One of the major talking points on climate change in recent years have been this: People should cut back on eating meat, as it will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute toward slowing down climate change.
That’s an attractive thought. Simply change your eating habits and help save the planet.
But is it true? Certainly, there have been reports that have said so. For example, a recent report called the “Great Food Transformation” suggested that meat consumption (along with sugar consumption) should drop by 50% in the United States and also cut back around the world. It calls for educating the public or even eventually eliminating consumer choice when it comes to meat.
The report and other “planetary diet” ideas have spawned headlines such as, “Eating Red Meat Is Wreaking Havoc on Earth. So, Stop It!”
But is it “wreaking havoc”?
The Other Side of the Story
Does cattle ranching really produce so much greenhouse gas that it poses a threat to the future? Clearly, some think so, which has led to the call in some quarters to eat less beef. Of course, people are typically referring to large-scale, industrial cattle ranching when they make this connection.
But even given that, there are those who have come forward to point out flaws in the “cattle are causing climate change” theory.
In a piece published in Newsweek,. Frank M. Mitloehner, a professor of Animal Science and Air Quality Extension Specialist at the University of California, Davis, questioned some of the conclusions reached by scientists.
Specifically, he targeted the claim that around the world, meat production creates more greenhouse gases than the transportation sector. “This claim is demonstrably wrong,” Mitloehner wrote. “And its persistence has led to false assumptions about the linkage between meat and climate change.”
The report that helped start the movement against meat - “Livestock’s Long Shadow” from the United Nations - miscalculated the impact of agriculture, using a different formula than the one used for transportation. While considering every phase of cattle farming, the report failed to do the same with transportation, ignoring the impact of manufacturing vehicle materials and parts, assembling vehicles and maintaining roads, bridges and airports, according to Mitloehner.
The scientists at the UN have since admitted the error, but, as Mitloehner points out, it’s hard to un-ring a bell.
Our own government in the United States contradicts the claims made by those who want to eliminate or radically reduce meat consumption. According to numbers from the Environmental Protection Agency, the following are the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions associated with human activities in the U.S.
The percentage numbers are the percentage that activity contributed to overall greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2017.
- Transportation (28.9%)
- Electricity production (27.5%)
- Industry (22.2%)
- Commercial buildings and residential homes (11.6%)
- Agriculture (9%)
Based on these numbers, there are four other areas that need addressing before agriculture.
Others have pointed out that the sustainable farming methods used in places such as Acabonac Farms are actually the pathway to a better future. This includes methods that lead to soil sequestration of carbon, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere.
British farmer Isabella Tree wrote a piece for The Guardian detailing her issues with the anti-meat movement, including how small farms actually protect the environment with rotational grazing.
For example, she noted that many of the plants grown for a vegan diet require “fertilizer, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides,” something not used by the sustainable, small farm movement.
Both food and climate change are issues with passionate people on both sides. Before deciding to forego meat, people who like to eat beef should investigate all sides of the debate before reaching a decision.