“The Meat Crisis”

In The Meat Crisis, editors Joyce D’Silva and John Webster acknowledge from the start that an initial reaction to their title might be: “What meat crisis?” There is certainly plenty of meat around, particularly in the developed world, and generally it has never been so affordable or so regularly eaten by so many people. But, say D’Silva and Webster, that IS the crisis – a crisis of consumption.

Human beings, they write, are consuming “too much meat for our own good health, too much for the dwindling global resources of land and water, too much for the health of our planet’s climate and environment and too much to enable the animals we eat to have decent lives before we devour them.”

Globally, 60 billion farm animals are used annually for food production, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts a near-doubling of meat and milk consumption by 2050, with the developing economies of Asia factoring largely in the rapid growth.

D’Silva and Webster, both long-time advocates of farm-animal welfare, have assembled in The Meat Crisis a reader-friendly collection of 17 essays by experts in their fields, addressing animal farming’s impacts on the environment; farming practices and animal welfare; human-health implications of meat production; ethical and religious approaches to animal foods; and food/farming policies for a sustainable future. Their conclusions are bolstered by research studies and clearly summarised in an array of tables, charts and fact boxes.

Although the authors would be pleased if readers — after absorbing the facts presented — opt to exclude meat from their diets, they have not published “a vegetarian gospel”. The book is, instead, a reasoned call to policy makers, academics and ordinary people to lower meat production and consumption to sustainable levels. Facing the greatest challenge are governments, global institutions and decision makers who need to find ways to achieve the desired production and consumption levels.

In sum, D’Silva and Webster beseech all their readers to “be visionaries, to work at any level from personal to global to help bring about a greener and more compassionate world” – one in which everyone can access healthier food, where the earth’s resources are nurtured, where carbon footprints are reduced and where farmed animals can have lives worth living.

The Meat Crisis is an excellent companion to “Eating the Planet?”, a 2009 report commissioned by the NGOs Compassion in World Farming and Friends of the Earth. Like D’Silva and Webster’s book, the wide-ranging expert study shows that – if the major meat-eating nations reduced their consumption — the human population in 2050 can be fed humanely and sustainably.

The Meat Crisis
Joyce D’Silva and John Webster (editors)
Earthscan, 2010

— By Maryann Bird

Maryann Bird is associate editor of