tightly confined conditions either inside warehouse-like barns or on feedlots. A single dairy operation can have over 18,000 cows, a pork operation can have over 10,000 pigs, and an egg operation can have over 5 million laying hens. Animals in these industrialized systems suffer physical pain, illness, and emotional trauma as they are treated as inventory rather than animals. These animals will never eat a natural diet of graze and forage and never experience a natural life outdoors.
While pastured systems provide higher welfare opportunities, they also require more land. To put all of the animals that support our current food system on pasture would require more land than is currently available. Thus, we cannot provide higher welfare to farmed animals AND continue eating animal-sourced foods at the same rate. To truly achieve an end to factory farming and a better life for farmed animals, we must transition to plant-centered diets and food systems, where plants make up the vast majority of our food and the remaining animal-sourced food comes from animals raised sustainably on pasture.
Why are plant-forward diets important to protect wild animals?
Industrialized animal agriculture is a key driver of habitat loss and deforestation, thereby driving biodiversity loss. Factory farms also provide breeding grounds for diseases that can spread to wild animal populations. In addition, the pesticides and herbicides used on animal feed crops such as corn and soy adversely affect thousands of species and can be lethal, putting further strain on wild animals both as individuals and on their survival as a species.
Even on higher welfare pastured systems, predator-livestock conflicts continue to threaten wild predators. Some farmers and even government agencies have been known to set cyanide traps or shoot predators such as wolves, coyotes, and cougars. In other parts of the world, predator-livestock conflict has taken the lives of cheetahs, lions, tigers, and snow leopards.
These pressures on wild animals are exacerbated by climate change and habitat decline and fragmentation caused by other human activities, such as building roadways, logging, and expanding residential housing.
Why are plant-forward diets important for global public health?
The global food system produces enough food to feed 17.5 billion people, over double the current population, and yet, 820 million people are considered hungry. A significant reason for this discrepancy is that much of the food we produce goes to feeding farmed animals, where much of the calories are lost through the food chain. If we repurposed the land used to grow animal feed to grow crops for direct human consumption, we could feed 4 billion people.
Additionally, diets high in red and processed meat are known to correlate with several noncommunicable diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Globally, unhealthy diets, including those high in red and processed meat and low in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes, now pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than unsafe sex and alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined. Adopting plant-forward diets low in red and processed meat and rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes can improve nutritional outcomes.
Plant-forward food systems can even help thwart antibiotic resistance. Worldwide, about 66% of all antibiotics are used on farmed animals, not people. Antibiotics are most often used routinely in intensive animal production, where the crowded and stressful conditions can easily facilitate disease outbreaks. However, routine use of antibiotics on animals who aren't sick can give rise to antibiotic-resistant superbugs. According to the World Health Organization, these superbugs could kill 10 million people per year by 2050, over three times more than the number of Covid-19 deaths in 2020.
How can I make a difference?
An easy, highly effective way to help farm animals and support a more sustainable food system is to swap some animal products for healthy plant-based protein. It’s better for animals, your health, and the planet. Start by trying a variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and plant-based proteins such as beans and legumes. Additionally, the number of delicious, nutritious meat and dairy replacements—from almond milk to egg-free mayo to plant-based meat alternatives—continues to expand.