You can use any insult you like, but I will continue to speak the truth about raising livestock. – George Monbiot
Challenging the use of fossil fuels is already difficult, but it becomes even more challenging when trying to oppose livestock farming. This industry also faces denial of science, spread of false information, and deceptive use of “green” tactics. However, it is further complicated by the incorporation of identity politics, longing for the past, macho attitudes, and vilification of alternative options. To tackle this issue, one must not only have a tough exterior, but also the armor of a glyptodon.
Every day, you will face criticism as a “soyboy” and a “hater of farmers”, accused of trying to force people to eat insects. You will be accused of undermining western society, destroying traditional masculinity, and jeopardizing public health. You will also be labeled as an opponent of Indigenous peoples, although typically not by Indigenous individuals themselves. This is due to the fact that livestock farming has historically been the main cause of land seizures, displacement, and destruction of Indigenous communities.
You will encounter opponents who advocate for paleo diets (with or without the use of anabolic steroids), “agrarian localists” who promote unrealistic ideas of sustaining modern populations with outdated production methods, and culinary traditionalism that can be seen in figures from Donald Trump to MasterChef. You will face not only a modern and ruthless form of demagoguery, but also a long-standing romanticization of pastoral living, reminiscent of the views held by Greek poets and Old Testament prophets. There is a strong, unspoken alliance between these two forces.
Often, you may be accused of being a pawn for the World Economic Forum (a target of various conspiracy theories), or a puppet of corporate or institutional power, working for plant-based meat, precision fermentation, Big Lettuce, or Big Bug, all depicted as monstrous giants crushing traditional businesses. However, this is simply projection. From 2015 to 2020, financial institutions invested $478 billion in meat and dairy companies, while only $5.9 billion was invested in plant-based and other alternatives from 2010 to 2020. Surprisingly, the livestock industry receives about 1,000 times more government funding in the EU and US than alternative products. This includes significantly more money for research and innovation, despite the fact that meat and dairy are well-established industries and alternatives are still in their early stages of development. Why? Because the livestock industry has strong political ties.
As much as we may want to avoid it, we cannot ignore the significance of this sector. The effects of livestock farming are extensive and severe, including destruction of habitats on a global scale, killing of predators, pollution of rivers and air, creation of dead zones in the ocean, development of antibiotic resistance, and release of greenhouse gases. This industry, along with fossil fuels, is among the most harmful on our planet.
The likelihood of a rational discussion between opposing sides is extremely low. This is not by chance, but rather a deliberate outcome of the meat industry’s manipulation tactics similar to those used by the tobacco industry, and the creation of cultural conflicts. Skillful messaging triggers men who are fixated and anxious about their masculinity, leading to fears of “feminization” and a loss of power. The industry perpetuates false claims about livestock’s ability to heal the land and offset more greenhouse gases than it emits. These efforts are reinforced by a deluge of misinformation from far-right influencers on social media. While many people have become aware of the deceptive practices of the fossil fuel industry, there is less recognition of the equally deceptive tactics used by the livestock industry.
At Cop28, the focus was on addressing the effects of the food system, making it the first climate summit to do so. However, 120 lobbyists from the meat and dairy industry undermined the efforts, resulting in no significant progress being made.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations presented a report at the summit that was alarming even for an organization known for its support of corporations. The report downplayed the negative effects of the livestock industry and suggested weak technological solutions, including some that have been overly promoted, such as adding seaweed to cow feed to reduce methane emissions. I refer to this approach as “guillotine syndrome” – while there may be some small improvements, it is still a harmful practice.
Can you tell me where in the report the topic of decreasing livestock production or consumption was mentioned? Instead, the suggestion was made that, for health reasons, those in poverty should consume more meat and dairy. While it is important for impoverished regions to have access to adequate protein and fat, alternative methods like microbial proteins could provide these nutrients without relying on imports, causing harm to the environment, or leading to health issues associated with adopting a western diet.
Where would the additional livestock products come from according to the FAO’s vision? Brace yourself, because the answer is quite astounding. According to a report by the Financial Times, Maximo Torero, the organisation’s chief economist, suggested that countries with efficient livestock production, such as the Netherlands and New Zealand, should increase their production of meat and dairy and export these products globally. However, is he not aware of the environmental and political issues caused by the large-scale livestock industries in these countries? And now he wants them to produce even more and for developing nations to rely on these imports? Greetings to our guest from Planet Meat.
According to the Guardian, the FAO has a troubling track record of concealing the significant effects of livestock on the environment. The organization’s attempts to bring attention to the environmental impacts of livestock production in 2006 and 2009 were met with criticism, censorship, and obstruction from higher-ups. Based on their recent report, it is apparent that the FAO plays a significant role in spreading misinformation about meat.
The meat production sector was able to influence the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Representatives from major meat-exporting countries Brazil and Argentina successfully prevented the panel from promoting a shift towards plant-based diets, as recommended earlier this year.
Despite the immense strength of these influential forces, it is crucial that we have the courage to confront the livestock production industry and the deceptive tactics used to support it. Our efforts to do so do not stem from a hatred towards farmers, despite any animosity they may hold towards us. We are simply striving to hold this industry to the same standards as any other. Unfortunately, our objections are often met with aggressive opposition, as this is part of their intended strategy.
and author who focuses on environmental and political issues.
George Monbiot is a writer for The Guardian and an author who specializes in topics related to the environment and politics.