by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Climate change

Apr 26 2021

Least credible food industry ad of the week: JBS and climate change

This ad appeared in yesterday’s New York Times.

The ad is signed jointly by JBS and Pilgrim’s, but JBS owns nearly 80% of Pilgrim’s, so this is JBS’s ad.

At the bottom of this ad, you can read about the company in very small print:

JBS is the second-largest food company in the world, producing high-quality beef, chicken and pork products, alokng with innovative prepared foods and plant-based alternatives that reimagine the future of protein….

The company is based in Brazil, where burning of the rainforest to grow soybeans—to feed cattle–produces massive amounts of greenhouse gases.

In this ad, JBS promises to achieve “net-zero emissions” by 2040.

How?  It’s a bit vague on details.

We’re setting time-bound, science-based targets and backing them up with $1 billion in capital over the next decade.  We’re supporting producers by investing $100 million by 2030 in on-farm research.

We will cut our own emissions by 30% by 2030 and eliminate Amazon deforestation from our supply chain within five years.

For the record, JBS’ annual revenues are nearly 40 times higher than what it plans to spend on this over the next 10 years.

The company’s revenues have been declining.  Does that explain its sudden interest in preventing climate change?

This looks like classic greenwashing to me.

Before believing that this is not greenwashing, I’d like to see those “time-bound, science-based targets” and to know who is holding JBS accountable for meeting them.

Jul 10 2020

Weekend reading: more reports

CAST [Council for Agricultural Science and Technology: Economic Impacts of COVID-19 on Food and Agricultural Markets:  This is a collection of 16 articles by various experts on the effects of Covid-19 on food, agriculture, and forestry.  The report is here.

IATP (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy): Milking the Planet: How Big Dairy is Heating Up the Planet and Hollowing Rural Communities: The report is here.

FAIRR (a global network of investors addressing issues in meat production): An Industry Infected: Animal Agriculture in a post-COVID world.  The report is here.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds globally, we are presented with a real-time case study into the vulnerability of animal agriculture systems to external shocks. It has reminded us of the vulnerability of human health to disease risks stemming from both wild and domestic animals, and has served as a warning of the role modern animal production systems can play in increasing zoonotic disease risk.

The British Meat Processors Association is not happy with this one, it seems.

 

Oct 11 2019

Weekend reading: World Resources Report

The World Resources Institute has issued its final report on Creating a Sustainable Food Future.

The report addresses the central dilemma of our time: how to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050 without destroying the planet in the process.

The report takes a deep dive into potential solutions:

  • Reduce demand
  • Increase production
  • Protect national ecosystems
  • Increase fish supply
  • Reduce greenhouse gases produced by agriculture
  • Policy options

This report deals with these issues, none of them simple, in more than 550 pages.  It offers no simple solutions.  Dealing with this dilemma will take a great many actions by a great many people, governments, and industry.  The report sets the agenda.  Now it’s our turn.

Feb 12 2019

Resolution for a Green New Deal to reduce climate change

If we don’t have goals, we will never come close to attaining them.

The fabulous new Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the esteemed Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have issued a non-binding resolution urging Congress to enact and implement a ten-year plan to control and reverse climate change.

The Green New Deal is a comprehensive plan that demands profound changes in many sectors of society, including agriculture.  With respect to agriculture, it calls for:

Why does this matter?  Here, for example, is a graph of world temperatures over the last century, with 2018 being the fourth hottest ever.

The Resolution may seem like a pipe dream in today’s political climate, but the issues it addresses are urgent.  Its recommendations set an agenda, one deserving of serious advocacy.

 

Jan 28 2019

New Lancet report: The Global Syndemic: Uniting Actions to Address Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change

The Lancet has been busy.  Last week, it published a blockbuster report on the need for worldwide dietary changes to improve human health and that of the environment.  I posted about this EAT-Forum report on Friday.

Now, The Lancet releases yet another report, this one taking a unified approach to dealing with the three most important nutrition issues facing the world: Malnutrition (undernutrition), obesity, and the effects of our food production and consumption system on the environment and climate change—for which this report coins a new term: The Global Syndemic.

This report breaks new ground in identifying the food industry as one of three main barriers to ending this “Syndemic.”  I’ve added the numbers for emphasis.

  • Powerful opposition by [1] commercial vested interests, [2] lack of political leadership, and [3] insufficient societal demand for change are preventing action on The Global Syndemic, with rising rates of obesity and greenhouse gas emissions, and stagnating rates of undernutrition.
  • New social movement for change and radical rethink of the relationship between policymakers, business, governance and civil society is urgently needed.
  • The Commission calls for a global treaty to limit the political influence of Big Food (a proposed Framework Convention on Food Systems – modelled on global conventions on tobacco and climate change); redirection of US$5 trillion in government subsidies away from harmful products and towards sustainable alternatives; and advocacy from civil society to break decades of policy inertia.

Wow.  This is telling it like it is—at long last.  From the press release:

  • A key recommendation from the Commission is the call to establish a new global treaty on food systems to limit the political influence of Big Food.
  • The food industry’s obstructive power is further enhanced by governance arrangements that legitimise industry participation in public policy development, and the power that big corporations have to punish or reward governments by relocating investment and jobs.
  • Regulatory approaches to product reformulation (eg. salt and sugar reduction), labelling and marketing to children are needed because industry-led, voluntary approaches have not been effective.

Yes!

The documents

The press

▪ The Guardian
The Times (London)
Irish Farmers Journal

Additional press, posted January 30

Newswires (syndicated in international outlets):

UK:

US:

Rest of world:

Nov 28 2018

Climate change report: bad news for agriculture

The US Global Change Research Program released its 4th report on climate change Wednesday night, coincidentally or deliberately during the slow news Thanksgiving holiday.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is a Federal program mandated by Congress to coordinate Federal research and investments in understanding the forces shaping the global environment, both human and natural, and their impacts on society.

USGCRP comprises 13 Federal agencies that conduct or use research on global change and its impacts on society, in support of the Nation’s response to global change.

The report comes in two volumes, a technical report and an assessment report.

Don’t look for any good news here, especially for agriculture.

U.S. agriculture and the communities it supports are threatened by increases in temperatures, drought, heavy precipitation events, and wildfire on rangelands (Figure 1.10) (Ch. 10: Ag & Rural, KM 1 and 2Case Study “Groundwater Depletion in the Ogallala Aquifer Region”Ch. 23: S. Great Plains, KM 1Case Study “The Edwards Aquifer”). Yields of major U.S. crops (such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, and cotton) are expected to decline over this century as a consequence of increases in temperatures and possibly changes in water availability and disease and pest outbreaks (Ch. 10: Ag & Rural, KM 1). Increases in growing season temperatures in the Midwest are projected to be the largest contributing factor to declines in U.S. agricultural productivity (Ch. 21: Midwest, KM 1). Climate change is also expected to lead to large-scale shifts in the availability and prices of many agricultural products across the world, with corresponding impacts on U.S. agricultural producers and the U.S. economy (Ch. 16: International, KM 1).

Chapter 10 has four key messages, none of them cheerful:

1:  REDUCED AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTIVITY: Food and forage production will decline in regions experiencing increased frequency and duration of drought. Shifting precipitation patterns, when associated with high temperatures, will intensify wildfires that reduce forage on rangelands, accelerate the depletion of water supplies for irrigation, and expand the distribution and incidence of pests and diseases for crops and livestock. Modern breeding approaches and the use of novel genes from crop wild relatives are being employed to develop higher-yielding, stress-tolerant crops.

2: DEGRADATION OF SOIL AND WATER RESOURCES: The degradation of critical soil and water resources will expand as extreme precipitation events increase across our agricultural landscape. Sustainable crop production is threatened by excessive runoff, leaching, and flooding, which results in soil erosion, degraded water quality in lakes and streams, and damage to rural community infrastructure. Management practices to restore soil structure and the hydrologic function of landscapes are essential for improving resilience to these challenges.

3.  HEALTH CHALLENGES TO RURAL POPULATIONS AND LIVESTOCK: Challenges to human and livestock health are growing due to the increased frequency and intensity of high temperature extremes. Extreme heat conditions contribute to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and heart attacks in humans. Heat stress in livestock results in large economic losses for producers. Expanded health services in rural areas, heat-tolerant livestock, and improved design of confined animal housing are all important advances to minimize these challenges.

4: VULNERABILITY AND ADAPTIVE CAPACITY OF RURAL COMMUNITIES: Residents in rural communities often have limited capacity to respond to climate change impacts, due to poverty and limitations in community resources. Communication, transportation, water, and sanitary infrastructure are vulnerable to disruption from climate stressors. Achieving social resilience to these challenges would require increases in local capacity to make adaptive improvements in shared community resources.

The recommendations: reduce greenhouse gas emissions, now.

Aug 2 2018

Eat meat and reduce carbon emissions. How? Feed cattle on grass.

In response to my post last week about a new report on the effects of meat production on climate change and the need to eat less meat, Ridge Shinn, a producer of 100% grass-fed beef reminded me that meat has a place in the diet and raising cattle does not have to harm the planet.

The whole point of cattle raising is to graze the animals on land that cannot be used to produce food for people and let them turn grass into edible meat.  Raising cattle on grass, sustainably, regenerates the land and reduces carbon emissions.

Shinn summarizes the evidence in comments that he and other sustainable livestock farmers submitted to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

As ranchers and farmers who produce 100% grass-fed beef, we submit that the research on our product is already in. We are already employing techniques that soil scientists have validated since the 1990s. We know that corn is bad for cattle and that corn-fed meat is unhealthy for humans. Therefore we raise our beef on grass and pasture alone. We are managing our pastures and our herds to foster the soil microbes that science has shown to be critical to producing healthy meat, sequestering carbon, restoring soil fertility, and retaining water.

He also sent other useful resources on this issue.

A 2016 scientific paper by WR Teague et al in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation on the role of ruminant animals in reducing carbon footprints.

Incorporating forages and ruminants into regeneratively managed agroecosystems can elevate soil organic C, improve soil ecological function by minimizing the damage of tillage and inorganic fertilizers and biocides, and enhance biodiversity and wildlife habitat. We conclude that to ensure longterm sustainability and ecological resilience of agroecosystems, agricultural production should be guided by policies and regenerative management protocols that include ruminant grazing.

A 2010 essay by Tara Kelly in Time Magazine based on a book review.

in his new book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Simon Fairlie, a British farmer and former editor of the Ecologist magazine, tears apart the theory that being carnivorous is bad for the planet — and says that eating moderate amounts of meat could be greener than going vegan.

A 2010 article by the journalist Lisa Abend, also in Time Magazine.

Environmentalists have been giving cows a bad rap in recent years. Between what bovines eat and what they excrete, cattle production emits a lot of greenhouse gas. But if fed solely grass, cows could play a key role in reversing climate change.

I think the arguments are compelling.  Animals have a place in human diets when they are raised sustainably and as humanely as possible.

Raising animals this way means fewer of them.  We still have to eat less meat—and eat meat of better environmental quality.

We could do this….

Jul 25 2018

Eat less meat: more evidence from climate change and health

GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) have issued a devastating report on the effects of meat and dairy production on climate change.

 

The report’s principal finding:

At issue are demands for growth in the meat and dairy industries.

The report explains:

Current industrial levels of production cannot be sustained, nor can growth models for meat and dairy remain unchanged. The paradox of the corporate business model based on high rates of annual growth versus the urgent climate imperative to scale back meat and dairy production and consumption in affluent countries and populations is untenable.

Its inevitable conclusion:

cheap meat and dairy comes at a high cost due to social, environmental and animal welfare problems that continue to be under-regulated. In addition, this production is only made possible because the corporations receive an indirect subsidy from taxpayers in the form of government-funded price supports that keep grain cheap.  

It is past time to regulate the industry and redirect the massive subsidies and other public expenditures that currently support the big meat and dairy conglomerates towards local food and farming systems capable of looking after people and the planet.

That’s the challenge.  The need to address it is urgent.  Let’s get to work.

Also see:

Meat consumption, health, and the environment.  Science July 20, 2018.  Authors: H. Charles J. Godfray, Paul Aveyard, Tara Garnett, Jim W. Hall, Timothy J. Key, Jamie Lorimer, Ray T. Pierrehumbert, Peter Scarborough, Marco Springmann, Susan A. Jebb.

This lengthy, extensively illustrated and referenced article covers much of the same territory but with greater emphasis on the health impact of meat consumption, and the amounts of water used in meat production, primarily from feed.