Activists sometimes claim that messages and policies in favor of the consumption of animal source foods (ASFs) are fabricated by the livestock sector. This holds true for its promotional activities, as for any sector, but is at least equally valid for anti-livestock agendas. The latter are increasingly endorsed by various large investors, food corporations, ideological parties, and policy makers. It needs to be asked how much of this dynamic can be explained by genuine ethical, environmental, or health concerns, and how much by electoral or market opportunities and belief systems.
It is very unlikely that the widespread and structural propagation of minoritarian and radical dietary opinions that are stemming from religious teachings [see elsewhere], militant veganism [see elsewhere], and/or environmental activism [see elsewhere] would manage to become so permissible in public policies and mainstream discourse [see elsewhere], without a very substantial amount of political and economic interests involved. Whether or not a new dietary vision can become viable in today's society at large, beyond the status of a fad diet, depends on the Foucauldian 'conditions of possibility' and endorsement by political and industrial stakeholders [Leroy 2019].
Both dietary status quo and change rely on instrumental (e.g., lobbying and financing), discursive (i.e., shaping norms, values, and beliefs), and structural power play (i.e., controlling choice) [Sievert et al. 2020]. There are likely various reasons for the current heavily mediatized and noisy political interest in a food system that would drastically move away from livestock and its products, despite limited support in worldwide populations and electorates for vegan or vegetarian diets [cf. Wikipedia]. For a part, this disconnect is driven by (1) the peculiarities of contemporary mass media culture and its situation within the post-truth era and 'attention economy' [Leroy et al. 2018], and (2) by zealotry and white-hat bias among journalists as well as public officials [see elsewhere]. This is, however, insufficient to explain the scale and persistence of the phenomenon.
The available information suggests that, in contrast to historical and marginalized forms of vegetarianism, much (if not most) of the current high-level trend of anti-livestock discourse is caused by a symbiotic convergence of profitability, ideology, and technocracy. Below, it will be documented how grand schemes for dietary change, such as the EAT Foundation's Great Food Transformation to a (near-vegetarian) Planetary Health Diet [see elsewhere], are aggressively endorsed by powerful vested interests such as the World Economic Forum, based on a rationale of 'sustainable development', market expansion, societal design, and resource control. The main supporters of this Transformation/Transition to a new food system that is low in animal source foods (ASFs) will be identified as clusters of (1) transnational corporations, (2) investors and vegan tech companies, (3) capitalist power centers, (4) philanthrocapitalists, (5) non-governmental organizations, (6) ecotopian futurists, (7) global management institutions, and (8) their combined public-private partnerships (PPP).
Each of the above-listed actors will be addressed separately. Yet, it is important to have in mind that what is essentially an alignment of self-interests should not be mistaken for a monolithic conspiratorial scheme (whether or not as an attempt to destabilize criticism) [Rothkopf 2009]. In reality, power networks are fluid and often 'messy' constellations. Some of the agendas involved are divergent if not contradictory, although think tanks and PPPs indeed allow for the streamlining of strategies. Furthermore, not all outcomes are to be categorically dismissed as harmful, but a distinction is needed between what is beneficial (e.g., innovation) and what is not (e.g., the further erosion of food resilience, livelihoods, and public health).
3. Endorsement by capitalist power centers
Both the transnational corporations and investors mentioned above operate within the bulwark of neoliberal capitalism, constituted of such (overlapping) power centers as the Trilateral Commission (TC), Group of Thirty (G30), Bilderberg Group (BG), Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and World Economic Forum (WEF) [Shoup 2015; Phillips 2018]. These think tanks represent the strategic-planning and consensus-forming centers of the plutocracy, i.e., the 'transnational capitalist class' [Sklair 2002] or a 'superclass' of about 6000-7000 people [Rothkopf 2009].
It goes without saying that those having the intention to control world markets are also keen on dominating the food system. The interconnection of corporate executives and globalist bureaucrats facilitates the creation of policy frameworks that are favorable to the envisaged Great Food Transformation [see also below], without which mere supply-and-demand mechanisms would appear as insufficient. To do so, transnational power centers also have leverage over the major global media organizations [Phillips 2018].
- The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is specialized in US foreign policy, serving as 'Wall Street's Think Tank in the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics' [Shoup 2015]. Besides
representing transnational banking and industry, with very close
connections to global oil corporations, it counts top officials from the
governmental, military, and geopolitical spheres among its members. As
such, it is able to strategically map out new directions in a rapidly changing context of capitalist globalization.
Although the CFR does not have a focus on the food chain, it is
indirectly involved with the Great Food Transformation through its
closest allies (e.g., BlackRock, WEF, the Rockefeller Foundation, the World Resouce Institute; see below).
- The World Economic Forum (WEF)
in Davos is a transnational organization of corporate, political,
intellectual, and civil society leaders, with a 'Foundation Membership'
limited to 1,000 of the foremost global corporations. Its buzzword-style
communication has been described as an attempt to put a 'progressive
gloss on the neoliberal world of austerity, exploitation, dispossession,
and destruction imposed by the globalized capitalist class on the
people and ecologies of our planet' [Shoup 2015].
The WEF is closely affiliated with the CFR (28 out of its 100 corporate
Strategic Partners were also corporate members of the CFR in 2010, and
many CFR members have had an important role within the WEF). The forum is highly supportive of the Great Food Transformation [Whiting 2019], whereas EAT itself is a self-declared 'Davos for food' [Richert 2014; Turow-Paul 2016]. Its founder [Gunhild Stordalen] was appointed as a Young Global Leader by the WEF in 2015 [Eidem 2015] and the Great Food Transformation has evolved into the dietary arm of WEF's agenda for a Great Reset [see below].
4. Endorsement by philanthrocapitalism
For a corporate agenda to gain favourable public reception, mass media control is crucial [see elsewhere], yet insufficient. The business scheme also needs to be perceived as societally benign and progressive. The World Economic Forum [WEF; see above], for instance, has specified in its mission statement that it is 'committed to improving the state of the world'. In doing so, they find an important partner in philanthrocapitalism. Besides tax avoidance, the latter has the purpose to gain recognition for activities of the predatory corporations it represents, to promote reformist 'solutions' that undercut the need for state intervention and more fundamental change, and to create dependency [Shoup 2015]. Moreover, it has a problematic influence over the development of global health policies. The WHO, for instance, is pushed towards adopting its donors' business models and technological quick-fixes [Global Policy Watch 2019]. Ultra-processed ASF 'alternatives' constitute typical examples of the high-tech/quick-fix paradigm [see elsewhere].
- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is simultaneously a WHO top donor [Cheney 2020], an investor in 'plant-based' imitation burgers [Morgan 2018; Bloomberg 2019], and one of the most influential private foundations (due to its funding of strategic players in all sectors, from mass media to research) [Navdanya Int 2020]. Bill Gates also has become the biggest owner of farmland in the US, although it is unclear how this land is used [Shapiro 2021]. In a US system where almost half of the farmland is rented, subsidies are diverted to landowners instead of actual farmers, with the former reaping the benefits regardless of what the latter cultivate. Farmland has yielded returns of >10% for nearly 50 years [Pomranz 2021] and is indeed a lucrative option for investment by global elites [see also above].
- The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) has billions in assets ($3.5 billion in 2012). Together with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), it is closely interlocked with the CFR [Shoup 2015; see also above]. More than half of its Board of Trustees consist of current or former CFR members. David Rockefeller became CFR chair in 1970 (until
1985) and co-founded the Trilateral Commission with Brzezinski and other CFR members in 1972. Moreover, the Rockefeller Foundation founded the Group of Thirty (G30) in 1978. The Rockefeller interest in dietary control traces back to the 1969 'Population Growth and the American Future' report commissioned by Richard Nixon and overseen by John D. Rockefeller III. Focus was on population and resource engineering, similar to 'The Limits to Growth' report by the Club of Rome (co-founded in 1968 by David Rockefeller, the industrialist Aurelio Peccei, and OECD's Alexander King) [Meadows et al. 1972]. However, the authors also urged for a dietary shift 'away
from consumption of animal livestock towards vegetables and synthetic
meats' and 'a closed system of agriculture - food from factories' [Rockefeller et al. 1969].
Because such ideas are likely to meet resistance, it was said that they would require an
'international economic order, capable of dealing with natural
resources and environmental conditions on a world scale', to be
implemented by a body with 'assigned central responsibility' and serving
as a 'lobby for the future' [Rockefeller et al. 1969]. More recently, the Rockefeller Foundation promotes the Planetary Health concept [The Lancet 2015] and a need for 'Great Transitions', by
'Doubling Down on the Sustainable Development Goals' [Rockefeller Foundation 2020]. Its food system agenda encompasses a 'Reset the Table' program to 'Transform the US Food System' (emphasis added) [Rockefeller Foundation 2020].
- The Wellcome Trust is
one of the wealthiest private philanthropies, with $29 billion in
assets. It funds research in healthcare and environmental studies, but
is controversial due to its problematic links with tax havens (and
investments in) fossil fuel companies [Carrington 2015; Piller 2018; Rosa-Aquino 2018]. Its corporate ties are further underlined by its status as 'Health & Health Care' partner of the WEF [WEF 2020]. The Trust is also one of the UK's largest owners of arable farm land [Wellcome 2014]. It is fundamental to the Great Food Transformation; together with the Stockholm Resilience
the Wellcome Trust has founded EAT in 2016 which was then still an
initiative within the Stordalen Foundation portfolio (since 2013) [EAT 2020].
- The Open Philantropy Project (OPP) was founded by Dustin Moskowitz (Facebook) and has granted millions
of US$ to animal rights organizations (e.g., Eurogroup for Animals) and providers of 'plant-based'
imitations [OPP grants, AdaptNation 2020]. The
OPP has donated $2.5 million to the Good Food Institute (GFI) in
2016-2017, a lobby group for vegan tech companies (see above) [Luneau 2020]. The organization also has considerable leverage over media. It donated
$886,600 to the Guardian in 2017 to publish a series named 'Animals
farmed', representing animal agriculture as harmful [Guardian 2018]. A second $900,000 was provided in 2020 [Guardian 2020]. The Guardian published an Animals Farmed article every four days on average, usually using emotional imagery [AdaptNation 2020], in addition to various other anti-livestock articles [e.g., those paid for by the vegan food brand Oatly! in the 'Parenting your Parents' series; Guardian 2021]. Furthermore, OPP gave $900,000 to Group Nine Media in 2019-2020 to produce videos on factory farming with emotional appeal [OPP 2019; 2020]. Together with other major investment funds, incl. Google Ventures and UBS, OPP has invested substantially in the vegan company Impossible Foods (OPP investments) [Business Wire 2019].
As a result, the latter has attracted $1.3bn in investment over the last 10 years [Greenfield 2021],
5. Endorsement by non-governmental organizations
Besides white-washing via mass media disocurse and philantrocapitalism, further legitimization of the corporate model for dietary control requires formal support from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially those with a focus on environmental issues (e.g., WWF). Since the Rio Summit in 1992, this has resulted in the gradual neutralization of leading environmental NGOs by the corporate system [Chatterjee & Finger 1994]. Another class of corporatized NGOs is constituted of 'think tanks' (e.g., WRI). Because the latter play a central role in the development of new policy ideas and the setting of agendas, they are needed to shape key debates and to guide both professionals and the public [Shoup 2015].
- The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), formerly the World Wildlife Fund (still so in US), is the world largest conservation group. Its first president, the controversial Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, also co-founded the Bilderberg group and established WWF's financial endowment, the elitarian '1001 club'. WWF has been criticized by various activists for assisting corporations in laying claims to land that cause the resettlement of indigenous peoples [BuzzFeed; Survival International 2017] and for its corporate ties allowing for the greenwashing of such companies as IKEA, Shell, and Monsanto [Pearce 2009; Huismann 2014; Vidal 2014]. WWF is one of the key players within the corporate-driven Natural Capital Coalition [NCC], and is interlocked with global power centers. Its Global Conservation Director (Kavita Prakash-Mani), for instance, has ties to the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Food Security and Nutrition, the World Resources Institute, and Unilever [WWF 2019]. Its current President (Pavan Sukhdev) is specialized in international finance, launched the 'Corporation 2020' campaign, and has ties to UNEP, the WEF, and the Stockholm Resilience Center [i.e., the co-founder of EAT; see below]. WWF has described ASFs as central to humanity's 'Appetite for destruction' [WWF 2017] and supports the Great Food Transformation's 'hard policy' interventions to reduce ASF consumption [see elsewhere], in a report written by an ex-EAT member [WWF 2020].
- The World Resources Institute (WRI) is a research non-profit organization founded in 1982 by James Gustave Speth. Its Board of Directors consists of various CFR members and has close ties to corporate networks (e.g., Goldman Sachs, IKEA, Unilever, Shell, Oxford Analytica, WEF, World Bank) [WRI]. Its Corporative Consultative Group encompasses some of the world's largest companies, including major players in the food and beverages industry [WRI]. As mentioned above, WRI's co-chair (David Blood) and a former member of its board of directors (Al Gore) are invested in the 'plant-based' market through their firm Generation Investment Management. Food is one of WRI's seven declared areas of interest, e.g., by developing scenarios for social engineering towards diets that are low in ASFs [Ranganathan et al. 2016]. On WRI's board of directors we also find Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC’s ex-Executive Secretary who is in favour of expelling meat eaters from restaurants [Vella 2018]. She has ties with Eni, Unilver, and the World Bank [WRI] and various business fronts such as and Nature4Climate and We Mean Business, now part of a massive Global Common Alliance PPP together with WRI, WEF, WBCSD, and EAT [see below]. Figueres is also on the board of directors of Impossible Foods, together with representatives from investment funds (Khosla Ventures, Horizons Ventures) [Business Wire 2021]. Livestock farming is portrayed by WRI as mostly harmful in its reports, and pleas for the rewilding of agricultural lands are common [see also above]. Resource control is of course at the heart of the hegemonic strategies of corporate elites. Through its founder, Gus Speth, the WRI has a historical connection to the Tellus Institute and its ecotopian mindset of Great Transitions [see below].