Beef Industry Groups Meet to Discuss Sustainability but Leave with a Marketing Plan
by Katie Vann, 12/19/2014
A coalition of beef producers and major food companies met last month in Brazil to address an issue of increasing importance: the significant, harmful environmental impact of raising beef cattle in a world with a growing population and declining resources.
Instead of developing a workable blueprint for sustainability, they walked away with a marketing manual.
The meeting came shortly after the release of a recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that concluded that if humans chose to eat less meat, it would have a greater impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions than better cropland or livestock management.
The UN's emphasis on the effects of animal agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions is not new. A 2006 report published by its Food and Agriculture Organization, titled Livestock’s Long Shadow, concluded that:
- Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all transportation combined.
- The livestock sector “may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species.”
- The livestock industry also emits 65 percent of all human-produced nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that has 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and 37 percent of all human-produced methane, another potent greenhouse gas.
In an open letter to the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef (GRSB), more than 20 public interest organizations, including the Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, and Friends of the Earth, wrote that the document that resulted from the meeting in Brazil is “fundamentally flawed.”
Instead of setting any standards or creating a certification program for beef produced in a more sustainable way, the Roundtable laid out a vague set of ideas that reinforce a “business-as-usual” approach and ask farmers to voluntarily make changes, without specifying what those changes should be.
“Rather than asking its members to take a long, hard look in the mirror, it appears as if the GRSB’s chief concern is to protect the vested interests of those stakeholders who profit most from the existing intensive and unsustainable production model – and who stand to lose the most from change,” wrote the public interest critics.
With the human population expected to reach over 9 billion by 2050, we need to shift our dietary habits toward foods that can be produced in more sustainable ways and that use the least resources possible. If we are serious about addressing climate change, we need to reduce government subsidies that support the production of beef and other meat products that undermine our climate commitments. Sixty-three percent of U.S. government food subsidies support the meat and dairy industries while less than one percent support the production of fruits and vegetables. We should reverse these subsidies to reflect both what federal nutrition guidelines recommend and what’s best for our environment.
Photo by Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, used under a Creative Commons license.