What will it take to revive the once-dormant meat industry?
It depends on how you define “real.”
But even the USDA doesn’t seem to be entirely sure.
As the nation’s leading meat industry watchdog, we’re still waiting for answers.
In an interview with HuffPost, a spokesman for the agency, Doug Martin, said the agency has been working to determine the scope of the threat.
He said that the agency “has not been able to fully answer that question.”
That’s not the case for some of the more prominent groups like the Humane Society of the United States, which has issued a new report that argues that the meat industry is vulnerable to the same threats as the food industry, and that a return to more traditional meat consumption could be the best way to ensure a long-term food security.
That’s why the Humane Food Safety Coalition, a trade group, is asking lawmakers to create a new agency to “develop and implement the most comprehensive plan of action to ensure that the food system can support the full range of food choices that Americans have today.”
And it’s not just the meat and poultry industry that could be vulnerable.
Other major food categories could also be vulnerable, including dairy products and fruits and vegetables, the report says.
In the long run, Martin said, there’s a “growing body of scientific research that demonstrates the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, and there is growing consumer demand for it.”
But, he said, “there is still much work to be done to establish the most effective plan to achieve that goal.”
In the meantime, Martin says, the best course of action is to “start thinking seriously about what you’re going to eat, and then how you’re gonna get there.”
The problem, he says, is that there is a lack of data on how long it takes to get back into the meat business.
“The answer to that question is that we have no good answers,” he said.
“We’re not looking at this as an easy problem to solve.
This is a really complex problem.”
The best approach, Martin adds, is to start “thinking seriously about whether the food systems we have in place are working to support the variety of foods people are eating.”
That means taking into account the food options available today.
“What’s important is that it’s done as a holistic process,” he told HuffPost.
“I would hope that the public would ask themselves the same question that they do with any other system: Is it sustainable?” he said when asked about the recommendations in the new report. “
“It’s not clear what’s sustainable in the meat, dairy, and fruit and vegetable sectors,” he added. “
I would hope that the public would ask themselves the same question that they do with any other system: Is it sustainable?” he said when asked about the recommendations in the new report.
“It’s not clear what’s sustainable in the meat, dairy, and fruit and vegetable sectors,” he added.
“But it’s certainly possible to do better.”
For instance, there may be “some kind of carbon footprint reduction,” he says.
“There’s a huge opportunity to change that if we want to help the environment.”
There are some obvious ways to get there, he noted.
“If you have a program where people are buying organic, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.
If people are not buying organic food, that’s a loss for consumers.
If you have more efficient production systems, that can result in better yields.”
Martin also said the report could “help us better understand the challenges we face in trying to grow the food sector.”
And he pointed to another potential silver lining: “It could give us an idea of where we need to go from here.”
What about other food sectors?
There are other food-related threats, too.
“One thing that is certainly true is that the global food system is not sustainable,” Martin says.
For instance: There are “unhealthy” dairy cows, and “unsafe” meat products that are being grown without proper environmental safeguards.
“That’s something that’s not going to change very much unless we can get some kind of regulatory framework in place,” he notes.
“Then, if we do that, we can try to get some sort of sustainability back on the table.”
He also believes that there’s an opportunity to reduce the amount of antibiotics in the food supply, “because there’s so much resistance to antibiotics.”
“There are a lot of different things that we can do,” he concludes.
“Maybe we can start to put together some of those ideas.”
Martin says that the USDA is “going to continue to work with industry and the private sector to identify and address the issues we have.”
And when it comes to the meat sector, the agency is “trying to focus on that first.”
In short, he hopes that we start to see a shift toward a healthier, more sustainable food system, one that focuses on the nutritional needs of the people and communities in the United State and beyond.