Why aren't we talking about meat and climate change?
Why aren't we talking about meat and climate change?
By Judith Friedlander / foodwise.com.au
Dec 3, 2012

Reducing your carbon footprint by eating less red meat rarely gets attention.

This strategy has been recommended by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, epidemiologists writing in The Lancet and a host of other highly-regarded researchers and organisations. But it appears we don’t want to be put off our food by acknowledging the implications of our Western diet.

Our own Australian Bureau of Statistics does not seem to deem food consumption analysis as a priority – the most recent ABS apparent consumption figures date from 1998 to 1999. The last National Nutrition Survey was conducted in 1995-1996. How can government agencies deliberate, recommend and act on food policies when they don’t even measure the basics?

A preliminary analysis of major Australian newspapers indicates “meaty” topics mainly revolve around cuisine and culture. A study of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Herald-Sun and The Financial Review from June 2007 to June 2012 examining over 14,700 articles which referred to keywords “meat” or “livestock” found less than .01% mentioned meat or livestock’s impacts on climate change or greenhouse gases.

An in-depth US analysis found that between September 2005 and January 2008, 16 of the United States’ largest circulation newspapers largely overlooked the food system as one of the most important contributors to global climate change.

But we do know that the Food and Agriculture Organization report Livestock’s Long Shadow indicates that meat and dairy products are the foods carrying the greatest environmental burden. They account for approximately half of food-generated greenhouse gas emissions and 18% of global emissions.

The Australian Department of Climate Change’s National Inventory Report (2009) stated that the agriculture sector produces most of Australia’s methane and nitrous oxide emissions with agriculture producing an estimated 15.5% of net emissions between 2008 and 2009. Enteric fermentation, primarily from cattle and sheep, contributed 64.4% of agricultural emissions. Manure management contributed 3.9%.

Worldwide, livestock and meat production have also been identified as major contributors to intensive water use, high phosphorus use (another urgent and overlooked), land degradation and threats to food yields and loss of biodiversity.

Adverse health consequences such as cardiovascular diseases and some cancers are associated with high meat diets. McMichael et. al, writing in The Lancet (2007), reported: “A substantial contraction in meat consumption in high-income countries should benefit health, mainly by reducing the risk of ischaemic heart disease (especially related to saturated fat in domesticated animal products), obesity, colorectal cancer, and, perhaps, some other cancers.” Ethical concerns about the treatment of animals are also part of the meat consumption debate.

The Lancet report above proposes an international contraction and convergence strategy to reduce the average consumption of animal products. High-consuming countries lower their consumption in order to allow low-consuming countries an increase in animal product consumption.

The Lancet authors propose 90g of meat per day as a working global target with “not more than 50g per day coming from red meat from ruminants”.

The 1998 to 1999 ABS apparent consumption figures suggest average meat consumption is 304g per day, of which at least 126g is from beef and lamb (see also, Sustainable and secure food systems for Victoria).

The 1995 to 1996 National Nutrition Survey recorded men and women eating an average of 158g of meat (lamb, beef, veal, pig and poultry) per day. Of the 158g per day, 114g was from lamb, beef, veal and pig. With poultry included, men consumed on average, 200g, and women, 116g.

Looking at the ABS total red meat and livestock slaughter figures suggests numbers are still high. The correlating consumption figures would in all probability not have diminished at the rate the contraction and convergence strategy recommends.

The good news is that your meal does not have to be spoilt by the act of reducing meat consumption. Vegetarianism is not going to be embraced by everybody, but we can learn to enjoy other protein foods and reach a level of meat eating that offers equity, health and environmental benefits. There are many ways to do this. You can go vegetarian once a week – the highly effective Meat Free Monday campaign has been proven to enlighten people on life beyond meat and even improve business for participating food suppliers and hospitality organisations. Taking a “flexitarian” approach means incorporating more vegetarian meals into the diet. You can eat more Novel Protein Foods (or “fake meat”) where plant proteins are partially substituted for meat proteins in ground meat and processed meat products.

Technological and structural mitigation options such as changes in feeding, breeding and managing animals to keep N2O and CH4 emissions down applied to the meat and livestock industry could reduce greenhouse gases by 15 to 20%. But these innovations are unlikely to achieve the deep emission cuts that are needed. There is a strong case for also reducing consumption of livestock and meat products to help reduce greenhouse gases – and many other impacts.

With the evidence so clear of the link between heavy consumption of red meat and adverse environmental and health impacts, it is important to ask why this issue has not been on the table to date.

There are a number of possible reasons, all of which can be countered. First, the diet and environment issue has been hijacked by a polarized debate between meat eaters and vegetarians as if there are only two options available. While vegetarianism embraces important and noble ethical concerns, environmentally, there is a road in between.

Second, industry and lobby groups have traditionally had much economic and political power. They push heavy consumption and meat marketing campaigns which target our insecurities, attempting to convince us our brain development is linked to hearty meat intake. Religious and cultural associations are definitely there as well but the sacrificial lamb was just that – a special offering that was not delivered every day.

Sustainable Food Matters editor, blogger and writer, Judith Friedlander, is a journalist and post-graduate university researcher.  She draws upon her background as newspaper editor and feature writer with The Australian, The Sun-Herald and The Sydney Morning Herald and television producer and researcher (Down to Earth documentary and Channel Nine, Sydney).  At the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney, she is currently examining the role of the media in contributing to successful environmental campaigns. Visit her blog at Sustainable Food Matters.

4.0 ·
1
Trending Today
Globalization Makes No Sense
Chris Agnos · 29,976 views today · When I lived in San Francisco, I often would marvel at the movement of goods through the ports across the bay in Oakland. Full container ships would enter the bay one after...
Proof of Evolution That You Can Find on Your Body
4 min · 14,860 views today · Vestigial structures are evolution's leftovers — body parts that, through inheritance, have outlived the context in which they arose. Some of the most delightful reminders of...
The Most Astounding Fact about the Universe
3 min · 4,161 views today · This is Neil Degrasse Tyson's response when asked to describe the most astounding fact about the universe. Background music is the cinematic orchestra - To build a home.
Stunning Small Homes Form Part of a Communal Compound for Best Friends
Lighter Side · 3,518 views today · If you’re lucky enough to have longtime friends even as an adult, then you know probably already know how much it means to be able to spend time together. Maybe you even have a...
To Change Everything, Start Everywhere
8 min · 2,731 views today · To Change Everything, Start Everywhere! The case for complete self-determination—a guide for the furious, the curious, and the pure of heart. To Change Everything: An...
Transition From Caterpillar to Butterfly as Analogy for Social Change
4 min · 2,519 views today · An exceprt from Crossroads: Labor Pains of a New Worldview in which Dr. Bruce Lipton talks about the fractal nature of reality and compares the current global awakening and the...
The London Anarchist Group Squatting Mansions to Fight Homelessness
6 min · 2,391 views today · London squatting activists ANAL (Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians) are squatting empty multi-million pound buildings and opening them up to the homeless.
The Foiled Bomb Plot in Kansas That Didn't Make Trump's Terror List
5 min · 2,313 views today · When a plot by a pro-white militia to bomb a Somali mosque in Kansas was foiled by the FBI last October, the aborted conspiracy received little national coverage - nor did it...
How Norway Avoided Becoming a Fascist State
George Lakey · 2,310 views today · Instead of falling to the Nazi party, Norway broke through to a social democracy. Their history shows us polarization is nothing to despair over.
Where the Term "Redneck" Came From
15 min · 2,248 views today · If you don't know this story, you'll never look at the word the same again.  This is just a window into the sometimes shocking, subversive and untold history of the United...
From Sanctuary City to Liberated City
Frank Lara · 2,205 views today · In just one week, with several strokes of a pen, Trump unleashed upon the working class in the U.S. an attack not seen in decades. From his attack on the flawed Affordable Care...
Without Saying a Word This 6 Minute Clip From Samsara Will Make You Speechless
6 min · 2,123 views today · Can you put this video into words? It's a clip from the phenomenal documentary Samsara, directed by Ron Fricke, who also made Baraka.  If you're interested in watching...
Michael Moore Wants to Help You Find Your Next Anti-Trump Protest
Sarah Ruiz-Grossman · 1,880 views today · The Resistance Calendar lists upcoming rallies across the country.
The Fire Within
Words by Sophie Scholl - Illustrations by Gavin Aung Than · 1,374 views today · Sophie Scholl (1921-1943) was a German activist who is famous for speaking out against the Nazi regime. Scholl was a member of a protest group called The White Rose, which...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 1,360 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 1,065 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
10 Words Every Girl Should Learn
Soraya Chemaly · 965 views today · "Stop interrupting me."  "I just said that." "No explanation needed." In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 773 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Redneck Revolt Presents: A Message to the Patriot Movement
6 min · 759 views today · Over the past few weeks, Redneck Revolt has been communicating with a former member of a III% Patriot Militia based out of Ohio. Peter made contact with our organization after...
Voices of Standing Rock
49 min · 581 views today · Short stories told by water protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Part 1 - Introduction: Since mid-August 2016, thousands have set up camp near the Standing Rock Sioux...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
Why aren't we talking about meat and climate change?