Big Tobacco spent decades dismissing the harm done by its products and talking down the science that showed it was time to kick a dangerous habit – and now Big Meat is doing the same. That’s the conclusion of an investigation into the dark arts used by the meat and livestock industry to protect its interests and grow its profits.
The five-year investigation by DeSmog, a Canada-based website that seeks to “clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science and solutions to climate change”, shows that global food brands are deploying a range of dodgy tactics to downplay or dispute the environmental imperative to curb meat eating. Its deep dive into what it calls “climate-washing” focuses on 10 companies, including Tyson, Vion, Danish Crown, AHDB and JBS, which supplies UK supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda, and is the focus of a Greenpeace campaign.
The tactics include underreporting the emissions associated with livestock and meat eating; using different emissions estimates to back up different claims; justifying the industry’s expansion by saying it is the only way to feed a growing global population; undermining meat-reducing or going meat free as an effective way of reducing emissions; and claiming future technofixes will be able to lower or eliminate the emissions associated with meat.
Many of the PR claims made by the food giants fly in the face of the facts around the destructive impact of meat eating. The Dutch company Vion, for example, claims that “eating less meat will not necessarily contribute to more sustainability”, when the leaked third part of the IPCC’s latest report warns that “a shift to diets with a higher share of plant-based protein … can lead to substantial reductions in emissions, while also providing health benefits”.
Similarly, America’s Animal Agriculture Alliance (AAA) has dismissed findings by the Eat-Lancet Report that the world needs to make significant cuts to its meat and dairy consumption as having “serious, negative consequences” for the health of the planet and people. France’s International Meat Secretariat (IMS) called it “elitist,” “biased,” and “not scientifically well-founded.”
Dr Jennifer Jacquet, an associate professor of environmental studies at New York University, who was interviewed for the investigation, said the meat industry had changed the way it advertised and lobbied since the publication in 2006 of the damning Food and Agriculture Organisation report Livestock’s Long Shadow.
Jacquet told The Independent: “Tobacco didn’t challenge the existence of lung cancer, but they kept denying and deflecting the causal link [with smoking] – and that’s what we’re seeing with beef and dairy. Beef and dairy don’t deny that climate change exists, but they are carrying out actions to try to convince us that the causal chain isn’t there.”Read Desmog’s investigation: How the Meat Industry is Climate-Washing its Polluting Business Model