As the media frenzy caused by a ‘planetary health diet’ proposed in a new report from an EAT-Lancet commission this month continues, it is perhaps timely to recall that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has set the record straight regarding a flawed comparison of greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock and transport sectors, a statement that is commonly used to support arguments for the world to stop eating meat.
The following sensible comments were recently made by Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Fan is one of the 37 authors of the new report making the media rounds, Food in the Anthropocene: The EAT–Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems, and a member of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health.
The way we eat and produce food has become so destructive to the environment and our health that it now threatens the long-term survival of the human species, an international commission of 37 scientists write in a sprawling new Lancet report.
Purvi Mehta is speaking today at a global conference on Accelerating the End of Hunger and Malnutrition, which is being held in Bangkok and is organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). A former leader of capacity development at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which is supporting this conference, Mehta now heads agriculture for Asia at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Derek Headey, a senior research fellow at the CGIAR’s International Food Policy Research Institute, yesterday published an opinion piece in The Telegraph on the importance of using milk, meat and eggs to fight malnutrition and stunting in the developing world. But, Headey warns, these ‘animal-sourced foods’, particularly fresh milk and eggs, are prohibitively expensive for poor households.
The narrative posited by cultured meat proponents is that animal agriculture requires large amounts of land and water and produces high levels of greenhouse gases (GHG). The environmental impacts of a product, such as a beef hamburger, is then compared to the anticipatory ones for producing a cultured hamburger patty through tissue engineering-based cellular agriculture. While it is true that conventional meat production has a large environmental footprint, the problem with this dichotomous framing is that it overlooks the rest of the story.
As the scale and impacts of climate change become increasingly alarming, meat is a popular target for action. Advocates urge the public to eat less meat to save the environment. Some activists have called for taxing meat to reduce consumption of it. A key claim underlying these arguments holds that globally, meat production generates more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. However, this claim is demonstrably wrong, as I will show. And its persistence has led to false assumptions about the linkage between meat and climate change.