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Opinion: Vegetarian Melissa Todd welcomes warning labels on meat products but doubts it will change minds of carnivores

This week, Broadstairs writer, dominatrix and KentOnline columnist Melissa Todd welcomes the prospect of warning labels on meat products, but doubts the prospect of death and destruction will win against the smell of bacon...

There’s been talk lately of putting warning labels on meat packaging, like they do with tobacco and booze, although the admonitions would be more varied, not only related to one’s personal health and well-being.

Columnist Melissa Todd welcomes warning labels on meat products - but doubts it'll make much difference
Columnist Melissa Todd welcomes warning labels on meat products - but doubts it'll make much difference

Consumers may be told not only that meat consumption contributes to the risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes and impotence, but also that it worsens climate change, and exacerbates the risk of further pandemics.

In other words, it’s planning to appeal to meat-eaters’ sense of beneficence, goodwill towards all living creatures, which seems counter-intuitive when 80 billion animals are killed to eat each year.

Nonetheless, research at Durham university suggests such warnings could cut meat consumption between 7-10%, which could prove significant for efforts to cut emissions and achieve net zero by 2050, the government’s pronounced target.

Intensively-farmed animals are the chief cause of deforestation, which results in billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide being released back into the atmosphere.

Over a quarter of the world’s land is given over to producing crops for farmed animals. It’s a spectacularly inefficient way of feeding people. It takes 3.2kg of crops to produce 1kg of chicken.

Factory farming is the chief cause of deforestation - and could lead to another pandemic - says Melissa Todd
Factory farming is the chief cause of deforestation - and could lead to another pandemic - says Melissa Todd

Ripping up forests to plant crops to feed to factory farmed animals kills wildlife and impacts on biodiversity. It also contributes to the likelihood of another pandemic. As wildlife has nowhere left to live it creeps closer to human settlements, while factory farming, which involves overcrowding of creatures with feeble immune systems in filthy conditions, will inevitably increase the chance of another pandemic. Three-quarters of new diseases infecting humans are being transmitted from animals.

Not only overcrowding increases health risks. Globally, two thirds of all antibiotics are given to intensively farmed animals to stop them getting infections. This creates drug-resistant bacteria which pass into humans, creating ‘superbugs’ which are immune to life-saving drugs.

One study recently found that antibiotic resistance is already killing about 1.25 million people globally a year: in the UK the figure stands at around 7,500. By 2050, some researchers predict that it will rise to ten million deaths worldwide every year, more than current annual global cancer deaths. It’s a big deal.

“But eating meat is natural!” some wag will proclaim. You know what else is natural, pal? Syphilis. Tsunamis. Dental abscesses. Volcanoes. Smallpox. The whole history of humanity tells the tale of us moving away from a state of nature to a state of something superior; more comfortable, safe, pleasant. If I’d lived a natural life I’d have died at least three times over by now: slow lingering agonising deaths at that.

KentOnline columnist Melissa Todd
KentOnline columnist Melissa Todd

‘Natural’ is not necessarily, or even typically, synonymous with ‘good’, whatever your breakfast cereal tries to make you believe. Nature is frequently ghastly.

Moreover, there’s little natural about the way we source or treat the animals we eat. There are ways to rear animals for consumption that are actually beneficial to the planet, but they are prohibitively expensive.

Locally-reared animals, grazing in small quantities on hillsides, can increase biodiversity. If you fancied eating that lonely hairy sheep that made the papers recently, Fiona, there’d be precious little environmental impact, a lot less than avocado on toast, I daresay. But as the population soars, and meat consumption with it, there won’t be enough lonely sheep on lonely hillsides to feed the tiniest fraction of us.

Will warning labels help? I can’t see it. We as a species are notoriously reluctant to change our habits, however likely they are to thrust us into an early grave; throw in the smell of bacon, I’m sceptical anything can ever change.

And plant burgers are gorgeous! Also vegan sausage rolls. Have you tried them? I’ve managed to convert a few devoted carnivores of late. They’re less greasy, less expensive, less guilt-inducing; fewer calories too: far from the miserable options of old. Do give them a go. For any reason you choose.

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