Issue 14: Industrialization and intensification of animal agriculture in low- and middle-income countries: Key drivers

August 25, 2022

Why has animal agriculture industrialized and intensified in LMICs (low- and middle-income countries)? Why is meatification happening in LMICs? What are the real drivers and who are the real culprits? What makes this development possible? What is holding it in place? Why is it so challenging to roll back developments toward further industrialization?

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The reasons are multi-dimensional and nuanced. It is not a simple case of people loving the taste of meat and having money to buy meat, leading to producers industrializing their value chains to pump out more affordable meat to satisfy these consumer demands. Even if campaigns to dissuade people from purchasing animal-source foods – an uphill task in itself – score some great victories, one cannot expect producers to automatically halt industrialization in response.

15 years ago the Canadian scholar Tony Weis coined the term "meatification", and he argued that this phenonmenon is driven by the "industrial grain-oilseed-livestock complex" and financial goals and gains rather than individual consumers' love of meat. A number of other academics have also studied this knotty subject in the past decade, doing extensive fieldwork in emerging economies, using various methodologies from anthropology, sociology, to political economy. They have gathered compelling evidence that reveal the leading cause of animal agriculture industrialization and intensification in LMICs: The deliberate, remarkably well executed, and massive efforts made by large meat/agri corporations and governments in LMICs. It is their colossal power and muscles, their joint efforts, that drive the acceleration of industrialization in LMICs and render the fight against this trend so incredibly hard.

There are other contributing factors: Global trade liberalization, financialization and increased availability of capital, population growth, income growth, urbanization, supermarketization and changes in where people acquire food, nutrition transition toward a "Westernized" diet, some countries with deep meat traditions, etc. These all play important roles. But the lead actors in this drama are corporations and governments. There is no getting away from these two arch culprits.

It is also essential to recognize two further points: First, the factors and reasons for animal agriculture industrialization in LMICs are different from those for high-income countries although there are overlaps. Second, the enormous power of the state and agribusinesses in LMICs combined can manipulate and subvert consumers' food choices, making attempts by civil society to help people cut down/out animal-source foods much more challenging. One can't always put the onus on consumers.

Understanding the real reasons and drivers will improve advocates' ability to aim at the right targets and pain points. And even if for whatever reasons, advocates are not able to focus on these targets, and their interventions can only aim at the periphery of the target rather than the bullseye, this understanding will give them a realistic assessment of their interventions' strength in knocking down the real drivers. They will be more aware of these interventions' limitations, not tout them as silver bullets, and not maintain false hope that they will cure all ills.

The aim of this issue of ASWT is to provide some easy-to-understand and concrete evidence showcasing the centrality of agribusinesses and governments as overwhelming forces in driving the industrialization and intensification of food animal production in emerging economies, from Argentina, Bulgaria, to India.

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