Image courtesy of Michal Matlon on Unsplash
In much of the world, government policy plays a significant role in spurring culture and habit change. These policies can influence national perception, create access to emerging industries, and direct consumer behaviors.
Historically, energy-intensive industries such as dairy farming and meat production have been hugely subsidized. Worldwide, over $200 billion of public money, that is money collected through taxation, is given to farmers as subsidies through direct payments annually. Approximately two-thirds of this money is given without conditions for farmers to use as they see fit. Which, in practice, has resulted in every fifth dollar being used for meat production, every tenth for dairy farming, and less than a third on fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts.
In addition to these non-specific grants, direct subsidy payments are made to industry producers. Within the United States alone, the USDA has provided $49.6 billion in payments to livestock producers since 1995.
These payments enable the consumption of animal proteins, offsetting prices on the consumer level and increasing the availability of these products. Though the number of variables involved result in exact numbers being difficult to assess, reports suggest that without these subsidies a $5 Big Mac could cost up to $13, while a pound of hamburger meat would cost $30 in grocery channels.
Despite this support, animal agriculture is a major driver of global heating, and detrimental to public health; millions of deaths every year are connected to eating the wrong things, like too much red and processed meat and too few fruits and vegetables.
Urgency is being felt around shifting public policy towards supporting a healthier, more sustainable food system. In June of this year, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit with more than 17,000 doctor members, hosted a conference in preparation for the September White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health – the first of its kind in over 50 years.
At this event, over 100 physicians, dietitians, nurses, teachers, university professors, public health professionals, firefighters, and others concerned with national health convened to prepare a concise set of goals in preparation for the White House event.
Informed by years of scientific research and expert insight, the primary conclusion of the session was overwhelming support for policy goals that would highlight the benefits of plant-based nutrition to improve the nation’s widening health disparities. The consensus of such gatherings is clear. This as well as the inclusion of more plant-based industry leaders in government such as Managing Partner, Lisa Feria’s, appointment as a voting member to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is indicative of growing awareness of the need for plant-based system shifts.