Meat misconceptions continue to be spread

Meat misconceptions continue to be spread

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It seems as though everywhere you turn at the moment, livestock and meat consumption are being vilified like there is no tomorrow.

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Agribusiness lawyer Trent Thorne says it sometimes feels like meat eaters are being turned into social pariahs.

Agribusiness lawyer Trent Thorne says it sometimes feels like meat eaters are being turned into social pariahs.

It seems as though everywhere you turn at the moment, livestock and meat consumption are being vilified like there is no tomorrow.

Each week seems to bring a new threat or outrage, with meat eaters being turned into social pariahs. I have seen suggestions that eating meat should be made illegal, with offenders thrown in jail or be treated like smokers and have to sit outside restaurants.

A key claim underlying these arguments holds that globally, meat production generates more greenhouse gases (GHG) than the entire transportation sector. However, this claim is demonstrably wrong, and continues to be run in the mainstream press.

According to the US EPA, the largest sources of US GHG emissions in 2016 were electricity production (29 per cent of total emissions), transportation (28pc) and industry (22pc). All of agriculture accounted for 9pc, and animal ag contributed just 3.9pc of total US GHG emissions. That's very different from claiming livestock represents more than transportation.

Why the misconception? Well, in 2006 the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation published a study titled Livestock's Long Shadow, which received widespread international attention. It stated that livestock produced a staggering 18pc of the world's GHG emissions. The agency drew a startling conclusion: livestock was doing more to harm the climate than all modes of transportation combined.

This claim was wrong, and has since been corrected by the FAO, but it had already received widespread coverage and we are still struggling to walk back this claim.

Many people continue to think avoiding meat as infrequently as once a week will make a significant difference to the climate. But according to a recent study, even if Americans eliminated all animal protein from their diets, they would only reduce US GHG emissions by 2.6pc. Further, if the practice of Meatless Monday were to be adopted by all Americans, it would only see a reduction of 0.5pc to US emissions.

Moreover, technological, genetic and management changes that have taken place in ag over the past 70 years have made livestock production more efficient and less greenhouse gas-intensive. According to the FAO's statistical database, total direct GHG emissions from US livestock have declined 11.3pc since 1961, while production of livestock meat has more than doubled.

Land use per unit of beef varies significantly by region. It has been estimated that globally only 2pc of the cattle population is produced in feedlots, with the remaining 98pc being produced on grasslands, or mixed crop and livestock systems. Grass and rangelands make up 80pc of the 2.5 billion hectares of land used for livestock production, and most of this land is considered too marginal to be convertible to cropland.

Hypothetically removing ruminants from this non-arable land would mean that 57pc of the land currently used for livestock production would no longer contribute to global food production.

Anti-meat messaging is coming from all angles, but the reality is, eating meat is not really the problem, and giving it up could cause more harm than good.

Recently 14 global cities committed to the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration, to promote and preserve the health of citizens and the health of the planet. The mayors of these cities will work with their citizens to achieve a 'Planetary Health Diet' for all by 2030, and use their procurement powers to change what kind of food cities buy, and introduce policies that make low-carbon food affordable and accessible for all.

I am not exactly sure how these mayors will achieve this - it seems like a pretty quick way to get voted out of office by directing people what they can and cannot buy in terms of their food.

We simply cannot allow this creeping form of totalitarianism to take hold here or overseas - it certainly is not any sort of world that I want to live in.

I lament this food paranoia - remember taste, and eating for the sheer, simple joy of eating. Isn't there already enough guilt in a donut - or do we have to add a dollop of carbon consciousness into the mix too?

We seem to constantly forget that we are blessed to live in a country where we have limitless, safe food options - a first world problem if ever there was one! So in summary, don't feel guilty eating meat - I certainly don't!

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