Editorial Opinion Article** contributed by Jack Hubbard, executive director of the Center for the Environment and Welfare
For several years, restaurant chains have faced campaigns from animal liberation activists demanding limitations on the kinds of pork, eggs, and chicken that are served.
Activists claim these changes would improve animal welfare and are representative of consumers’ preferences. But the newest campaign against food companies unmasks the true agenda: Reducing meat sales permanently. Animal rights groups led by the Humane Society of the United States are now demanding that “half of all entrees served by the food service industry are plant-based by 2027.”
How did we get here?
A decade ago, animal rights groups began demanding restaurant chains only sell cage-free eggs. Then, the use of maternity pens to house pregnant pigs became the next issue. And in the past few years, activists demanded companies abide by a set of restrictive standards called the “Better” Chicken Commitment.
What do all these efforts have in common? It’s not animal welfare or environmental stewardship.
Veterinarians and farmers will tell you that maternity pens benefit animal welfare by protecting sows from aggression posed by other animals. Meanwhile, research finds the Better Chicken Commitment would have a massive negative environmental impact by restricting efficient modern practices. Under these limitations, over one billion additional chickens would need to be produced each year to meet consumer demand, impacting land, water, waste management, and transportation.
It is clear that policies pushed by the animal liberation movement are designed to drastically increase costs for consumers, consequently reducing demand.
Activists operate by moving the goalposts. Today they are calling for a 50 percent reduction in food service offerings that have animal protein. But already one pressure group, Compassion in World Farming, is calling for an 82 percent reduction in meat consumption in the United States. The ultimate number is a 100 percent reduction.
The activist groups pressuring companies to sell cage-free eggs or fake meat also advocate against any animal protein consumption at all. Their worldview is best summarized by the longtime food policy director of the Humane Society of the United States, who compared chickens to Holocaust victims. “[A]nybody who eats meat, is guilty of holding the same mindset that allowed the Holocaust to happen,” he remarked.
Restaurants can navigate these anti-meat pressure campaigns by listening to their customers, not animal rights groups. Although animal groups may make it appear their movement has significant grassroots support, this is not the case. A single activist foundation called Open Philanthropy Project is funding the campaigns to the tune of $50 million.
Consider the hype around fake meat products, which are pushed by activists as a replacement for traditional farm-raised animals. Activists mislead the public by insisting that consumers can save the environment by “adopting a more plant-based diet.”
However, this doesn’t square with reality. Producing fake chicken actually creates the same amount of emissions as traditionally raised chicken. While fake meat may use less land than raising chickens, it requires more electricity to power the factories needed to manufacture imitation protein.
Fake meat was touted as the next big thing by animal liberation activists and the media four years ago. But consumers have since moved on from the fad, with sales declining. The reasons range from inferior taste and texture to its poor nutritional value. Viral pictures from the pandemic showed even panicked shoppers wouldn’t buy fake meat.
Yet animal activists are pushing more fake meat, not less–limiting consumer choice. While some prefer to purchase higher-cost niche products, most don’t
As restaurants navigate the pressure campaigns conducted by animal liberation groups, executives should focus on what really matters: Consumer preference. Don’t jump on the anti-meat propaganda bandwagon.
Jack Hubbard is the executive director of the Center for the Environment and Welfare. He previously served in executive roles at the country’s first national humane organization.
** The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Total Food Service and its editors