An unfettered demand provides technological, political, and scientific incentives to produce all varieties of meat as efficiently as possible
Humans have never before shown greater intolerance for violence against animals. As Steven Pinker reiterates in his (heroic) new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, rates of hunting have declined; bullfighting is going the way of bearbaiting; more consumers than ever seek "cruelty-free" products; vegetarians have tripled their numbers in the last twenty years; and scientists who work with animals follow increasingly rigorous welfare standards -- willingly.
This unprecedented sensitivity to animal welfare manifests itself in less obvious ways as well. The movie industry adheres to stringent guidelines for how animals can be used on movie sets; thousands of vegetarian and vegan bloggers are spreading the message of non-violence through Facebook and Twitter accounts; and -- hold onto your seat! -- just last week the New York Times included a vegan dinner menu on page two of its normally meat-centric "Dining In" section. A breakthrough, if there ever was one.
But -- and there's always a but -- earlier this month we learned that the global production and consumption of meat is skyrocketing. Indeed, according to the Worldwatch Institute, meat production has tripled over the last forty years, growing 20 percent in the last 10 years alone. What's particularly distressing about this recent 20 percent increase is that it's occurred as campaigns against factory farms have reached a fevered pitch. Never before have so many interest groups and so many consumers been so committed in their opposition to factory-farmed meat. Never before have so many consumers become so keenly aware that industrial methods of meat production are unsustainable. Nonetheless, meat consumption continues to rise (and it is doing so in industrial countries more than in developing ones).