Nonprofit research organization Faunalytics has released a new study which dives into animal agriculture subsidies and how advocates can reduce their harmful impact. We interviewed 13 animal and environmental organizations that are working to reform farm subsidies to learn what works best.
Read the full study here: https://faunalytics.org/reforming-animal-agriculture-subsidies/
Key Findings in the Reforming Animal Agriculture Subsidies: A Guide for Advocates report:
- Subsidization of animal agriculture is complicated, and the average person's understanding of subsidies doesn't reflect the reality of how advocates have to approach them. Tackling subsidies directly is made complicated by Big Ag’s immense political influence. For these reasons, advocates have found more success by working to reform farm subsidies, such as by shifting them towards plant-based agriculture, rather than trying to reduce or eliminate government programs that give money to Big Ag.
- Indirect subsidies are particularly important because they're less obvious: Big Ag saves money by harming people, the environment, and farmed animals. Some organizations have sued the government and Big Ag companies for failing to comply with environmental and antitrust laws, which is one approach to combating these indirect subsidies. Some advocates also work against them by campaigning for cage-free transitions or other welfare improvements, which requires the industry to invest more money into these changes and thus increases the cost of animal products.
- Litigation is an important yet less recognized tool for evening the playing field. Organizations that have filed a lawsuit against Big Ag companies reported that doing so increased their ability to obtain meetings with politicians, media coverage of the harms of Big Ag, and legislative changes that minimize these harms. Importantly, all this became more feasible after filing a notice of suit, before or without having to enter the courtroom.
- Reforming Big Ag subsidies needs to be a collaborative effort between animal advocates, environmental advocates, and farmed animal producers. Subsidizing Big Ag affects everyone—from non-human animals to small-scale farmers—so many organizations have had the most success in reforming farm subsidies by setting aside their differences and working with stakeholders outside the animal protection movement.
The global meat and seafood market is an empire worth $867 billion USD worldwide in 2021. This market is dominated by megacorporations like Tyson and JBS which receive billions of dollars in direct subsidies–cash grants, loans, purchases, or other types of financial aid–from their governments. Worldwide, governments provide approximately $540 billion USD annually in direct subsidies to agriculture, with most of these payments going to “Big Ag” (i.e., industrial animal agriculture controlled by a few large corporations, akin to “Big Oil”). The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (2021, p. vii) found that “over two-thirds of this support is considered price-distorting and largely harmful to the environment.”
There’s another reason why Big Ag dominates the global animal agriculture sector: These companies offload costs or ‘externalities’ onto human and nonhuman animals by using intensive confinement of animals and exploitative human labor. Such externalities are also referred to as indirect subsidies and they also include other consequences of Big Ag like environmental pollution and public health problems. To put it into perspective, if these costs were actually accounted for in retail prices, consumers would end up paying $1.70 USD more for each dollar of animal product purchased–for example, a gallon of milk would go from $4 to almost $11 in grocery stores (Simon, 2013). But in reality, consumers and society end up paying for these costs indirectly through healthcare costs, environmental pollution, and other problems caused by Big Ag.
Animal agriculture subsidies therefore create an uneven playing field for advocates and plant-based food producers compared to animal-based producers. Given that governments regularly give money and assistance to Big Ag, advocates may question whether vegan outreach or other types of campaigns are sufficient to reform the food system. And how can plant-based food producers compete with animal agriculture when less than 25% of global farm subsidies go to growing fruits and vegetables (Springmann & Freund, 2022)?
The purpose of this study was to understand organizations’ successes and challenges in their efforts to shift, reduce, or eliminate animal agriculture subsidies. We interviewed 13 organizations from Brazil, Canada, U.K., and the U.S. to better understand their approaches to reforming animal agriculture subsidies. In doing so, we hope to facilitate knowledge sharing among advocates, and we provide recommendations and lessons learned from a wide range of approaches.
The report authors are Andrea Polanco and Jo Anderson of Faunalytics. Interview support was provided by Coni Arévalo and Zach Wulderk.
Our goal with this study was to talk to advocates who work against the intense subsidization of animal agriculture to share lessons learned and see which approaches tend to be most successful.
Throughout our interviews it became clear that organizations don’t simply try to reduce or eliminate animal agriculture subsidies altogether due to the immense political influence of Big Ag and the complexity of subsidies. For one, Big Ag has spent at least $200 million USD in lobbying the U.S government since 2000, and our interviewees noted that some politicians have economic ties to agribusiness. Second, subsidies to animal agriculture are wide-ranging, spanning everything from government loans (direct subsidies) to Big Ag relying on practices that reduce costs by harming human and non-human animals (indirect subsidies).
Addressing these complexities all at once isn’t feasible for a single organization, so we suggest that advocates pick a specific and realistic goal and engage in strong coordination with other groups rather than trying to meet multiple objectives.
Organizations we interviewed have focused on more tractable goals instead of trying to get rid of subsidies altogether, using a variety of methods or ‘ingredients’ to achieve them. Below we summarize these goals and tactics. We recommend that advocacy organizations work together and discuss with each other which group is best suited to tackle what goal. In fact, this is similar to what Big Ag does—they have different interest and lobbying groups that work to promote and protect specific animal agriculture industries (e.g., National Pork Producers Council in the U.S).
Additionally, we have released a companion report, The Animal Agriculture Industry's Perspective On Advocates & Cage-Free Reforms. Here we review a small sample of industry publications to examine how Big Ag responds to animal advocacy and outline our findings. We hope that this will help animal advocates prepare for Big Ag’s response to their work, and thus be more effective in strategizing to help farmed animals.