7 min read

Canadians Are Eating Less Meat. Here's Why.

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Good news for animals and their advocates: we're winning! Canadians are eating less meat.

Data: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Chart: Anna Pippus

Over the last three decades, beef and pork consumption have been steadily declining. In 1980, Canadians ate 39 kg of beef and 32 kg of pork. By 2013, these numbers had precipitously dropped to 27 kg and 22 kg, respectively.

Reflecting the trend in much of the developed world, health concerns about red meat have led Canadian consumers to replace cows and pigs with chickens. In fact, chicken consumption has almost doubled since its 1980 level of 17 kg per capita, up to 30 kg in 2013. However, this trend is unwaveringly turning around. Per capita chicken consumption has decreased every year since its highest level in 2007.

Turkey consumption is holding steady at relatively low levels, while fish consumption appears to be waning.

Data: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Chart: Anna Pippus

What's behind the trend? Growing awareness of the cruelty endemic in our country's factory farms, against a back-drop of increasing food awareness and interest, is surely playing a role. The profit-driven factory farming industry has compromised animal welfare to such a degree that illness, deprivation, confinement, and ultimately terrifying slaughter are the rule rather than the exception. And research shows that animal welfare concerns are a major driver of meat reduction and elimination.

Concerns about the environment are likely playing a role, too. Polling shows that a majority of Canadians-finally-are concerned with climate change, particularly the legacy it will leave for future generations.

A recent report from internationally respected think tank Chatham House highlighted the critical importance of reducing global consumption of meat and dairy, stating that otherwise global temperature rise cannot be kept below two degrees Celsius-a frightening prospect that threatens the very existence of life on earth.

The alarm bell has also been sounded by the United Nations, which has highlighted animal agriculture's contribution to virtually every major environmental plight from climate change to ocean degradation to biodiversity loss. The former long-time head of the U.N.'s panel on climate change, Nobel-prize winning Rajendra Pachauri, resorted to begging: "please eat less meat," he once stated.

For decades, government-backed Canadian food recommendations transparently prioritized the profit interests of animal agriculture above the health needs of Canadians. But Canadians are wising up to this conflict of interest, and choosing to spend more on fruits and vegetables and less on meat. This trend is in alignment with the most recent, largest, and most authoritative nutrition recommendations-the February 2015 report of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee-which state that a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting.

It doesn't hurt that plant-based eating is significantly less expensive, both by weight and per gram of protein. In early 2015 at a mainstream Vancouver-based grocery store, extra lean ground beef, chicken breasts, and beef burgers dwarfed red lentils, chickpeas, and tofu in price. With extra lean ground beef clocking in at $7.19 per pound it is more than five times more expensive than tofu, chickpeas, or red lentils.

Data and Charts: Anna Pippus

Globally, the availability of vegetarian foods is growing at a rapid clip: between 2009 and 2013, food and drink products carrying a vegetarian claim doubled. Add to this a burgeoning vegetarian food tech start-up industry backed by billionaire visionaries like Li Ka-shing and Bill Gates-who calls vegetarian meats "the future of food"-and it's not hard to see that the trend of eating less meat is only poised to dramatically accelerate.

Declining meat consumption is proof that the balance of power has shifted away from profiteering factory farmers and into the hands of animals and those of us who care about them. The future of food is on the horizon, and it is looking much kinder for animals.