The Financial Times asks, if you had to be reincarnated as a chicken, would you prefer to be born on a farm supplying KFC as opposed to any other intensive chicken farm?
It reports that halfway through Rob Percival’s book The Meat Paradox, this is the question he poses to Charles Way, the head of food quality assurance for KFC UK & Ireland.
Way has been telling Percival how proud he is of the welfare standards of chickens supplied to KFC, which he describes as higher and more sustainable than those of the average British chicken farm. But, in response to the question of whether Way would prefer to be reborn as a chicken in the KFC supply chain rather than some other chicken farm, his answer is “no” because “it wouldn’t make a world of difference”.
Percival’s day job is working on policy at the organic body The Soil Association.
He writes that about 95 per cent of all British chicken reared for meat is produced in industrial units and there are also some 200 vast industrial farms in the UK producing pork.
“Globally, over 90 per cent of animals are reared on such farms,” writes Percival.
We are at a breaking point in human meat consumption. Mass-produced chickens now make up 70 per cent of all living birds on the planet and create pollution on a vast scale; suffering is experienced by people who work in the industry as well as the animals themselves.
The global demand for meat is set to rise 73 per cent by 2050, from a 2010 baseline, and yet veganism is on the increase, and there is a flurry of investor interest in the development of plant-based meat substitutes.
Some of the most fascinating passages of the book concern the ways in which hunter-gatherer societies come to terms with eating meat, through a complex series of rituals and beliefs designed to distinguish their actions from wanton murder. The Tucano people of the Amazon, for example, place strict limits on how many animals can be hunted because each one is seen as an exchange for a human soul.
Modern industrial meat comes with no such sense of balance or respect. We are almost completely dissociated from the reality of what happens to the animals before we eat them.
Percival agrees with the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, which published a report in January 2019 arguing that people in the affluent west need to radically downsize meat consumption.
The report suggested that a sustainable diet would include no more than 98g of red meat, 203g of poultry and 196g of fish per week. For someone on a low income in Asia or Africa, this would mean a lot more meat than before, but for the average person in the US it would mean a drop of about 85 per cent.
Those recommendations would result in more meat, dairy and fish being produced by 2050, allowing for rising populations and a fairer distribution of the meat across the world.