Stanford study shows how meat and dairy sector lobbying is stifling alt-protein production
A new analysis by Stanford University has revealed how meat and dairy industry lobbying has influenced government regulations and funding, stifling competition from alt meat companies.
The analysis, published 18 August in sustainability journal One Earth, compares innovations and policies related to plant-based meat alternatives and cell-based meat in the US and European Union.
The study – which reviews agricultural policies from 2014 to 2020 – found that most agricultural funding is consistently devoted to livestock and feed production systems. It also revealed that governments avoided highlighting food production sustainability dimensions in nutrition guidelines and attempted to introduce regulatory hurdles, such as narrow labelling standards, to the commercialisation of meat alternatives. It reported that major US meat and dairy companies actively lobbied against environmental issues and regulations to tip the scales in their favour.
The report found that in the US, about 800 times more public funding and 190 times more lobbying money goes to animal products than to plant-based or cultivated alternatives, while the meat and dairy industries are actively attempting to suppress environmental issues and regulations.
In the EU, around 1,200 times more public funding and three times more lobbying money has gone to animal products than alternatives. Furthermore, the report says that EU cattle producers rely on subsidies for at least 50% of their income, with these subsidies often incentivising farmers to maintain herd size or increase output.
Study lead author Simona Vallone, said: "The lack of policies focused on reducing our reliance on animal-derived products and the lack of sufficient support to alternative technologies to make them competitive are symptomatic of a system still resisting fundamental changes."
However, the report points to recent policy developments as “glimmers of hope” for the alt-meat industry, citing the recent regulatory approval of cell-based chicken in the US. Additionally in the US, the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year includes investments in technical and financial assistance to support farmers and ranchers implementing practices to reduce greenhouse emissions or sequester carbon.
In the EU, a policy proposal set for debate this autumn aims to accelerate a sustainable transition of the food system to support climate mitigation solutions and reduce biodiversity loss and environmental impacts.
The Stanford analysis concludes that more needs to be done to accelerate the transition, from increasing the cost of meat to reflect its environmental impact, to more research into meat and dairy alternatives and the inclusion of these alternatives in dietary guidelines.
Study senior author Eric Lambin finished: “It's clear that powerful vested interests have exerted political influence to maintain the animal-farming system status quo. A significant policy shift is required to reduce the food system impact on climate, land use and biodiversity."