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Industry professionals exposed as supporters of pro-meat “scientists’ declaration”

The Guardian has uncovered that a statement signed by over 1,000 scientists advocating for meat production and consumption is closely connected to the livestock industry. This statement has been utilized to influence top EU officials to oppose environmental and health policies, and has received support from the EU agriculture commissioner.

The “Dublin Declaration” emphasizes the importance of livestock in society and cautions against oversimplification, reductionism, and extremism. It also advocates for a well-rounded perspective on the future of animal agriculture. A co-author of the declaration, who is an economist, has referred to veganism as a psychological disorder that requires treatment.

The announcement was released one year prior, yet did not disclose its origin. The majority of its proponents seem to be experts in the fields of animal, agricultural, and food sciences.

Records obtained by Unearthed, a journalism project by Greenpeace UK, and reviewed by the Guardian, reveal strong connections between the development, introduction, and promotion of the declaration and the livestock industry and its advisors.

Environmental scientists consider the declaration and related research to be “propaganda.” According to Professor Matthew Hayek from New York University, the general agreement among scientists is that regions with the means to do so should make a swift reduction in meat consumption.

Research published in top scientific publications has determined that reducing the consumption of meat and dairy in affluent nations is the most effective means of lessening an individual’s impact on the environment. Furthermore, it has been established that addressing the climate crisis cannot be achieved without implementing these dietary changes. It is worth noting that individuals in developed countries already consume more meat than what is recommended by health guidelines.

The European Union had been implementing strategies to decrease meat consumption for the sake of the environment and public health, but a few of these efforts have recently been abandoned.

‘Dietary comedy’

The Dublin Declaration was announced at a conference organized by Teagasc, the Irish government’s agriculture and food agency, in October 2022. The event had a price tag of €45,000. The declaration states that animal-based foods are the most accessible source of protein and that properly managed livestock systems can bring about various advantages such as carbon storage, improved soil quality, biodiversity, and protection of watersheds.

In April, a special edition of the academic journal Animal Frontiers was published, with the support of Prof Dr Peer Ederer and Prof Dr Frederic Leroy as guest editors. The declaration was initiated by a six-member organizing committee, of which both professors were a part.

According to recent posts on social media, Ederer, who manages the Global Food and Agribusiness Network (GFAN), believes that veganism can be classified as an “eating disorder” and should be treated with psychological intervention. He also compared it to the notorious Heaven’s Gate cult.

He has also expressed disapproval for the EU’s “climate hysterical policies” and in 2020 delivered a presentation for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the UK’s most prominent group of climate skeptics, where he stated that cows are not to blame for any climate change.

Teagasc released emails related to the declaration through the freedom of information guidelines. One email, sent by Collette Kaster, a member of the organizing committee and chief executive of the American Meat Science Association, referred to Ederer as the “main writer” of the declaration despite his denial.

Ranchers load feed pens for cattle on a farm in Marabá, Pará state, Brazil

According to him, the group of 36 scientists who wrote articles for the Animal Frontiers special edition are responsible for the declaration. After being contacted by the Guardian, Ederer added information about the authorship on the declaration website. He also mentioned that they had not previously disclosed any potential conflicts of interest, which is standard practice in science, but they have now addressed this issue.

“I work with clients in the livestock industry,” stated Ederer. “The focus on whether certain researchers have clients from the private sector is, in my opinion and that of many others, entirely meaningless because conflict of interest does not exist in research.” He clarified that no one received payment for their participation in the Dublin meeting or declaration.

Leroy is an expert in food science at Vrije Universiteit Brussels and also serves as the president of the Belgian Association of Meat Science and Technology. He has referred to plant-based meat substitutes as “dietary comedy”, proposed that environmental activists would secretly relish a catastrophic event, and criticized politicians who support green policies as “out-of-touch, virtue-signalling simpletons”.

The largest agricultural organization in the EU, Copa Cogeca, states that it is in favor of a campaign promoting livestock information led by Leroy. According to documents, Leroy communicated about the declaration with Copa Cogeca. Requests for comment from Leroy were unanswered.

Polish beef

The statement contains similar content and ideas as a stance paper created for the 2021 UN food systems summit by numerous organizations, including nine private industry associations such as the International Meat Secretariat, International Poultry Council, and International Dairy Federation. Ederer stated, “The private industry associations had limited involvement in the document.”

Declan Troy, an assistant director at Teagasc and a member of the Dublin organising committee, mentioned in an email that certain members had connections to the meat industry, which is also the case for Teagasc.

The representative for Teagasc stated that agreements with food companies explicitly state that they will not have any control over the dissemination of research findings or knowledge transfer programs. The AMSA, represented by Kaster on the committee, is an organization composed of meat scientists and funded by major meat producers worldwide.

The Dublin Declaration website is run by an organization focused on meat industry research, known as the International Meat Research G3 Foundation. This foundation is registered at the same address in Warsaw as the Polish Beef Association (PBA) and is led by the PBA’s president.

The statement was publicly endorsed by the Global Meat Alliance, a group funded by the industry, and the public relations firm Red Flag, which has previously worked with the North American Meat Institute and the US National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Ederer stated that he was unaware of who compensated Red Flag.

‘Fossil fuel playbook’

The statement affirms that consuming meat, dairy, and eggs as part of a balanced diet is beneficial for humans, supported by strong evidence. It also warns that significantly reducing livestock numbers could lead to widespread environmental issues.

The statement cites seven papers that were published in the April 2023 special edition of Animal Frontiers. This journal is considered the official publication of the World Association for Animal Production (WAAP) and is funded by four animal science societies, including AMSA. Kaster is a member of the journal’s management board. WAAP also mentions that industry representatives are involved in its activities.

Ederer and Leroy, serving as guest editors, were responsible for the content of the journal. Ederer acknowledged that the special issue was a collaborative effort of all six members of the Dublin organizing committee.

According to Prof Peter Smith, a lead author on eight reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Dublin Declaration appears to be biased towards the livestock industry rather than based on objective scientific findings. This undermines the credibility of independent scientific publishing and goes against the goal of promoting open discussion. Protecting the integrity of scientific research is paramount.

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Smith considered the declaration and Animal Frontiers studies to be highly flawed and biased in their approach. He is collaborating with other professionals to create a thorough counterargument. One of his points is that they make sweeping conclusions based on evidence that only pertains to a small portion of livestock worldwide, while ignoring the significant and pressing issues of public health and environmental damage caused by livestock.

Hayek stated that based on the last 20 years of unbiased and reviewed evidence, it is evident that the current methods of producing and consuming meat are not sustainable and are continuously increasing.

He stated, “It is acceptable to question scientific consensus, but it must be backed by substantial, original, and reliable evidence. Unfortunately, the Animal Frontiers publication does not meet these criteria.” According to Hayek, several of the articles are simply biased overviews that repeat and reevaluate previous arguments.

According to Prof Jennifer Jacquet from the University of Miami in the US, the Dublin Declaration is yet another example of the livestock industry using strategies similar to those of the fossil fuel industry to resist taking action against climate change. It aims to use the academic community and its institutions to diminish the significance of livestock in contributing to climate change.

The management board of Animal Frontiers released a statement stating that the journal publishes discussion and position papers regarding important global issues in animal agriculture from an international standpoint. All authors are required to disclose any potential conflicts of interest upon submitting their work.

In June 2023, Leroy and Ederer expressed their concerns in a published letter in the journal Nature Food about exaggerated arguments against meat production and consumption. They also brought attention to the Dublin Declaration and Animal Frontiers papers.

A group of 16 scientists recently published a rebuttal in the same journal, stating that the previous letter made unsupported claims and overlooked research that highlights the conflict between current and predicted levels of animal product consumption and the need to align our economy with the Earth’s physical limits.

Winking face emoji

The Dublin Declaration has been utilized in an attempt to sway high-ranking officials in the EU. Ederer and colleagues shared the contents of the declaration at a PBA meeting in Warsaw in January 2023, where Janusz Wojciechowski, the EU’s agricultural commissioner, and his team were present. Wojciechowski had previously shown support for the declaration on social media in October, praising it as “a valuable addition to the ongoing discussions in the EU.”

According to the Global Meat Alliance (GMA), the meeting was deemed successful and significant in making sure that the evidence presented at the Dublin summit is seen by the European commissioner. The GMA’s representative, Ederer, reported that the meeting was productive. The author of the blog post shared that they had watched the meeting through Zoom while enjoying a glass of wine and a sizeable steak.

Janusz Wojciechowski, the EU’s agricultural commissioner

Soon after the conference in Warsaw, Ederer sent a message to Leroy, Troy, and the other members of the organizing committee. He mentioned that he had spoken with the head of the commissioner’s cabinet and their press coordinator. Both individuals expressed that the Dublin summit and its declaration were the first pieces of usable science they had received in their four years of commission work. They were highly impressed with the clarity and depth of our scientific evidence, as well as its relevance. They also offered their support for any future events we may want to organize, particularly in Brussels. It seems that we are making progress in the right direction.

In April, a declaration was promoted in Brussels by the Animal Task Force (ATF), a group supported by the industry. Leroy stated that the event’s focus was on the Brussels EU bubble.

During email exchanges prior to the meeting, Leroy proposed including ATF due to its reputation as a “network of scientists”. Ana Granados Chapatte, representing industry organizations as an ATF vice president, supported the idea, stating that it would maintain the event’s scientific nature and prevent it from being influenced by the private sector or NGOs for their own gain. She ended her statement with a winking face emoji.

According to Chapatte’s statement to the Guardian, the ATF is a collaboration between public research and the private sector. Its purpose is to establish research and innovation priorities for European Commission programs that aim to improve sustainability in the livestock industry. The focus is on engaging with EU policymakers and stakeholders in Brussels.

Indefinite delay

In November 2022, the top agricultural and food organizations in the EU sent a letter to Wojciechowski, utilizing the Dublin Declaration, to oppose a proposal to cease public funding for promoting red meat. The EU has allocated significant funds towards promoting meat and dairy products, but the decision to discontinue this funding is currently at a standstill in Brussels.

The statement was also brought to the attention of the European Commission’s panel of leading scientific advisors while they were providing guidance on transitioning towards sustainable food consumption.

The European Union’s legislation on sustainable food systems was originally planned to be released in September, but has now been abandoned. According to Marco Contiero, the EU policy director on agriculture for Greenpeace, this commission initially showed a strong dedication to food and farming, but ultimately achieved very little.

Olga Kikou, a member of the organization Compassion in World Farming, stated that the commission appears to have changed its stance on reforming the EU agriculture policy. She believes that there should be increased transparency regarding the use of tools like the Dublin Declaration.

According to Contiero, refusing to decrease livestock production and consumption is equivalent to endorsing significant deforestation, extensive loss of biodiversity, and an inevitable disruption of our climate.

Source: theguardian.com