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Subsidies over Sustainability: the UK government’s sinister agenda to protect the animal-agriculture

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Cassandra Dennis




Government subsidies, funded by public tax money, are financial grants provided to private institutions or public entities in order to drive down the costs of production with the aim of increasing the financial viability of the industry being subsidised.[1] In terms of scale and significance, agriculture subsidies are some of the most important granted by the UK government. Governmental determination to protect the interests of the animal agriculture industry, through financial grants, reveals an agenda antithetical and oppositional to the achievement of national and global climate targets, as public tax money is essentially being used to drive down the prices of environment-destroying produce.


The majority of agricultural subsidies go towards animal farms and reducing the production costs of crops like soybean and corn, which are principally used as animal feed; the tax money which is used to provide these grants is in essence facilitating the production of meat and dairy which ultimately plays a significant role in increasing environmental degradation.[2] Animal farming is further responsible for an increased risk of infectious zoonotic disease, an issue particularly relevant in the context of the current pandemic.[3] As the largest anthropogenic user of land, the animal farm production sector largely contributes to soil degradation, air pollution, and excess water use.[4] Feed grain production also requires sizable amounts of water, energy, and chemical inputs, along with the vast energy expenditure used to transport feed, livestock, and animal products to and from farms.[5] The impact upon global warming and the climate emergency from animal agriculture is undeniable, with the industry bearing responsibility for approximately 18% of human-induced greenhouse emissions.[6] The contradiction between the government’s insistence upon funding a fundamentally destructive industry, and the necessity of meeting environmental targets to tackle the climate crisis reveals a reluctance to accept the primacy of animal agriculture in participating in environmental degradation and climate change.


In light of this, the amount of public money funded into the animal farming industry is cause for concern. On average, funding for animal agriculture is such that each head of cattle in Europe receives a subsidy worth $2.20 a day; when considered in terms of annual earnings, the yearly income of the average European dairy cow would exceed that of half the world’s population.[7]

Governments subsidise the animal agriculture industry due to demand for the products that it produces; a reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy by the general populace and a collective transition to a more plant-based diet would reduce the impact of farm animals on the production of greenhouse gases, in turn contributing to efforts to combat the climate crisis. The normalisation of consuming meat and dairy is partly a result of a popular narrative which disconnects the idea of meat from the suffering body of the non-human animal; the commodification and killing of the animal is separated from its consumption as a product. The language we use to describe animal products is detached, encouraging a mental separation from the suffering undergone by the animals enslaved, exploited and commodified by the meat industry, and their exhaustion by the consumer. Nonetheless, governments share the largest responsibility for their participation in this crisis. Funding an industry which causes unnecessary suffering to living beings, whilst being a leading cause of environmental degradation through methane produced by the animals themselves, carbon emissions from inputs and land use changes necessary to feed livestock, excess land use, energy output, and engendering dwindling water supplies, is an unacceptable use of public tax money, and a prime challenge to the UK’s ability to meet its climate targets.



 

[1] Ed Winters, Animal Agriculture Subsidies, Explained (Surge, 9 August 2020) <https://www.surgeactivism.org/animalagsubsidiesexplained> accessed 18 February 2021. [2] Ibid. [3] Ibid. [4] Humane Society International, An HSI Report: The Impact of Animal Agriculture on Global Warming and Climate Change (Humanesocietyorg, 2008) <https://www.humanesociety.org/sites/default/files/docs/hsus-report-agriculture-global-warming-and-climate-change.pdf> accessed 18 February 2021. [5] Ibid. [6] Ibid. [7] Ibid n (1).

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