We aim to provide thoughtful, evolving recommendations about foods that minimize animal suffering and maximize sustainability.
We strive to keep our recommendations simple
Our advice: Eat conscientiously—as few animals as possible, ideally none.
Why do we say that?
Land devoted to raising or feeding livestock covers nearly half of this planet,1 and industrial fishing has reached such intensity that we can actually measure a drop in the health and diversity of ocean life as a whole. Animal agriculture shapes the globe. And each one of us is a farmer “by proxy,”2 helping to shape the world we live in through our food choices.
There’s no question that American consumers are making food choices with increasing concern for ethical and social issues—we are demanding local, higher welfare, more sustainably produced animal products—but it can be difficult to know what the various food labels and certifications mean. Is meat from pasture-raised and grass-fed animals better than organic meat? (Yes.) Does it matter where I shop for meat in the first place? (Yes.) Are tuna and salmon a better alternative to beef, pork, and chicken? (No.)
Also, does adopting a plant-based diet actually help the situation? (Yes.) Would increasing the productive capacity of the more ethical ranches and slaughterhouses help the situation? (Yes.) Is it better to increase demand for higher welfare, more sustainable animal products than it is to simply avoid them? (Not now.)
“By most measures, confined animal production systems in common use today fall short of current ethical and societal standards.”
–Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production
Nearly all animal products available in supermarkets and restaurants (meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy) come from factory farms or destructive, inhumane fishing methods. Given this disturbing situation, how can we eat conscientiously?
The Foods You Eat
Since the egg and chicken industries are among the most abusive to animals, some conscientious consumers eat beef but boycott poultry and eggs. Others eschew meat when eating out, but at home—where they have more control over the product—are selective omnivores. Still others find it simply more convenient and personally meaningful to cut animal products out of their diets entirely.
With effort, it is possible to selectively eat products from animals raised outside the factory system. Doing so, however, is difficult because most labels are misleading or meaningless. Most animal welfare certifications allow animals to be raised on modified factory farms, and some certifications blatantly humanewash. If you haven’t investigated what a label means or understand what standards a certification requires, assume the label is a marketing ploy.
For these reasons and more, an increasing number of people are avoiding meat and animal products altogether. For many, this is an empowering and energizing way to eat ethically. Actor Natalie Portman, who describes herself as a “strict vegetarian,” put it simply: “I just really love animals and I act on my values.”3 For others, of course, giving up meat seems difficult—eating animals is a significant part of our culture and our culinary habits.
Farm Forward has no ideological commitment to plant-based or meat diets, as most organizations addressing food do. We are proud to have had both omnivores and vegans, both ranchers and animal rights leaders, on our board and as advisors. The future of how we eat doesn’t belong to any one vision of what it means to eat ethically. How the next generation will eat—even how the youth of today will eat—is wide open, more than most of us realize. A future in which most meals are plant-based by default, and animals who are raised for food are raised in high welfare conditions primarily on pasture, is complementary and possible. Our choices today will shape this future.
But for now, the reality of meat is unambiguous. And at Farm Forward we think it’s critical that we all face inconvenient realities: Most of the animals raised and killed for food (more than 99 percent, to be precise) come from unsustainable and cruel factory farms4 or, in the case of sea animals, other industrial operations. We are aware of only one seafood producer that strives to minimize the suffering of fish during slaughter. In the case of crustaceans, including animals like lobsters, crabs, and shrimp, there is growing evidence that they experience pain and suffering.5 6 So many other animals (sharks, birds, seahorses, turtles, and many others) are also killed in the process of obtaining shrimp that the suffering of the shrimp themselves is by no means the only consideration. Current methods for capturing shrimp have “bycatch” rates as high as 98 percent7: This means that for every 2 pounds of shrimp taken to market, more than 50 pounds of other sea animals are dumped back, dead, into the ocean.
Every person who adopts a plant based diet reduces suffering and environmental degradation and helps stretch the small supply of non-factory meat, dairy, and eggs currently available for those who choose to eat meat. As long as the demand for non-factory animal products exceeds the supply to this degree, it is best to avoid even these products. But whatever our approach to eating ethically, the important point to remember is that withdrawing our financial support from factory farming reduces the greatest barrier to higher welfare, more sustainable agriculture: the wealth and power that the factory farm industry draws from the money we funnel to it daily.
At present, it is not consumer demand that is limiting the non-factory meat supply but the availability of ranchers with the means and the know-how to raise and slaughter animals using higher welfare, more sustainable methods. Small, progressive operations with strong animal welfare practices are growing rapidly.
Odd as it sounds, the best lifestyle of all for someone hoping to reduce farmed animal suffering and grow the supply of non-factory, sustainable meat would be to become a plant based cattle rancher! If cattle ranching isn’t in your future, we hope you’ll consider supporting Farm Forward or local community groups to create a post-factory-farming future.