Friday, September 06, 2019

Critics say movement to eat less meat distorts science

Agriculture, especially cattle, is a main contributor to climate change, accounting for almost a quarter of annual greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide. In the United States, where the average person eats four times more beef than people in other countries, environmentalism is often cited as a reason to cut back on or eschew eating beef entirely and has helped spur some fast-food chains to offer vegetarian meat analogues. "But a rising chorus of farming advocates says that notion gets it wrong, or at best only partly right," Lynne Curry writes for The New Food Economy.

Nutritionist Diana Rodgers, who produces organic vegetables and pasture-raised meats on her farm, is frustrated with anti-meat messaging. She wrote on her blog recently that it comes from all angles, including the media, medical experts, international organizations, and sometimes city governments, Curry reports. Rodgers, who is working on a documentary urging better—not less—meat consumption, is an outspoken critic of meat reduction campaigns.

"In January, she railed against the Eat Lancet Commission’s 'diet for planetary health,' which suggested a dramatic reduction to about 1.5 ounces of animal protein per day. She agrees with many nutritionists who assert that meat is an irreplaceable, nutrient-dense food group, especially for children, women and at-risk populations," Curry reports. Meat analogues are often highly processed, expensive, and nutrient-poor, but are marketed as "cleaner, more virtuous, healthier," Rodgers said. "It's the biggest form of greenwashing there is today."

Andrew Gunther, executive director of sustainable livestock farming organization A Greener World, told Curry that the simplified view is dangerous: "If we thought the soil, air and water could be fixed by a single solution, we’d advocate for that." Rancher Ariel Greenwood, who co-owns grassland sustainability consulting company Grass Nomads LLC, said the notion of eating less beef to save the earth is "asinine" because it ignores the significant possible variations in beef production.

Vegetarian rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman objected on different grounds: "My strongest objection to environmental and public health advocates using the slogan 'eat less meat' is that it is extremely alienating to farmers and ranchers," she told Curry. "We need far more intelligent conversations about climate change’s connection to food, agriculture and health."

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