Written by EA NYU Abu Dhabi Research Staff.
The two-minute summary
The UAE is a high-income country which farms 22 million land animals a year. Since 1980, the country’s animal product consumption has been on a downward trend, yet the UAE’s production of these products has risen over the past decades and is now at an all-time high. Farmed animal welfare is extremely neglected in terms of resources with all existing organizations focusing on companion animals and their adoption. The private sector is more accessible so we, therefore, believe that the alternative protein sector is the most viable option to displace animal products in the region, and will be the focus of this report.
Reports estimate that cultivated meat could skyrocket to become a billion dollar global industry by the end of the decade, as long as companies can overcome key hurdles such as pricing and regulatory approvals, and ensure consumer acceptance. With Asia being home to over half of the world’s population and, as a result, facing the greatest threat in terms of food insecurity and its associated social, environmental, and economic challenges, Asia-based students, researchers, investors, and entrepreneurs, have the opportunity to address the growing need for meat, seafood, egg and dairy alternatives in the region.
The UAE is the perfect place to work and invest in the alternative protein sector due to its recent commitment to carbon neutrality, along with its growing focus on sustainable agriculture practices and food security to look after its growing population. It is also home to huge sources of investment and support for agriculture technology and food innovation. The UAE is positioned to be a front runner in alternative protein development in the region.
How big is this problem?
Animal Distribution and Magnitude
In 2017, 22 million farmed land animals were reported in the UAE, making up 0.02% of the global number. While the total consumption of all animals and their products has been on the decline overall in the UAE, the number of eggs, milk, chicken, and cow meat produced has steadily risen over the past decades and is now at an all-time high with the number of chicken meat and eggs produced having almost doubled since 2010.
When compared with other countries in the Gulf, the UAE ranks relatively high at the third place out of seven countries that had data on the amount of meat produced a year, yet it only produces a quarter of what Saudi Arabia produces. In this sense, the UAE is not a main producer within the Gulf nor at the global stage. However, the UAE’s drive to be a frontrunner of sustainability and innovation can be used to promote alternative paths to animal welfare, namely through alternative protein sources. The amount of investment in innovative food technology and international plant-based food companies’ influence in the UAE has been steadily increasing, making alternative proteins a worthwhile focus to achieve higher animal welfare.
What are the aspects of animal welfare in the UAE?
Wild Animal Welfare
There is not extensive information available about the extent of wild animal suffering in the UAE. With the rise of urbanization and development, many animals are displaced from their natural habitats and risk extinction. In 2016, The UAE government passed a law regulating the possession of wild and exotic animals as well as amended existing legislation to “maintain the rights and dignity of animals in the UAE.” There are several organizations in the UAE committed to wild animal welfare, such as World Wildlife Fund as well as the Emirates Animal Welfare Society focusing on wild animal welfare and saving wild turtles through campaigns and reserves.
Farmed Animal Welfare
The UAE has 22 million farmed animals as of 2017, however, there are no organizations in the UAE that advocate for better animal welfare in farm facilities. As summarized previously, this number is not as large as other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt. The UAE carries out strictly enforced halal slaughter, which includes ensuring that the animal is not tortured during slaughter, that they are not exhausted from travel to the slaughter facility, and that the slaughtering tool is not sharpened in front of the animal, nor are they allowed to be stunned. It is also necessary for the slaughter process to be recorded, to ensure that it is being done correctly. All slaughters are documented to ensure that that the animal was killed in the halal manner.
The UAE does have federal legislation protecting animal welfare. This legislation was updated in 2018 to provide more protection for animals. Federal Law 16 of 2007 applies to all of the seven emirates. It ensures that owners and protectors of animals provide animals with adequate food and water, shelter, the “opportunity to display normal patterns of behavior”, appropriate handling to reduce fear (both during life and prior to slaughter), prevention, and treatment of disease, and care during transport.
Companion Animal Welfare
Companion animals are not uncommon in the UAE, although exact statistics are difficult to acquire. The above legislation regarding animal welfare also applies to companion animals, thus giving them legal protection as well. There are several organizations that seek to end the abuse of companion animals and address their welfare, especially through adoption.
How solvable is it?
Work currently being done to ensure animal welfare
There are a few organizations that try to address animal welfare issues in the UAE with very few of them addressing farmed animal welfare. In the past few years, there has been more federal legislation to ensure animal welfare in the UAE, but it is unclear whether imported animal products would follow these standards. Since the legislation is federal, there is little potential for change without working within the government system.
However, there is a growing movement in the UAE towards plant-based diets. Plant-based protein sales have grown over the past few years. The government also has set alternative proteins and agricultural technology as part of their priorities for food security and sustainable development by 2030. This includes the development of Food Tech Valley in Dubai which focuses on food production innovation and food security for the arable climate of the UAE. These have the potential to reduce the population dependent on traditional animal products and in turn reduce animal suffering.
While food security is being taken very seriously by the UAE, the public’s awareness about the issues surrounding animal protein consumption, such as animal suffering, environmental and health concerns, is lagging behind. This could be a hindrance to consumer acceptance of and consumer behavior changes to alternative proteins. Another issue is the lack of collaboration between industry and academia, which could be alleviated by shifting the current model to having an industry create a project based on a need or issue and then coming up with funding to support academic research to not only create solutions but also train another generation of researchers.
Essential to a flourishing alternative protein space is, first, the recognition of the importance of the alternative protein field by local industries and governmental agencies, as well as the consumer public. Only then can crucial research be conducted, after which the business end can provide funding and infrastructure. With alternative protein being the next frontier, it is of utmost importance to continue research and investment in this field. Research can be commercialized into the industry through Technology Transfer Offices and governmental support in the form of financial resources and infrastructure could increase innovation.
Encouraging the development of alternative protein sources and moving away from traditional animal agriculture are pathways to reduce animal suffering in the UAE. This would mean encouraging residents to support businesses that supply these products, as well as increasing research and development into alternative agriculture practices.
How neglected is the problem?
There are not many resources available to improve animal welfare programs in the UAE. Domestically, there are few NGOs that focus on animal welfare, and the ones that do tend to focus on other areas beyond farmed animal welfare that have less magnitude.
However, there are significant resources available for alternative protein and agriculture development. The UAE has made it clear that they are looking for sustainable solutions to feed a growing population in accordance with their new commitment to reach carbon neutrality. This also includes a plan to “establish an Ag Fund or other smart financing mechanism to provide financing to all food and agribusinesses, with focus on startups and SME segments, and technology adoption.” This could be extremely beneficial for those interested in starting alternative protein businesses in the country, which can displace the demand for traditional animal agriculture.
Groups working on animal welfare
Based on our research, there are less than a dozen groups focused on animal welfare and all of the active groups in the UAE are focusing on companion animal welfare and adoption with little or no focus on wild animal suffering or farmed animal welfare. Because farmed animal welfare has been neglected and sustainability and food security are major objectives of the UAE, focusing on their welfare via displacement through alternative proteins is the most promising and effective path to the best of our knowledge.
What are the EA-aligned organizations and charities operating in the UAE?
There are no organizations in the UAE that have been reviewed by Animal Charity Evaluators, an EA-aligned organization that evaluates and recommends charities for people interested in giving to evidence-based charities.
Please click here to access the full problem profile (which includes potential career paths for those interested in working in the UAE)
We’d like to extend our special thanks to Brian Tan from EA Philippines for his mentorship and guidance for our Middle East Regional Priorities Project. This project was inspired by his team’s work on the Local Priorities Research project.