VEGA News Item

Does the Meat Industry Pose a Credible Threat to the Environment? - 17/06/2010

73% Said No. Can that Mean that One in Four, for a Start, see the Need for Salutary Food from Salubrious Farming? and Want Change

1.  The special green issue of the Meat Trades Journal (14 May 2010) devotes its front page (now with liberal use of green ink, instead of a red emphasis) to the industry’s concern over “climate change:” the meat industry feels under siege when it comes to the environment, “with nearly three-quarters rejecting the idea that production poses a credible threat, and 75% believing the industry is being made into a scapegoat. Despite this, however, nearly 90% claim to have made some measures to tackle their own business’ environmental impact.” The figures “emerged following an MTJ survey of key decision-makers from across the sector to assess industry attitudes towards the environment.” The survey indicates little more than challenges, put in (probably prompted) questions that respondents would like to ignore or leave the garden lobbyists to forget, particularly when they face the prices at the grocers’ and butchers’).

2.  A key suggestion from green lobbyists has been to reduce consumption to tackle the meat trades’ impact on the environment, yet “80% of respondents rejected this concept, even if prices rose to compensate for lost volume – while 78% believed consumers would be unprepared to pay more for their meat.” Three-quarters of respondents said “food security was a more pressing problem than the environment. And while 74% claimed that the industry was taking green issues seriously, 72% of respondents said they did not know the carbon footprint of their business.”

3.  When it comes to responsibility for resolving the issue, the vast majority, 83%, said that “they would rather the industry took the initiative then wait for the government to step in.” However, 55% felt industry bodies and representatives were not doing enough to address the issues, and 59% felt the Eblex road map, which sets out the route for industry to follow to cut emissions, did not go far enough. Standard production methods are considered the best in environmental terms, with 47% of respondents backing them, and with free-range coming second at 19%.

4.  Industry leaders said the survey showed there was confusion within the industry when it came to the environment. Nick Allen, Eblex sector director, said that “the results of the survey….suggest many people in the industry do not fully understand all the issues. Whether people believe meat production contributes to climate change or not, we have very clear goals that we need to reach on reducing greenhouse emissions – 11% by 2020.”

5.  From the lambs, goats, and beef of EBLEX we can turn to the BMPA (British Meat Processors’ Association), director Stephen Rossides, who opined that “the survey showed the industry takes the issues seriously, but that there were messages in there for the industry’s sector groups.” It’s clear, he says, “that the industry feels misrepresented over environmental issues and this may partly explain why a small majority feel industry organizations need to do more. Initiatives like the Eblex coordinated roadmap are real actions, but the results of the survey suggest we need to maintain this work, but also publicise more widely what industry organizations are doing.”

6.  The World Wildlife Fund is a late entrant into the debate. Their Mark Driscoll elects to discover the slogans (“Grow Food, not Feed”) of our leaflet on Stern messages to meet the challenges of “cutting down on meat and dairy” and while professing a desire to design policies and to call upon (presumably he implies the government or coalition) means development of effecting the changes, he overlooks all the effort VEGA has put in, with its Portfolio of Eating Plans, to tackle the challenges in a seemly fashion and to the common good. However, this alliance and the tricks of others to appropriate our Campaign for Real Bread indicate that VEGA’s inspirations are beginning to gain acceptance and reinforcement. Our initiatives have been developed out of Green Planning, launched formally in 1976, to stimulate scientific research into matters of farming, food, health, and the land.

7.  Mark Driscoll, head of the WWF-UK’s One Plant Food Program, contributing to the MTJ’s report on its “exclusive survey,” states that “the industry cannot afford to deny its impact on the environment:” animal-based foods generally have large impacts on the environment because of the inefficiencies of converting feed into milk: the conversion efficiency of plant into animal matter is around 10%. Thus, there’s a prima facia case that more people could be supported from the same amount of land if they were vegetarians. However, the argument that “all meat consumption is bad” is far from black and white.  Yes, livestock consumption is a hot spot in terms of the UK’s food consumption footprint, so we cannot continue to consume the current levels of livestock products. Yet that doesn’t mean that every one needs to “go vegetarian” or “go vegan, says Mark Driscoll.”

8.  That nicely sets out the cogency of the message to “cut consumption of meat an dairy,” without frightening the markets and customers with words such as vegetarian and vegan – quite unfairly as it happens, but the shock is avoided or allayed by the practicable means that our Eating Plans demonstrate; moreover, the MTJ will have to give more effect to its readers’ adherence to some decencies in our treatment of the environment and the animals wild, feral, managed, and domesticated that share the crowded acres in the island to which our forebears migrated, settled, and “occupied”. Jobsworths who voice trite policies must show commitment, especially in cooperate conditions, to the reforms and changes they propose. It is certainly tricky to reconcile DEFRA’s worldly pronouncements on growing human populations (and their flocks andherds involved in food and feed production) with an unvarnished interpretation that in Northern Europe and America autochonous requirements for prudent and thrifty living connote a reduction in the live/deadstock industry.

9.  “Many in the industry will point to campaigns such as Sir Paul McCartney’s Meat-Free Monday, which continues to quote figures that have been declared unreliable and are under review.” However, despite feeling victimized, 74% of the industry is taking the issue seriously and 89% claim to have taken some measures to improve their business’ environmental impact, reiterates the MTJ.

10.  Sir Paul McCartney and some others – who command as many PR experts as David Cameron for their major reputations, it seems – have embarrassed reformers generally by ignoring that the reductions apply to meat and dairy, and that the latter are the easier for the public to grasp at any time or place – by replacing cow milk and dairy litre for litre, at home or in canteens, workplaces, conferences, etc; and especially in the corporate affairs of animal welfare and environmental organizations. Practising can now be much easier to apply with good education and PR. It also comprehends the commodities wrested in one way or another as co-products and by-products, such as clothing, from the cow. Unfortunately she and her calves have lacklustre guardians.

11.  Mark Driscoll and the WWF team remain committed to a restricted concept. “With the help of the Food Ethics Council we are exploring how to reduce consumption and in turn emissions, without penalizing producers, harming diets, or causing more problems than are solved. We are actively talking to a number of UK producer organizations about the findings of our research. Changing consumer buying habits takes time – look at how long semi-skimmed milk took to be accepted, and then become more popular than full fat (no longer dumped on the CAP’s costly butter mountains, but insinuated into any number of goodies, when vegetable oils are suitable). Or where were we 10 years ago with recycling?” Mark Driscoll calls Government Support “vital”, aided by a corps of ethicists. Britain may be groggy in many ways, but we need now well-informed leadership and self-discipline to achieve “green” aims: let him and Sir Paul and his family and other publicists reveal their ways of green living and cutting down on meat and dairy as personal testaments to their efforts at recycling and avoidance of waste.


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