Vegan and vegetarian options have become noticeable in shops and restaurants in the last few years. This is a trend in most western nations. (Vegans don’t eat any meat products. Vegetarians may eat dairy products). The Telegraph reports that in the last ten years the number of vegans in the UK rose by 360%. Converts pointed to health and environmental concerns as reasons for change but also to finding out “what really goes on in the meat industry” and not wanting to contribute to the pain and suffering of animals.
Attitudes to farm animals are fascinating. Come spring, most of us delight in frolicking lambs and beautiful, big-eyed calves looking at us with new-born curiosity as we pass by. And we may feel unease when seeing herd animals, like horses, living alone in paddocks, desperate for even human contact.
We empathise but move on, and have no difficulty rationalising our empathy with our appetite when enjoying a steak dinner, until irritating folk like members of Farm Watch shake us out of our apathy with tales of industry-wide cruelty to the animals we depend on for our food.
Even in New Zealand the number of non meat eaters rose from between one and two percent in 2002, to 10% by 2015. This trend to a plant-based diet should make meat-growing farmers stop and think about future options.
Some probably are thinking, just as some farmers took early warnings of the approaching common market seriously in the 1960s. But most, just as now, carried on as usual. Complacency is normal, of course, but it’s hard to understand leaders in the industry sharing that attitude.
In his responses to Morning Report questions about Farm Watch evidence of widespread cruelty to calves, Primary Industries Minister, Nathan Guy, went beyond complacency to denial, defensiveness and ineptitude. His most priceless contribution, “If you put cameras in every house in New Zealand you’d find a lot of child abuse,” should mark him for the rest of a shortened political life.
One Federated Farmers response suggested the fuss being made over the latest cruelty exposure was proof the urban population had lost touch with the realities of farming. Blithely ignoring the fact that it’s urbanites who eat most of the meat produced on the farm, that although they may have lost touch they are discovering the realities and don’t like them, and even more telling for the future of farming: vegetarians and vegans may not eat meat but they still crave the taste of meat. That’s why there is a growth in the production of meat alternatives derived from plants like soybeans, peas, chickpeas, lupin canola.
Although NZ farmers cannot currently compete with the likes of Australia for growing bean-type crops, an international organic market is surely an opportunity in the waiting. According to the proponents of a meat alternative industry, the same amount of proteins that we get from meat can be produced using five times less land and water. So come on, guys.