Growing global meat consumption threatens to derail the Paris Agreement, but that hasn’t stopped the meat industry insisting it is part of the solution to climate change.
In February last year, the head of a leading global meat industry body gave a “pep talk” to his colleagues at an Australian agriculture conference.
“It’s a recurring theme that somehow the livestock sector and eating meat is detrimental to the environment, that it is a serious negative in terms of the climate change discussions,” Hsin Huang, Secretary General of the International Meat Secretariat (IMS), told his audience. But the sector, he insisted, could be the “heroes in this discussion” if it wanted to.
“We cannot continue business as we have done in the past,” he went on. “If we are not proactive in helping to convince the public and policymakers in particular, who have an impact on our activities – if we are not successful in convincing them of the benefits that we bring to the table, then we will be relegated to has-beens.”
Huang’s speech points to an industry nervous about its role in a carbon-constrained future. In the face of mounting evidence of the livestock industry’s climate impacts and a growing array of meat alternatives, the sector has developed a multi-pronged PR strategy that seeks to legitimise not only the industry’s current activities but also its plans to scale up production — despite clear warnings from scientists that this could scupper efforts to meet climate targets.
DeSmog conducted a five-month investigation into the meat industry’s PR and lobbying, reviewing hundreds of documents and statements by companies and trade associations. Our research shows how the industry seeks to portray itself as a climate leader by:
- Downplaying the impact of livestock farming on the climate;
- Casting doubt on the efficacy of alternatives to meat to combat climate change;
- Promoting the health benefits of meat while overlooking the industry’s environmental footprint;
- Exaggerating the potential of agricultural innovations to reduce the livestock industry’s ecological impact.
This article was published alongside new additions to DeSmog’s Agribusiness Database, where you can find a record of companies and organisations’ current messaging on climate change, lobbying around climate action, and histories of climate science denial.
The Climate Impact of Meat
Today’s meat industry is dominated by a few multinational giants, including JBS, Tyson Foods, Vion, and Danish Crown, with access to markets across the world. In step with rising global demand, meat production has more than quadrupled in the past sixty years.