We must pay more for healthy, ethical food
Alex Yeung, University of Hong Kong
When it comes to feeding ourselves, we are no longer purely price-oriented. The 'cradle-to-grave' analysis is a useful tool to assess the environmental impact of all products, from creation to disposal. But what counts most for food is 'from cradle to dining table'. The carbon and water embedded within our food are things that can be measured. Nonetheless, for animal products, there is something immeasurable, yet far more powerful than mere numbers - the issue of animal welfare.
We will react more strongly to a picture of pregnant pigs held in small cages than the number '4,800' - the global average litres of water required to produce 1 kg of pork. Public perception is a key factor that caused a famous fast-food chain to ask its pork suppliers to phase out the use of such cages. Traditionally, the space allotted to each animal was determined by productivity; now, animal health and behaviour are factored into the recommendations of cage sizes. As customers, we will have to pay more for the improvement of farming conditions and the minimal use of antibiotics. As we demand better animal welfare and health, and not so much the lowest price, producers will switch their methods.
It is not easy to instantly regulate the production practices of commodity foods such as meat, milk and eggs without assessing the needs of low-income groups. But for non-commodity foods such as shark fin and dolphin meat, some people play the 'tradition' card to justify their consumption. Bad traditions must be changed. I wonder if the younger generation will stick to these 'traditions', for instance, when they see photos or videos of how fins are cut off while the sharks are still alive.
Animal activists and the mass media have exposed the processes by which food goes from 'cradle to dining table', and gradually changed our food choices. Together with our increasing demands for better nutrition and environmental conservation, the food revolution is coming to our dinner plates.