Faced with a fusillade of expert opinion that cutting back on meat consumption is a climate imperative, America’s meat and dairy industry is on the defensive, interfering in efforts to promote climate-friendly school lunches and stymying state efforts to promote green purchasing.
Organizations like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association are feeling the heat, reports InsideClimate News, as more of the public becomes concerned about meat-based diets.
The flurry of research releases began last October, with a study in the journal Nature that cited a global shift to plant-based diets as the only path to simultaneously meet the Paris climate goals and feed the 9.7 billion people expected to inhabit the Earth by 2050. In early January, a major report from the EAT-Lancet Commission concluded that only a “planetary health diet” in which red meat consumption was halved could ensure enough food production for close to 10 billion people—without killing the planet.
Then two more massive reports—a group effort which included the United Nations and the World Resources Institute, followed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change land use report in August—underscored the need to produce more food with far fewer emissions.
In all of these widely-disseminated reports, the message was the same: eat less meat and dairy, especially in the developed world.
As “global meat production has skyrocketed—by more than 370%—since 1960, straining resources and consuming land,” InsideClimate notes, livestock now account for about 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Two-thirds of that total comes from cattle. Yet demand for beef and dairy is expected to continue to soar, without “major shifts in consumption patterns”.
Currently the world’s largest producer of beef, at 27 billion pounds (12.25 million tonnes) in 2018, and with per capita consumption close to three times the global average, the United States is a major player in whatever happens next.
Recent efforts to bring the U.S. to the (plant foods-laden) table include the February effort by California Assembly member Adrin Nazarian to pass a bill “that would allocate US$3 million to give schools a rebate for increasing the number of plant-based meals they serve,” InsideClimate writes. When Nazarian first introduced it, the bill was called the California Climate-Friendly Food Program, and contained language that compared emissions from beef and dairy production with those from a plant-based diet. After the measure was blocked in its original form by California’s powerful beef and dairy lobby, the bill has progressed since June only with the removal of the comments about emissions—and after it was renamed the California School Plant-Based Food and Beverage Program.
Then in Maryland in July, America’s powerful beef and dairy interests forced the dissolution a state subcommittee after it “produced a list of carbon-intensive foods, which included beef and dairy,” on grounds that the group had been “operating with a political agenda,” InsideClimate notes. State officials involved in disbanding the committee wrote that “it has become very clear that these are complicated issues that require solutions beyond the scope of the subcommittee”.
Further complicating matters for the industry is the surging demand for plant-based alternatives to meat. “The number of vegans and vegetarians, especially among millennials, is small but rising, and many American consumers say they’re choosing to eat less meat,” ICN states.
With companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat currently “jockeying for shelf space in the meat sections of grocery stores and landing on the menu at fast food chains,” industry watchers are predicting a gigantic market for such plant-based alternatives to beef, “potentially reaching $100 billion” by 2035.