Barack Obama has given his support to efforts to curb the world’s growing appetite for meat, warning that global food policy needs to change in order to deal with runaway climate change.
Pointing out that it can be difficult for people to make a link between what they eat and our warming world, he told the Global Food Innovation Summit in Milan: “I think people naturally understand that big smokestacks have pollution in them and they understand air pollution, so they can easily make the connection between energy production and the idea of greenhouse gases. People aren’t as familiar with the impact of cows and methane, unless you’re a farmer.”
However the former US president acknowledged that farmers in the US did not take kindly to being dictated to by politicians, nor indeed the powerful American agriculture lobby, which is resistant to anything that harms food businesses’ bottom lines – even if that was action to prevent the planet being destroyed.
Yet it is often the politicians themselves who are resistant – in some extreme cases even pulling forcefully in the opposite direction. Last week the White House’s current occupant, Donald Trump, announced that America would leave the groundbreaking Paris climate change agreement signed last year by his predecessor. Obama has condemned the decision, saying Trump’s administration had joined “a small handful of nations that reject the future”.
While recognising that meat-eating is on the rise, as rapidly industrialising countries adopt the diet and farming practices of richer western nations, Obama told his Milan audience: “That doesn’t mean that we can’t teach you and me to have a smaller steak, for our own health. It doesn’t mean we can’t make progress in educating the advanced world about the need to reduce, just for dietary reasons, the amount of meat that we consume at any given meal.”
Closer to home, in response to a letter from MFM founder Paul McCartney, London mayor Sadiq Khan has also backed meat reducing. Khan told Paul that a new food strategy for the capital “will include a focus on ways in which London can reduce the environmental impact of its food system, including through healthy eating. One of its priorities will be how we can use the economic, health and environmental potential of food procurement across London to make Londoners healthier, including through eating less meat.”