by Vesanto Melina
According to data provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the value of annual government support to Canadian agriculture producers has fluctuated between $10.1 billion and $4.3 billion since 1986. The beneficiaries of those tax dollars have primarily been beef, pork, poultry, egg, and dairy farmers.
We know that livestock farming can be hard work, made more so by challenging weather and unreliable trade agreements. Yet the World Health Organization tells us that high consumption of meat can increase the risk of cancer. Moreover, cured meats – bacon, ham, and sausage – are “convincing carcinogens” grouped in the same category as Roundup and cigarette smoking. Meats and cheese are linked with overweight and obesity.
Scientists know that by adopting a plant-based diet, we can reduce our risk of hypertension by 75 percent; of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes by 62 percent; and various types of cancer by 19 to 50 percent. Do we want to subsidize foods that vastly raise our risk of these devastating conditions? Such subsidies contradict Canada’s Dietary Guidelines and our new Food Guide. With socialized medicine, we end up paying the subsidies plus the overwhelming medical costs.
Our government says it wants to establish a “clean, safe and sustainable environment for present and future generations.” But compared with producing 1 kg of beef protein, 1 kg protein from kidney beans requires 18 times less land, 10 times less water, 9 times less fuel, 12 times less fertilizer, and 10 times fewer pesticides. Beef production generates considerably more manure waste than other animal farming or aquaculture – all strong polluters. Pig farming creates immense toxic manure ponds. Some farm subsidies aim to reduce disease in those unfortunate pigs raised in crowded, foul conditions before slaughter, and to reduce diseases that can be passed on to humans. But now that we are aware of significant associated risks to the environment and to human health, does continuing to heavily subsidize animal products make sense?
When it comes to meat, some subsidies are indirect. For example, financial support goes to producing the soy and corn that provide animal fodder, thus enabling the production of cheap industrial meat from concentrated animal feeding operations. Some dairy subsidies can be used to promote milk consumption.
While agriculture has considerable political support, most of us are unaware of the actual costs of farm subsidies to the taxpayer. Better informed, we might prefer fewer subsidies for items that both increase the risk of chronic disease and heavily pollute the environment. David Simon, lawyer and author of Meatonomics, has concluded that a McDonald’s burger that costs about $5 to purchase would actually cost $13 without all the subsidies.
Does this situation seem crazy? By relying on meat and other animal products we increase obesity; increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancers; and destroy our planet.
The Canada Food Price Report of 2019 forecasts that the price of vegetables and plant-based protein will rise, and the price of subsidized meat will drop. We would be better off to strongly subsidize Canadian lentils and other legumes (www.pulsecanada.com) and the farming of organic produce. These foods reduce our risk of chronic disease, reduce inflammation, increase longevity, and are known to support the overall health of Canadians.
In Ottawa, this June 14 and 15, there will be a Nation Rising march and rally on Parliament Hill, and a chance to talk with our elected representatives regarding the use of public funds for animal agriculture subsidies.
Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. (www.nutrispeak.com). Also see www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/
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