Feb 19, 2022
Episode 107: Animal Centric Agriculture
Host: Aaron Niederhelman
Guest: Øistein Thorsen, CEO of FAI Farms
Did you know that across the globe we process over 70 billion land animals every year?! Nine billion in the US alone. Yet, it’s still pretty hard to find good meat and to know a little something about the animal that it came from. A growing opportunity has arisen in contemporary markets for meat from animals raised using elevated practices. These elevated practices are simply investments into the well-being of the food animal that result in holistic benefits to humans, the planet and of course the animal themselves.
As you’ll hear from today’s guest, this commitment to elevating practices in the production of good meat may not only be the best draw to attain and retain modern consumers, but when adopted into our collective consciousness as an obligation – it’s a clear path forward to clean-up a broken food system and to help stabilize the planet. We must start looking at food systems differently, and that can begin today with how we raise our food animals.
The reality is – people are going to eat meat. In fact, experts are saying that by 2050 demand for proteins will increase by 70%. New leaders have arisen. Leaders that have begun to think and act differently in raising animals to produce enough food for increased demand. Øistein Thorsen of FAI Farms is one of these upstart pioneers that is instigating a values-based food systems built on the practices of investing in health and well-being of food animals. In our conversation Thorsen explains the approach as “Animal Centric Meat Production”. That’s one of the best descriptions that I’ve heard for this commonsense approach to attaining a one-shared-health outcome from food. Thorsen says that “to keep a shrinking planet nourished and sustained for decades to come, it has to begin with respecting the food animal.”
The French expression Noblesse Oblige translates to “nobility obliges”. It effectively means that with power and privilege we’re obligated to look out for the wellbeing of others that are less fortunate. Along with Thorsen, a handful of dynamic animal agriculture leaders working to clean-up the food system have adopted this as a mantra. They say, evolving how we manage sentient animals to produce meat, eggs, and dairy changes everything.
As we hear from Øistein, not only is this evolution the ethical thing to do, but the resulting food products are significantly better for you and your surroundings than anything coming from conventional streams. In fact, this good meat, dairy and eggs from healthy animals living in more natural environments is better than anything coming to market at all, including all of the newly concocted lab-grown protein derived from artificial means.
Despite all the buzz behind those plant-based / lab-grown proteins, or the noise from conventional climate-friendly propaganda – the only silver-bullet solution to our big problems like malnutrition, hunger, supply-chain disruption and even climate instability is for us to do a better job shepherding the regenerative natural resources underpinning the production of our food. The conduit to food systems change can be Animal Centric Agriculture. So, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, because we all have to know that… it’s not the cow that’s the problem, it’s the how.
Farm Animal Initiative (FAI) Farms was founded in 2001 at the Oxford University farm estate. 20 years later they remain a ground-breaking research and advisory firm on a mission to help the food sector overcome key challenges and implement better practices on land and at sea. Utilizing their “3E” (Economic, Environmental, Ethical) approach, FAI works with farmers and many of the world’s largest food companies to implement practical solutions for climate and food security concerns in a contemporary world.
A purpose driven company committed to providing solutions to climate and food security, FAI offers services led by science, data, and the practice of holistic food production. FAI’s world leading multi-disciplinary team work in partnership with major food brands to create a high welfare, equitable and regenerative food system. FAI is headquartered in Oxford, UK, with representation in the USA, Norway, Brazil, New Zealand and partners in China.
As CEO of FAI, Øistein is responsible for the company’s growth and impact strategy, and new business development. He joined FAI in 2012, working with global partners including IKEA, Ferrero, McDonald’s and KFC, before leading the company through an MBO in August 2020.
Øistein grew up in shuttle between Sudan, Norway, and Ethiopia. He holds an MSc in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics (LSE) and a BA in African Studies and Development Studies from SOAS. Before joining FAI he followed in his parents’ footprints pursuing a career in international development. He worked for VSO and Oxfam, focusing on community engagement, global agricultural trade policy, and humanitarian advocacy at the United Nations.
Thorsen is the associate producer of “Black Gold”, a Sundance Film Festival feature-documentary film about coffee growers in Ethiopia’s place in the global coffee market.
Øistein lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.
With the huge uptick in global consumption of proteins over the next few decades, current conventional practice and cutting-edge tech will only continue to send natural systems out of whack. When scaled with proper knowhow, Animal Centric Agriculture food solutions can have positive and lasting impact on the planet and all of its inhabitants. When animals are put in the middle and given due respect throughout food production – it becomes the tent pole to build the new food system, to return to natural order, and to benefit each involved party. Especially the food animals themselves.
As part of the Core Food Systems Change series, in this episode you’ll hear that when Animal Centric Agriculture becomes part of our collective consciousness it’s the best opportunity that we’ve got for a stable future.