Monday, May 4, 2009

Meat debate

My article in Scientific American has gotten a lot of responses from individuals. The editors even received a letter from a farmer in California claiming that his non-feedlot cows are not harmful to the environment. My reply was that pastoral cows are just as much of a problem, and in some cases can be worse. Look for it in the letters section of the next issue of Scientific American.

The editors at US Today also got a couple of emails from people with a strangely consistent message. It now appears that the meat industry has begun a campaign against the idea that meat is bad for the environment, and have begun a 501(c)(3), The Center for Consumer Freedom, to make the case for them. They have even created a marketing campaign, which seems to argue that those concerned about the environmental impact of our diets are actually just trying to take away your freedom. Check out their press release, and a radio advertisement they have come up with.

Meat producers all seem to be citing the same 2006 EPA numbers that put the entire agriculture sector at 6% of total US greenhouse gas production. My problem is that this is one source that is not peer reviewed. ONE study by the EPA does not negate the work of numerous scientists.

Personally, I think the EPA numbers are likely closer than the much higher FAO numbers (18%) as US meet impact is not as bad as other parts of the world. Regardless, the simple fact is we know the impact per lb of beef, and that can easily be used to calculate an aggregate impact that is an accurate and reasonable number. I put beef alone at around 3% of total US greenhouse gas production.

My concern is that, like the entire issue of climate change in America, the impact of meat is about to get a dose of misinformation. USA Today did not give any news space to this argument, though I suspect this is not the last we will hear from them. I welcome the debate though, as I firmly believe this is a misinformation campaign that won't work.

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