Coalition Calls on IPCC to Reject Meat Industry Meddling in UN Climate Process

Posted on by

Yves here. I’m not sure how to prevent a major industry like meat producers from having a seat at the table, but it’s not hard to support preventing undue influence. But where to draw the line?

But here the big concern is beef, which is extremely inefficient in food chain terms (as in how many pounds of grain it takes to produce a pound of beef, even before getting to the methane problem). Chicken, by contrast, has a vastly better grain input to quantity of edibles ratio.

Note that grass fed beef fans argue that it generates less methane and is better for the soil. From NPR:

Fourth-generation Oregon rancher Cory Carman runs a 5,000-acre grass-fed beef cattle operation, where grazing is key to restoring ecosystem balance. “Agricultural livestock are this incredible tool in promoting soil health,” she says. “The longer you can manage cattle on pasture range, the more they can contribute to ecosystem regeneration.”

Returning cattle and other ruminants to the land for their entire lives can result in multiple benefits, according to organizations like the Savory Institute, including restoring soil microbial diversity, and making the land more resilient to flooding and drought. It can boost the nutrient content and flavor of livestock and plants. And because grasses trap atmospheric carbon dioxide, the grass-fed system can also help fight climate change. But it does require more land to produce the same amount of meat.

But I’m not sure that better beef is good enough.

By Brett Wilkins. Originally published at Common Dreams

As the United Nations marked International Day for Biological Diversity on Monday, advocacy groups and activists underscored the devastating impact of animal agriculture on the Earth’s climate, while urging a leading U.N. panel to rebuff efforts by the meat and dairy industries to water down key processes and publications.

In recent letter to Hoesung Lee, who heads the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 98 groups and individuals noted how the IPCC in 2021 removed language from its Sixth Assessment Report underscoring the urgency of reducing meat consumption—especially in developed nations—and shifting to a plant-based diet as a crucial means of combating the climate emergency.

“The provision was reportedly heavily contested—and actively lobbied against—by the global meat industry via Brazil and
Argentina’s delegations,” the letter states. “Our organizations, representing millions of individuals who are concerned about the future of our planet, are deeply troubled by the potential influence of the meat industry’s years-long campaign of interference on any climate recommendations that include plant-based diets as a solution.”

“We are writing to urge the IPCC to fully recognize the scientific evidence that shows the role of food and agriculture in driving the climate crisis and to ensure that future reports specifically highlight plant-based diets as a key climate strategy,” the letter states. “Furthermore, we encourage the IPCC to maintain its credibility by taking steps to ensure that Big Agriculture and the global meat industry have no influence over future reports.”

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture produces 16.5% of global greenhouse emissions. On its own, the global livestock industry—which emits the methane equivalent of 3.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually—would be the world’s third-largest greenhouse polluter.

Nearly one-third of Earth’s ice-free land is currently used for livestock production. Beef production alone is responsible for more than 40% of the world’s tropical deforestation, while a single quarter-pound beef burger requires the equivalent of 460 gallons of water to produce.

The letter continues:

Meat and dairy industry actors have long obfuscated the negative climate impacts of their practices while putting up roadblocks against healthy and necessary regulations. In fact, the industry’s tactics seem to be modeled on the fossil fuel playbook, using its tremendous lobbying power to pressure lawmakers to prevent regulations.

While the IPCC has historically managed to recommend plant-based diets, mention of plant-based diets was notably lacking from this year’s report. The scientific community and the public at large deserve to have the IPCC’s recommendations be unbiased, untainted, and undiluted by interference from industries that are financially incentivized to undermine science. The IPCC’s recommendations would be more powerful and more effective with the assurance that there was no interference [from] industry lobbyists and political actors who prioritize their industry over the common good.

The letter’s signatories recommend “avoiding meat and dairy products” as “the single-biggest way to reduce an individual’s environmental impact on the planet.”

According to the letter, if the world’s biggest meat-eaters limited their beef intake to 1.5 hamburgers per week, “they could
avoid about 5.5 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year—twice the annual emissions of India.”

Additionally, “if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would have the same environmental impact as taking 7.6 million cars off the road.”

“We urge you to take steps to prevent both any potential future interference by the meat and dairy industries, and the appearance of such interference, in a manner that could weaken these necessary recommendations around the urgent need to reduce meat consumption and production,” the letter concludes. “The world is counting on the IPCC to communicate the most accurate science and most effective solutions for the safekeeping of our planet’s future.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Bsn

    My husband and I are vegetarians (red meat-wise) and I’m not a maths major. But, focusing on a product that contributes 16.5% (OK, call it 17%) to a problem and ignoring the object that produces 83% of the problem is not very logical. Let’s stop drinking oil.

    1. Piotr Berman

      Personally, I use oil for frying (no deep frying) and inhalation (when I bicycle next to cars, I mostly stick to routes with few cars if any). But using a compact hybrid car and keeping driving to a modest amount, you can “remove” 0.75 of a car.

  2. JustTheFacts

    Let’s ship oil and gas from Russia to India & China and then to Europe because we’re “punishing Russian” and let’s not consider the emissions from that versus the far less energy intensive direct route through a pipeline.

    Let’s spend billions on a war in Ukraine we provoked. Let’s rebuild all the towns we just shelled. Let’s forget about all the young men sent to their deaths after we invested all that energy and money educating them, raising them, etc.

    Let’s say that we can’t even cooperate with China over climate change because they’re so evil (Liz Truss)

    Let’s ship every manufactured good from China to Europe and the US, let’s even ship food across the planet to be packaged there.

    Let’s continually reduce the lifespan of everyday objects, electronics, phones and computers that require children to mine their cobalt.

    All these things are totally normal, have been for millions of years.

    But woe betide the person who eats grass fed red meat produced locally on a farm… who behaves like his ancestors who hunted Whooly Mammoths. He’s evil. We should ban small farms (John Kerry, Mark Rutte). We should force citizens of rich countries to eat synthetic meat (Bill Gates) and bugs (Klaus Schwaab). Let’s ignore that seaweed the Australians found that reduces cow methane emissions when mixed in their food. So much easier to simply ban food for the plebs.

    “Climate change” is clearly becoming a battleground of class warfare. While I believe the science is correct, that doesn’t mean that Larry Fink gets to force changes to my behavior just because he’s a banker and controls trillions of dollars from your and my pensions.

    1. will work for food

      Two years before financier David Rockefeller, industrialist Aurelio Peccei, and DDT-pushing scientist Alexander King founded the Club of Rome, Zbigniew Brzezinski (who founded the Trilateral Commission with Rockefeller) advocated the covert use of weather attacks – such as long periods of drought or storm – to force a given nation into compliance with elite directives.

      Project Popeye was used successfully in Vietnam to increase the rainfall over a supply route called the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which extended from North to South Vietnam. The technique used seeding units which were composed of silver iodide developed at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake California. The project began in 1966 and lasted for a half a decade. It was considered a success.

      Project Cumulus, carried out by the British Royal Air Force between 1949 and 1952, included cloud seeding experiments over southern England. It was allegedly responsible for the 1952 flood in the Devon village of Lynmouth, which resulted in 34 deaths and the destruction of multiple structures.

      HAARP, located in Gakona Alaska, was featured in both a 2009 History Channel documentary called “Weather Warfare” and a Discovery Channel program in 2005 entitled “Owning the Weather” for its alleged weather control capabilities.

      These few examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

    2. ks

      Thank you. For our own health and that of the ecosystem, perhaps we should go back to eating game meat and less of it, but leave this issue in the hands of the likes of Gates and Rutte? No.

  3. Revenant

    “Note that grass fed beef fans argue that it generates less methane and is better for the soil.”

    I don’t think the soil claim needs handling with quite such long tongs!

    The benefits of pasture-raised beef have been evidenced (there is supposedly a controversy over the standard of the proof but the dissenting data tends to come from BigAg and its pet institutions). Permanent pasture is a carbon sink and is anyway often unsuitable for growing row crops. Indeed regenerative ag is now trying to plant row crops into permanent pasture on prime arable land because of the soil benefits (nutrients, water handling, structure, carbon etc).

    There are plenty of case studies of the power of grazing to increase soil organic matter and therefore carbon and to sustainably fertilise fields.
    One of the most famous is Arthur Hosier, inventor of the milking bail, the portable milking dairy that enabled open air dairying pre-WW2 by bring the milking to the cattle. The cows could be outwintered to reduce the incidence of airborne TB…. He paid pennies on the acre for leases of scrub heathland and within a few years it was worth pounds while his neighbours blocks remained waste (very judgmentalold school farming description, doubtless forage’s gain was other ecosystem’s loss, given gorse and heather support interesting flora and fauna, but regenerative grazing in moderation is requited to maintain heathland and other succession vegetation).

    A more modern example is Andy Cato, one half of DJs Groove Armada, who sold his publishing rights to buy in a French farm, failed to make money with modern practice, got the regenerative farming bug and has developed machinery and rotations to include grass leys in arable farming. He just bought a big farm in Oxfordshire to do this at scale and has made a fabulous video paean to bread.

    Breed video

    Andy Cato talk at Groundswell

    Andy Cato interview

    Groundswell conference (any NCer passing the UK when it is on should try to attend!)

    As for the grass reducing methane claim, it is rather hard to measure but the claims that kelp extracts reduce cow methane are apparent backed up by data. It seems logical that diet influences rumination. Cattle naturally eat grass and forbs to feed their bacterial powerhouses. Cattle are not natural grain eaters. Grass fed cattle leave healthy firm cowpats, not liquid slurry.

    Be aware, US grain fed cattle are in metabolic distress (their organs are inflamed, fatty deposirs, hypertrophy etc) and USDA steak standards for marbling etc are a textbook histological description of bovine metabolic disease, not a desirable gastronomic target!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I’m not questioning the soil benefits. It is whether that is enough to justify raising less farty cows. Less farty is still farty.

  4. ChrisPacific

    Much as I hate to say it, I think dairy is the biggest problem. The largest environmental impacts here are from dairy conversions, which tend to replace other uses of productive land, and which involve a high concentration of large ruminants with all the associated issues like nitrate leaching and the like. It’s essentially a goldrush as milk powder fetches high prices from places like China.

    Beef farming (pasture/grass fed) is probably also problematic but happens on a smaller scale. Farmers claim that it makes use of land that would be marginal or unsuitable for other purposes, but I’m a bit skeptical. Perhaps it might hold water for sheep farming, but cattle are not climbers and don’t do well in rugged terrain or steep hills. In any case, the prime agricultural land tends to get used for whatever purpose provides the best return, and right now that’s typically dairying.

  5. thousand points of green

    In the narrowest technical sense, it is cow burps, not cow farts, which carry the methane. Here is a link.

    Such a seemingly tiny quibble could make me look like a MENSAhole, but I don’t think I am being one, and here’s why. Cow burps are not the only source of cow methane. Badly managed/handled manure can also be a source of methane after it has left the cow. ” Little” doses of cow manure falling all over a mixed species pasture or range can be aerobically decomposed if all the soil life systems are working right. But the manure masses built up in CAFOs are not manageable that way, and can break down anaerobically with much methane release. I don’t know how much, but it would be worth knowing. How much methane do the cows in a CAFO burp out orally? How much methane does all the anaerobically rotting manure from those same CAFO cows release? If manure from the CAFO cows releases as much or more methane than the same CAFO cows themselves do, then cowborne methane release can be majorly reduced by getting all those cattle out of the CAFO and back onto the land. But that depends on which end of those cattle is responsible for more of the methane. And I just don’t know which end is.

    Also, how much carbon dioxide is released from every stage of the feed-to-CAFO chain, starting with making all the inputs for growing the corn-soy and getting it to the CAFO cattle? Those CO2 emisssions are not even generated at all by keeping the cattle on multi-species pasture or range.

    The cattle on pasture and range are burping out methane. But how many CO2 molecules does the pasture and range under cattle system eat up for every molecule of CH4 that system emits by way of the cow burps? Just enough that the methane from the cattle on grazing is less-than-offset by the CO2 sucked down? Or enough that the CO2 sucked down just zeroes out the heating power of the methane released? If we knew that, we would know if cattle on grazing is still not good enough or if it is indeed good enough in terms of sky-heater gas releases. ( And back to the CAFO cattle, some of the Haber-Bosch Nitrogen put on the land to grow the CAFO feed breaks down in the soil into Nitrogen Oxide gasses which are very powerful sky-heater gasses which is also a problem which cattle on pasture and range do not cause).

    I do not know those figures. But I think they would be worth knowing to be able to do our best thinking with. If anyone knows them, one hopes they bring them here. If they are not yet known, one hopes the money and research-hours can be spent to find out in the next few years can be devoted to finding out and letting us all know.

Comments are closed.