About meat production

Image: Amar Preciado


A system that relies on the systematic torture of animals also has serious consequences for human health and environmental tissues

Meat is the epicenter of the global agri-food system. Pasture areas plus those used for grains for animal feed correspond to 70% of the entire land surface outside glaciers and deserts. Agriculture is the most important vector of biodiversity erosion. One third of global greenhouse gas emissions come from what we eat.

Annually, 92 billion animals are raised for human consumption. The majority are birds, which live in small spaces, often in cages, and often spend their lives without seeing sunlight. The space for a bird to move in such an environment is that of an A4 sheet of paper.

And far from being an unavoidable counterpart for us to have quality food, the reality is that the supply of animal proteins is much higher than the needs of human metabolism for a healthy life. This system, which relies on the systematic torture of animals, also relies on the large-scale use of antibiotics, with serious consequences for human health.

Below, we have selected a bibliography that seeks to exemplify this complexity.


Animal Liberation, Peter Singer (1975).

The book contributed decisively to the emergence of social movements and public policies aimed at animal welfare. In its new version, from 2023, it shows important advances in scientific research, social mobilization and legislation, especially European ones, but it also denounces the limited nature of what has been achieved so far.

Animals continue to be used as a basis for the formulation of medicines and cosmetics: in China alone, there are 52 million, of which 129 thousand primates and 64 thousand dogs. But it is in the food models that began to dominate the world from the second half of the XNUMXth century that the most serious and massive forms of aggression towards animals are concentrated.

The fundamental mark of Peter Singer's philosophical approach comes from the British Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the father of utilitarianism. The basic philosophical premise of this current of thought is that pleasure and pain are the fundamental elements of human action. The important thing is not to know whether animals think or can speak. The fundamental question is: do they suffer?

The affirmative answer to this question makes Singer rebel against “speciesism”, a form of discrimination against those who do not belong to a certain species. Disregarding animal suffering because they do not speak, for example, would be the same as mistreating a baby or those suffering from certain types of neurological diseases. This is where the principle of equality between all beings with sensitivity, human or non-human, is supported. This is not limited to mammals, but also includes fish, reptiles and some invertebrates.


Justice for animals. Our collective responsibility, Martha Nussbaum (2023).

Professor at the University of Chicago Law School and one of the most important expressions of contemporary political philosophy, Martha Nussbaum has two main ambitions. The first consists of presenting in an honest, generous and critical way the most important philosophical currents that denounce the way in which contemporary societies treat animals. It is on the basis of this critical exposition that Martha Nussbaum proposes that considering animals as things violates basic precepts of a fundamental ethical category: justice.

More than that, it is essential to guarantee them the substantive freedoms from which they can flourish and realize the potentials of intelligence, sensitivity, sociability, imagination, affection, self-identity, pleasure and ability to play, specific to each species. This goes far beyond health and food. It is a philosophy that extends to animals the idea that human beings are not means, but ends irreducible to any instrumental function. It is essential that we learn to look at the world through the eyes of creatures different from ourselves.

The book's second ambition comes from the joint work that Martha Nussbaum developed with her daughter Rachel, academic and animal rights activist, who died prematurely at the age of 47. The central idea is that animals are individually holders of rights that can and should be supported by a type of Constitution, the scope of which must go beyond national borders. The book shows important advances in this direction, exhaustively scanning both scientific literature and publications from civil society organizations, such as reports from the World Animal Protection.


How to be an animal. A new history of what it means to be human, Melanie Challenger (2021).

The paradox contained in the title synthesizes the natural philosophy that guides the work of Melanie Challenger, a rigorous historian of ideas, but also a human rights activist, artist, broadcaster and prolific creator of videos and films around the relationship between society and nature. The idea that we are not animals like others and that the virtues that mark our existence do not derive from our body, but they exist despite our body.

Nothing better expresses the destructive character of the contemporary relationship between society and nature than the deepest foundation of our self-identity, that is, the fact that we believe that we are not animals and that we conceive the future (and our most revolutionary technological innovations) with the aim of always to emancipate ourselves from everything that connects us to our animal condition, with technologies that can alter even the molecules of life. At the root of this view is the error of thinking that there is something non-biological about us and that this is the noblest thing we have. And that is why we live under the illusion that we can merge with machines, preserving our soul and our intelligence for all eternity, as advocated, for example by Ray Kurzweil, computer scientist and futurologist.

Being human is, first and foremost, being an animal, writes Melanie Challenger. There is nothing trivial about the statement. She denounces the mystification coming from Silicon Valley and transhumanism, according to which we are on the verge of an evolutionary step in which we will overcome our biological restrictions. But “without the body, Challenger concludes, the soul is a meaningless abstraction.”


Linking animal welfare and antibiotic use in pig farming – a review, Rita Albernaz-Gonçalves, Magazine Animals, 2022.

The work contributes to tackling one of the most widespread prejudices when it comes to animal welfare: that this is a futile concern, given the urgency of satisfying the dietary needs of human beings. Its main author, Rita Albernaz-Gonçalves, veterinarian and professor at the Federal Institute of Santa Catarina, is one of the main scholars of an alarming consequence for human health of the way in which most pork and poultry meat is produced today: resistance to antimicrobials. 70% of antibiotics sold globally are destined for animals.

These products, in the overwhelming majority of cases, are not used with the necessary care so that they do not result in evolutionary processes that make them ineffective for new bacteria whose development they themselves favor. In Brazil, pigs receive seven different active ingredients for 73,7% of their lives. And, as Fiocruz researchers show, control and transparency around these technologies could hardly be more precarious.

Albernaz-Gonçalves' article shows that suffering in pig farming (with caged animals, living a monotonous life, unable to express their natural capabilities and systematically subjected to mistreatment such as castration and tail docking) and genetic selection so that they produce more meat in less time, increase their susceptibility to disease. More than a million deaths have been attributed to antimicrobial resistance. If nothing is done to tackle the problem, by 2050, there will be ten million deaths annually because of this problem.


Current global food production is sufficient to meet human nutritional needs in 2050 provided there is radical societal adaptation, organized by Berners-Lee, Kenelly, Watson, Hewitt, Lancaster, 2018.

Written by a group of researchers from Lancaster University, the work confronts the prejudice that torturing animals is a necessary evil for humanity to have quality food, from a surprising angle. Contrary to a widely held belief, the horizon that humanity needs and will need more and more proteins is not supported by reliable evidence. Humanity has an average protein consumption of 81 grams per capita per day, compared to a metabolic need that does not exceed 50 grams. The only places in the world where there is a protein deficit are in Africa, south of the Sahara, and some Asian regions.

This finding is fundamental, as it paves the way for the global supply of meat to be based on animal food that does not compete with human food. This is what will allow the global supply of animal products to come from a circular economy, whose central concept is the low opportunity cost of what is offered to feed livestock and without there being a destructive obsession with techniques aimed at producing ever larger quantities. something that goes far beyond the metabolic needs for a healthy life.

Cattle farming on well-managed natural pastures (whose nutrients humans are unable to digest) is an example of this circular economy. The basis of animal nutrition must be based on “ecologicalleftover” (ecological remains). The orientation is to reconcile animal welfare, satisfaction of human needs and regeneration of environmental tissues that until now agricultural growth has been destroying.

*Ricardo Abramovay is a professor at the Josué de Castro Chair at the Faculty of Public Health at USP. Author, among other books, of Infrastructure for Sustainable Development (Elephant). [https://amzn.to/3QcqWM3]

Originally published in the newspaper Nexus.

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