Gut feelings and possible tomorrows: (where) does animal farming fit?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 - 14:30

A new think piece has been published by the Food Climate Research Network focusing on the future of livestock production - or rather on a range of different livestock futures.

Find out more about the report and download it from the FCRN website.

It takes as its starting point the observation that while most of us may agree we have a food ‘problem’ there is less unanimity as to what the causes are, what or who is to blame and why. This matters because our views about what causes a problem shape our views on what a solution looks like. One particular issue exemplifies both the complexities of the problem and the discord it engenders. This is the ‘meat question.’

It is now largely undisputed that the rearing of animals uses a great deal of our finite land and resources, and contributes to many environmental problems. What is much more in dispute though, is whether these problems are tractable, how the costs of livestock weigh up against the various benefits they provide, how beneficial these benefits truly are and – on the basis of all this – what kinds of solutions are necessary, desirable, inevitable or possible. Different interest groups have different views, based on their particular underpinning ideologies and beliefs.

This paper takes a closer look at who the stakeholders are in the debate around livestock, the different narratives that they construct about the livestock problem - and the solutions they propose.  It does this by constructing four scenarios, each of which imagines a different livestock ‘solution,’ and explores the values that underpin them. What might happen if the world were really like this? How is success defined in these futures, what sort of dynamic tensions might start to manifest themselves, and what new problems might emerge?

Of course, having drafted a set of scenarios, the obvious question that arises is ‘so what?’ Visions of the future are ten a penny.  The final part of the paper focuses on this ‘so what?’ question and makes the case for more self-critical, exploratory approaches to research, policy and advocacy.

The FCRN have also recently published a series of briefing papers, based on their Appetite for Change report – a comprehensive study of china’s changing food system and the environmental and societal implications. 

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