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Having your cake and eating it too–Working both the production and consumption ends of ‘the meat question’

I and the Village, by Marc Chagall, 1911 (via Wikipaintings).

The Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) site has published (10 Apr 2014) an interesting comment on an interesting paper by Petr Havlík et al., Climate change mitigation through livestock system transitions, published in Feb 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Several of the co-authors of this paper are scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Excerpts of the FCRN comments follow.

‘. . . This paper looks at the growth in ruminant production worldwide and at the emissions arising from that growth, under a range of different scenarios. It does not look at monogastric systems (pigs and poultry). . . .

‘The paper then looks at all five scenarios and assesses their mitigation effect in relation to the effect they have on overall per capita calorie availability. In other words it looks at what the calorie “cost” of these mitigation scenarios might be, arguing that this is critical given the prevalence of malnutrition worldwide.

‘It finds the following:

  • ‘The higher the carbon price, the greater the mitigation potential but also the higher the calorie cost.
  • ‘Targeting just land use change emissions achieves more mitigation per unit of calorie cost than targeting the non CO2 emissions. However, from a food security point of view, targeting the non CO2 gases (ie. largely the livestock sector) may be more efficient since livestock constitute a smaller overall share of calories than other foods – in other words, it doesn’t hit the non livestock food groups so badly.
  • ‘However – and this is the point that has been highlighted in all the media publicity surrounding this paper – measures that address consumption and demand directly (rather than supply) deliver less mitigation potential at higher calorie cost.
  • ‘The paper therefore concludes that a focus on consumption is inefficient and less effective than addressing the production side. . . .

‘[T]he way the paper’s findings have been represented in the press (and to a certain extent in the paper itself) might lead one to suppose that there is no role for consumption side measures. However this would be misleading for the following reasons:

‘Given the nature of the climate and environmental problems we face, we do not have the luxury of adopting an either-or position. Most commentators who highlight the need to address consumption also emphasise the need for production side approaches (eg. see the paper by Hedenus et al)

‘Following on from this, rather than have a polarised discussion about the merits of production versus consumption side approaches, a more interesting approach might be to examine how policies might be more effectively targeted at optimising and synergising production and consumption changes so as to deliver environmental (not just climate) improvements while also enhancing nutritional outcomes (including over as well as under consumption related issues). Approaches here will need to go beyond simplistically considering “the meat question” to look at the role, both positive and negative, of other foods as well. . . .’

Read the whole commentary on the FCRN site: FCRN summary and comments on Havlík et al, (2014), Climate change mitigation through livestock system transitions, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 10 Apr 2014.

Read the paper that elicted the comments: Climate change mitigation through livestock system transitions, by P Havlík, H Valin, M Herrero, M Obersteiner, E Schmid, M Rufino, A Mosnier, P Thornton, H Boettcher, R Conant, S Frank, S Fritz, S Fuss, F Kraxner and A Notenbaert, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Feb 2014.

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