2022-04-21 We Must Put The Planet Before Profit

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The Guardian ‌ ‌ ‌
Down to Earth

We won’t cut meat-eating until we put the planet before profit

Damian Carrington

The argument over renewable energy has been won – it’s clean, it’s cheap and is a vital part of ending the climate crisis. But, by contrast, the debate over action to cut the massive impact of meat eating on the planet has only just begun.

If denials of livestock’s giant environmental hoofprint sounds like an echo of the denial of the damage caused by fossil fuels, that is because it is, according to a new analysis.

“The meat industry fosters uncertainty about scientific consensus and casts doubt over the reliability of both researchers and the evidence, a technique that has been employed by the tobacco, fossil fuel and alcohol industries,” the UK researchers concluded, after conducting the first peer-reviewed and systematic analysis of how the meat industry frames the issue. They added that “cherry-picking and misrepresentation of evidence was seen.”

Among the tactics found by the researchers were claiming that the science remains open to debate and branding advice that the overconsumption of meat is harmful as “extremist” or “alarmist”. Other industry lines were that livestock farming benefits the environment, for which there is very little evidence at any meaningful scale, and that red meat is more nutritious than the alternatives.

The researchers were blunt as to why such tactics are deployed: the “potential threat to meat industry profits”.

“It is clear that the meat industry is a powerful voice”, said Kathryn Clare of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and who led the analysis. “The input of organisations representing the sector on issues relating to meat consumption should be of serious concern to those involved in food or sustainability policy”.

It is not just the industry that is in denial, but also the countries that host big livestock operations. New Zealand’s diplomats helped remove references to the need for plant-based diets from the influential summary of the major climate report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier in April. The term “plant-based” appears more than 50 times in the report itself.

The country’s own climate change minister, James Shaw, was not impressed: “New Zealand should avoid adopting positions in these negotiations that could leave the impression we are working to protect our largest industries at the expense of the climate. We push back very strongly against petrostates’ efforts to protect their fossil fuel industries. We should strive to avoid any similar conflict of interest.”

It is clear that most people in developed nations eat more meat than is healthy for them or the planet. But it is also clear that action to cut meat-eating is a much harder challenge than switching the source of people’s electricity.

Food is personal, cultural and emotional. Governments are reluctant to be seen as telling people what should be on their plates, even though the sector is already heavily regulated for safety reasons. It is difficult for farmers too, working hard to produce our food and often for little reward. But unless meat consumption is reduced it will be vastly harder – perhaps impossible – to end the climate crisis.

A cut in meat-eating will happen, led by the young and as alternatives get tastier and more affordable. The question is whether it will happen in time, or whether the meat industry will follow in the footsteps of the fossil fuel industry and dangerously deny and delay, even as the impact of global heating grows ever more severe. >>

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