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US meat lobby delighted at ‘positive’ prospects for industry after Cop28
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US meat lobby delighted at ‘positive’ prospects for industry after Cop28

Lobbyists for the world’s biggest meat companies have lauded a better than expected outcome at Cop28, which they say left them “excited” and “enthusiastic” for their industry’s prospects.

US livestock bosses reflected on the conference’s implication for their sector on a virtual panel, fresh from “sharing US agriculture’s story” at the climate summit in December.

Campaigners and climate scientists had hoped the summit, which was billed as a “Food Cop” because of its focus on farming, would result in governments agreeing to ambitious action to transform food systems in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

But while more than 130 governments vowed to tackle agriculture’s carbon footprint, a slew of announcements and initiatives failed to set binding targets, or to broach the question of reducing herds of ruminant livestock such as cattle and sheep, which are agriculture’s largest driver of emissions.

In the online discussion, which was hosted by the trade publication Feedstuffs, meat lobbyist groups made it clear they felt Cop28 resulted in a positive outcome.

The three representatives all said there had been widespread recognition at the Dubai summit that agriculture was a “solution” to the climate crisis, despite livestock accounting for more than 30% of anthropogenic methane emissions.

Outcomes at the summit were characterised as “far more positive … than we anticipated” by Constance Cullman, the president of the Animal Feed Industry Association (AFIA), a US lobby group whose members include some of the world’s biggest meat and animal feed producers.

She added that this was the first time she had “felt that optimistic” after a “large international gathering like this one”.

Cullman also praised the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s “Global Roadmap” to tackle the climate crisis and end hunger, which she described as “music to our ears”, saying she particularly welcomed the report’s emphasis on “production and efficiency” over “looking at reduced consumption of animal protein”.

Academics described the FAO report’s failure to recommend cuts to meat-eating as “bewildering” in a March submission to the journal Nature Food.

According to a March paper, which surveyed more than 200 environmental and agricultural scientists, meat and dairy production must be drastically reduced – and fast – to align with the Paris agreement.

The report concludes that global emissions from livestock production need to decline by 50% during the next six years, with “high-producing and consuming nations” taking the lead.

The FAO said in a statement that its roadmap took a “balanced” approach to animal agriculture, saying that its report had “acknowledged the importance of livestock for poor people in traditional agrifood systems” and referred to the need for dietary shifts.

“We believe that some comments on the change in diets and the role of animal products in them are either misinformed because people have not properly read the roadmap report, or deliberately disingenuous for the sake of feeding vested interests narratives,” it said.

Another industry panellist, Eric Mittenthal, had attended Cop28 on behalf of lobby group the Meat Institute (formerly the North American Meat Institute, or Nami). He emphasised the importance of sharing the message that animal agriculture was necessary for nutrition and sustainability.

The Meat Institute represents hundreds of corporations in the meat supply chain, including the meat sector’s three largestcompanies, JBS, Cargill and Tyson Foods, which together have emissions equal to a major oil company on the scale of BP or Shell.

Sophie Nodzenski, a senior campaign strategist on food and agriculture at Greenpeace International, said it was “unsurprising” that industrial meat producers felt positively about Cop28’s outcomes “given that their interests essentially took the central stage there”.

The number of lobbyists for big meat and dairy companies tripled at Cop28, as revealed by DeSmog and the Guardian, amid rising scrutiny of the food sector’s climate impact, while smallholders and family farmers at the summit said they felt “drowned out”.

“Cop28 has rightly put the spotlight on the link between food production and the climate crisis, but the sheer number of Big Ag lobbyists present gave them an outsized influence,” Nodzenski said.

Documents seen by DeSmog and the Guardian show that the meat industry was poised to “tell its story and tell it well” before and during the Dubai conference, which it described as a “notoriously challenging environment”.

Cop28 had promised to increase action on food systems transformation, but campaigners and experts said its declarations and reports fell far short of what was needed.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, speaks at Cop28’s Transforming Food Systems event.View image in fullscreen

On the second day of the summit, the leaders’ declaration on sustainable food systems, which was signed by more than 130 countries, committed to food systems transformation.

But while it was praised for moving food up the global climate agenda, the International Panel of Experts on Food Systems co-chair Lim Li Ching criticised the declaration for its “vague language” and noted the lack of any reference to “reducing overconsumption of industrially produced meat”.

The long-awaited FAO roadmap followed. While it proposed a 25% reduction in livestock methane emissions by 2030 to put the agriculture sector on track to reach global climate goals, it again failed to explicitly recommend a cut to meat and dairy consumption.

A reduction in “excess meat eating” – which is prevalent in high-income countries such as the US and UK – is a key recommendation of major scientific bodies, and has appeared in reports from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet commission.

The third Cop28 agreement that failed to tackle food system emissions was the “Global Stocktake”, in which agriculture was mentioned only in the context of adaptation to climate impacts, not mitigation, despite food systems making up around a third of greenhouse gas emissions overall.

Jamie Burr, a representative of the US Pork Board who spoke on Feedstuff’s panel, said he was “excited to see” the roadmap recognise efficiency as the best pathway to emissions reduction, going on to describe US agriculture as the “most efficient in the world”.

Industrial meat companies emphasise emissions intensity and efficiency over absolute cuts to emissions, or dietary shifts that would lead to a drop in production.

This is especially true in the US, where livestock methane emissions as reported to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have increased by about 5% since 2010 according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and have increased about 20% since 1990.

Cullman also welcomed the FAO’s proposals – including its plug for the role new technologies could play in bringing down methane emissions.

Numerous assessments have found that there is a role for efficiency and innovation to cut livestock emissions, although many technologies are unproven at scale. But to be effective, they should also be accompanied by a shift away from meat in diets, and, researchers caution, should not be used to delay demand-side policy.

Scrutiny of the FAO’s relationship with industry has grown in recent years. Last autumn, former officials said their work on livestock emissions had been censored because of pressure from industry and diplomats from large producer countries. Experts have called on the FAO for greater transparency, querying the lack of authors on the roadmap.

The FAO said: “The Global Roadmap has been developed with reference to and based on existing scientific and peer-reviewed publications. In no stage of the development of the roadmap were livestock industries consulted, or any inputs received from them.”

AFIA, Nami and the US Pork Board did not respond to a request for comment.

The meat lobbyists, whose industry enjoyed many routes to influence at the summit, also celebrated the cut-through of their message that industrial animal agriculture has an important role to play in addressing global hunger.

Cullman said that she was pleased to see there had been a “strong recognition” at Cop28 that animal products “had a real role in meeting the nutritional needs of folks around the globe”.

Burr added that Cops provided an opportunity for US agriculture groups to demonstrate how they “feed the world”, while Mittenthal said the Meat Institute had showcased how agriculture can be a “solution” for “healthy people and a healthy planet”.

A spokesperson for the Global Alliance for the Future of Food said the argument that industrial agriculture is “critical to address hunger” is one of the greatest “myths” shared by the industry.

As well as helping to drive global heating, which is undermining food security worldwide, the meat industry is also the leading driver of deforestation and ecosystem loss, while the overconsumption of animal products has been linked to a greater likelihood of developing illnesses such as heart disease.

Source: theguardian.com