If you are lucky enough to be invited to an official function of Germany’s Ministry for the Environment, you will be treated as from now to an all-vegetarian menu.
Germany, land of sausages and schnitzels, is the latest to join our list of nation states and international organisations giving meat the black mark.
Meat features quite heavily in the German diet, the average citizen devouring 59kg of meat a year, quite a way behind America or Australia’s 89kg, but still a lot of meat.
Just this week Minister for the Environment Barbara Henricks threw a pebble into the calm pond of traditional German food culture when she instituted a ban on serving meat at all future ministry functions. As a well-informed Minister she is no doubt thoroughly versed in all the dietary advice and environmental policies for reducing meat consumption emanating recently from other nations.
She may well also be aware of a 2015 report published by Florida International University revealing meat-eaters as the number one cause of worldwide species extinction.
Unsurprisingly, the minister’s announcement provoked a backlash from the livestock industry. And she has other critics. Ms Henricks is a member of the Social Democrat Party. Members from the Christian Democrat Party (Angela Merkel’s party) have seized upon her pronouncement as a violation of personal freedom that demonstrates the SDP’s willingness to “infringe on the rights of private citizens.”
Shame on the CDP for trying to make political capital out of such an important issue – the fate of the planet no less. And what price the Environment Ministry’s credibility if it continued to dish up environmental destruction on a plate.
“We’re not tell anyone what they should eat,” the environment ministry said in a statement published by the Telegraph. “But we want to set a good example for climate protection, because vegetarian food is more climate-friendly than meat and fish.
Something of an understatement Barbara?
In August 2016 Tecnocracy News’ headline ran:
The United Nations would like to remove every meat animal from the face of the planet if it could, and especially cattle
The UN is not alone. Alarm bells about meat are ringing in the European Union, in Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, China, and for big investors in global food companies.
Need I go on? You can’t look anywhere right now without being told that meat is bad news.
So let’s see what preceded the veg*anising of official events at Germany’s Environment Ministry, beginning at the very top with the UN – August 2016
What exactly is the problem with meat? The UN’s International Research Panel reports that livestock farming is the biggest single emitter of greenhouse gas globally, responsible for 14.5% of all emissions causing climate change. Few would now try to deny – apart from Donald Trump – that climate change is a serious planet-threatening problem for which we need a radical solution.
The UN’s answer? Tax meat until it’s too expensive to eat.
“I think it is extremely urgent. All of the harmful effects on the environment and on health need to be priced into food products.” Professor Maarten Hajer of Utrecht University, lead author of the IRP report.
So here we are, still celebrating the good news of the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement. With nearly 200 countries committed to it, the agreement comes into force in just 3 weeks time, on November 4th 2016. But there is no way many of the signatory nations will be able to keep to their commitment if their people don’t stop eating so much meat. If humans want to keep a planet to live on, they must cut back on meat. It’s as simple as that.
Europe – August 2016
The European Public Health Alliance is calling the EU to account on the same issue of meat’s calamitous effect on global warming. Europe’s Chief Advisor on Sustainability points out that Europe’s new climate policy fails to address the problems caused by intensive livestock farming.
“Preventing dangerous climate change, reversing the rise in diet-related chronic diseases and neutralising the threat of antibiotic resistance are among the most pressing issues facing the world today. An academic consensus is emerging around the understanding that changes to food consumption patterns may well be key to solving all three. Main message: we can’t afford to continue eating as if there is no tomorrow.”
So says Nikolai Pusharev for the EPHA. “Current dietary patterns high in animal products are incompatible with the aim of avoiding dangerous climate change,” he adds. Eating a lot less meat means crops are grown for people not cattle, a change vital for sustainability. In such a scenario far less land under food production is needed, and pressure is taken off the world’s precious forests and endangered habitats.
Sweden – August 2016
Dr David Bryngelsson agrees with the EPHA. His new study concludes, “radically reducing beef and mutton consumption is unavoidable if Europeans are serious about emission reduction.” After exploring six possible scenarios, his researchers found that deep cuts of 50 percent or more in meat consumption is the only way to make the necessary cuts in emissions.
He and his team conclude that Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy which heavily subsidises the farming of animals, is no longer fit for purpose and needs a radical overhaul.
“The evidence is accumulating that meat, particularly red meat, is just a disaster for the environment.
Rachel Premack, the Washington Post.
Denmark – April 2016
The Danish Ethics Council which advises the government also agrees.“The Danes’ way of life is far from climatically sustainable, and if we are to live up to the Paris agreement’s objective of keeping global temperature rise well below 2°C, it is necessary to act quickly,” says the council.
Which is why the Danish Council of Ethics, like the UN’s IRP, recommends a meat tax. To begin with on beef, the biggest polluter. It’s “an ethical obligation” to “send a clear signal” to the Danish public that their eating habits have to change – urgently.
UK – November 2015
Key findings of report from the Royal Institute of International Affairs:
- Our appetite for meat is a major driver of climate change
- Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the danger level of two degrees Celsius
- Public awareness of the issue is low, and meat remains off the policy agenda
- Governments must lead in shifting attitudes and behaviours
“I don’t think it’s possible to keep on a course for two degrees global warming—to keep climate change to safe levels—without looking at meat consumption,” Laura Wellesley, report’s lead author.
Netherlands – March 2016
The latest dietary guidelines for the Dutch issued earlier this year say, in a nutshell, cut out most of the meat. The reason? “The livestock industry’s massive environmental impact.”
China – June 2016
With that country’s huge economic boom, meat went in the space of 10 years from rarity to regular staple. China’s new affluence opened the door to adopting the ‘Western diet’, heavy in meat. The Chinese government’s latest dietary guidelines recommend its 1.3 billion people cut their meat consumption by 50%, in the interests of reducing emissions, and improving public health.
Canada – October 2016
Just last week at the One Young World Summit in Ottawa, the former president of Ireland Mary Robinson urged young people from all over the world to “eat less meat, or no meat at all. We need each of us to think about our carbon footprint. Become vegetarian or vegan.”
Money Talks! – September 2016
Dietary guidelines and climate change commitments are one thing, but money is another. It’s time for livestock farmers to start worrying when a group of 40 investors managing assets worth $1.25 trillion launch a campaign urging 16 global food companies to diversify away from industrial farming and into plant-based protein.
The companies targeted include food giants Kraft Heinz, Nestle, Unilever, Tesco and Walmart. The investors in the shape of the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return Initiative issued a report, “The Future of Food: The Investment Case for a Protein Shake Up.”
70% of meat is produced in factory farms. And factory farming is, says FAIRR’s report, a high-risk production method. In addition to problems from emissions; rising antibiotic resistance; and deforestation, add the risk of pandemics like avian flu; unsustainable water use; water, air and land pollution; and soil degradation. Investing in factory farming is not looking like such a good bet.
“The world’s over-reliance on factory-farmed livestock to feed the growing global demand for protein is a recipe for a financial, social and environmental crisis,” says Jeremy Coller, leader of FAIRR .
David Sprinkle, Research Director of Packaged Facts agrees:
“On a global basis, alternate protein sources will grow [as financial commodities] faster than meat and seafood, which will begin to wane in coming decades. Global production increases are expected for protein-rich crops including soy, peas, rice, flax, canola and lupin.”
Of course Big Food companies are far too savvy to have just sat back on their heels waiting for the FAIRR report. They’ve already taken a fair few paddles in that particular sea. Campbell’s CEO Denise Morrison gives a figure of $8bn invested in plant-based brands since 2010. That’s quite some paddling!
And the market for protein-rich meat substitutes such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, textured vegetable protein, quorn and so on, is expected to grow by 8.4% a year over the next five years.
That brings us to October 2016 And the big story to hit the news this week is Tyson Foods’ purchase of a 5% share in Beyond Meat. Nearly everything about this story appears, on the surface, astonishing. Tyson Foods is one of the world’s biggest meat companies. And even big meat companies don’t come much more hard-nosed than TFN.
Beyond Meat, on the other hand, is a small independent relative newbie founded by vegan Ethan Brown in 2009 to produce plant-based foods indistinguishable from meat, to replace meat. The latest of BM’s products, the Beyond Burger which ‘bleeds” like meat has been something of a media sensation.
But as I said, Big Food is savvy. On Tuesday, after news broke of Tyson Foods’ investment in BM, its shares on the stock market rose.
“Tyson Foods investing in us, is a sign of progress towards an increasing plant-based future,” tweeted Ethan Brown. You can be sure a giant like TFN will employ the very best futurists (yes, there really is such a job) to predict which way the wind will blow. Ethan’s assessment of the move’s significance is spot on.
It’s the same in Canada. A major Canadian packaged meats company, Maple Leafs Foods, has acquired Lightlife Foods, a company that produces plant-based meat substitutes, including tempeh, burgers, bacon and hot dogs, for $140 million, the deal to be signed in March 2017. President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods states:
“Expanding into the fast growing plant-based proteins market is one of Maple Leaf’s strategic growth platforms and supports our commitment to become a leader in sustainability. Consumers are increasingly looking to diversify their protein consumption, including plant-based options.”
According to PR Newswire, the plant-based protein market is now “estimated at US$600 million.”
If animal suffering is not enough of a motivator to make us give up or cut back on meat, we might like to take a look at this article in the New York Times: Close to the Bone – The Fight Over Transparency in the Meat Industry October 2016
If that is still not enough to tip the balance for us, how about fear of a deadly pandemic arising from antibiotic resistance? Or, remember that 2015 report from Florida International Uni? Meat-eating is the single biggest cause of species extinctions – on the last 40 years we humans have caused the loss of 50% of the wildlife on the planet. Or fear of catastrophic climate change which could see the end of human life itself?
Well, maybe we won’t even have to make that choice for ourselves. Meat will likely become a luxury we can no longer afford.
In any case, I know where the smart money is. It’s backing a plant-based future for food all the way.
Transitioning your diet could not be easier. The supermarket shelves are stacked full of meat-free products as well as great fresh produce.
If you want to cut back on animal products for the planet, or go vegetarian or vegan, incredibly useful practical tips and recipes found here
To read an interview with Ethan Brown re Tyson Foods, click here
Monday October 17 2016 Free screening of Cowspiracy for UNAIDS in Geneva All welcome
14th July 2017 Canada joins the long list of countries recommending a reduction in meat consumption. The latest official healthy eating guide recommends, “regular intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein-rich foods, especially plant-based sources of protein.” The milk category has been entirely eliminated, and legumes placed above meat as a source of protein Canada May Tell Its Residents to Ditch Dairy and Choose Plant-Protein Over Meat – One Green Planet
9th October 2017 Belgium new food guidelines follow suit Belgium’s New Food Guidelines Put Vegetables and Plant Proteins On Top – Guess Where Meat Is… – One Green Planet
13th March 2018 Goodbye to German Minister who said “no” to meat at official events But she’s left a great legacy.
12th November 2018 Taxing meat would save lives and slow global warming
German government agency bans meat from official functions – ThinkProgress
Tax Meat Until It’s Too Expensive To Eat, New UN Report Suggests – Technocracy News
Europe Needs to Halve Its Beef Consumption in Order to Meet Its Climate Change Goals – Munchies
China’s plan to cut meat consumption by 50% cheered by climate campaigners – The Guardian
Why meat is unsustainable and what the protein chain of the future might look like – ZME Science
Investors urge food companies to shift from meat to plants – Reuters
Fortune Reveals Why Big Food is Investing in Plant-Based Brands – VegNews
Former Ireland President Tells Young Leaders to Become Vegetarian or Vegan – ClearlyVeg
China continues to eat more and more meat – and that is bad for everyone – Take Part
Major Canadian Meat Company Buys Plant-Based Brand Lightlife Foods – Clearly Veg
Don’t Care About Animals? Meat & Dairy Are Poisoning Your Land Air & Water
Another Nation Trims Meat From Diet Advice
USA: Meat is Murdering American Rivers – Will America Act or Have Another Burger?
German Meat Companies Are Investing in Veg Meats
Extinction is Forever: Why We Need to Change to Save Animals
Big Meat, We’re Making You History