Don’t blame meat for the climate crisis, say European livestock farmers

Meat and farmed animals are wrongly blamed for the climate crisis without considering their benefits for society, argues a new campaign launched by the livestock industry in Europe.

Billboards have begun to appear this week in Brussels metro stations together with a social media campaign #meatthefacts. The adverts are being funded by European Livestock Voice, which is backed by organisations representing EU farmers, foie gras producers and the fur and leather industry.

We believe this campaign is necessary in order to address misinformation,” said a spokesperson for Livestock Voice. The group wants people “to think about the whole picture and all the consequences that simplistic speeches calling, for instance, for a ‘drastic reduction of livestock’ could have on Europe’s rural areas and on society in general.”

The campaign group says the current debate around meat and livestock has been one-sided, and livestock’s contribution to biodiversity, bioenergy and the rural economy overlooked. “An EU without livestock would not only lose locally produced food, but also essential habitats and biodiversity. It would also mean increased fires, lack of natural fertiliser and green energy, and a rural exodus,” it says.

Europeans eat more than twice as much meat as experts recommend. A report last year called for a 40–50% reduction in the size of Europe’s meat and livestock sector to reduce its environmental footprint.

Research published in Nature journal last year concluded that beef consumption in western countries needs to fall by 90% in order to avoid dangerous climate change. The livestock sector is believed to be responsible for a minimum of 14.5% of global carbon emissions.

But the new campaign group said that the livestock sector accounts for less than 6% of the EU’s total climate emissions.

Replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives is not the universal solution to climate change, it maintains, as alternative foodstuffs have environmental footprints of their own. Replacing fossil fuels with green alternatives was a more effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they said.

Michael Lee, professor in sustainable agriculture at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world, said current eating habits were not sustainable, but livestock still had an important role to play.

“Complete removal of livestock would be a disaster for agriculture sustainability, the long-term environment due to loss of grassland, rural communities and for human health as not every vegan can be a selective nutritionist. Equally our current consumption levels are a disaster – with growing obesity and environmental damage due to high levels of emissions.

“The solution lies in a more plant-dominated diet but with a modest amount of high-quality livestock product (as part of a circular economy) – which is valued for the key nutrients it contains, its soil-improving properties and the landscape we all want to support and live in,” he said.

A spokesperson for the European Livestock Voice said:

“It is well known that a section of the European population over consume animal products, but there is no evidence to suggest that reducing production will lead to any decrease in consumption. The consequences of a drastic reduction on consumption of animal products by replacing them with ‘meat substitutes’ or other activities could well be worse than the benefits of meat consumption, without leading to a significant environmental or health improvement.”