by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Meat

Apr 5 2024

Weekend reading: Power of Meat

I received an emailed announcement from the  Meat Institute and FMI—the Food Industry Association of its annual report, The Power of Meat.

Here is part of its summary infographic.

The press release quotes Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts:

When shoppers hear ‘protein,’ they think ‘meat,’ and the Meat Institute is actively working to maintain and grow Americans’ confidence about meat’s role in healthy, balanced diets. Our Protein PACT initiative drives progress and provides transparent information about how meat contributes to the health of people, animals, and the planet – which 83% of consumers are looking for when they make meat purchases.

For summary of key findings, see:

  • Power of Meat 2024 infographic here
  • The Top 10 Findings of the Power of Meat 2024 here

If you want the full report, you have to contact someone at the Meat Institute or FMI.    It will cost you $350 if you are not a member.

Mar 15 2024

Weekend reading: Compassionate Eating

Tracey Harris and Terry Gibbs. Food in a Just World: Compassionate Eating in a Time of Climate Change. Polity Books, 2024. 

I blurbed it:

Food in a Just World is an up-to-the-minute introduction to issues of class, race, and gender—and species—in what we eat, as well as to how larger issues of economics and capitalism affect workers in the meat industry.  Whether you eat meat or not, the book convincingly argues that these issues demand serious attention.

Here’s what the publisher says about it:

Food in a Just World examines the violence, social breakdown, and environmental consequences of our global system of food production, distribution, and consumption. From animals in industrialized farming – but also those reared in supposedly higher-welfare practices – to low-wage essential workers, and from populations being marketed unhealthy diets to the natural ecosystems suffering daily degradation, each step of the process is built on some form of exploitation. While highlighting the broken system’s continuities from European colonialism to contemporary globalization, the authors argue that the seeds of resilience, resistance, and inclusive manifestations of cultural resurgence are already being reflected in the day-to-day actions taking place in communities around the world. Emphasizing the need for urgent change, the book looks at how genuine democracy would give individuals and communities meaningful control over the decisions that impact their lives when seeking to secure this most basic human need humanely.


Mar 5 2024

How the food industry exerts influence II: climate scientists (meat industry)

In my Monday postings of industry-funded studies of the week, I mostly have stopped listing the names of authors because I view industry influence as a systemic problem, not something to be blamed on individuals.

But a recent article on meat industry influence on climate change science, sent to me by one of its authors, focuses on two individual recipients of meat industry funding.

The study: Morris, V., Jacquet, J. The animal agriculture industry, US universities, and the obstruction of climate understanding and policyClimatic Change 177, 41 (2024).

The 2006 United Nations report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” provided the first global estimate of the livestock sector’s contribution to anthropogenic climate change and warned of dire environmental consequences if business as usual continued. In the subsequent 17 years, numerous studies have attributed significant climate change impacts to livestock. In the USA, one of the largest consumers and producers of meat and dairy products, livestock greenhouse gas emissions remain effectively unregulated. What might explain this? Similar to fossil fuel companies, US animal agriculture companies responded to evidence that their products cause climate change by minimizing their role in the climate crisis and shaping policymaking in their favor. Here, we show that the industry has done so with the help of university experts….Here, we traced how these efforts have downplayed the livestock sector’s contributions to the climate crisis, minimized the need for emission regulations and other policies aimed at internalizing the costs of the industry’s emissions, and promoted industry-led climate “solutions” that maintain production.

The authors describe the ways the meat industry interacts with the work of two university researchers.  Both researchers, they report:

  • have received significant research funding from industry groups
  • lead university centers that receive funding from industry groups
  • have been employed by an industry group as consultants
  • have received awards or travel from industry groups
  • have failed to disclose industry funding in instances where it is the norm to do so
  • have presented to policymakers at an industry-sponsored event
  • have produced work referenced in public comments submitted by industry groups to regulatory agencies
  • have co-authored publications with industry employees
  • have published repeatedly in industry-funded journals
  • have been referenced by industry groups in industry advertisements
  • have published traditional and social media in support of industry interests
  • have minimized the industry’s role in climate change
  • have challenged the need for regulations or promoted policy changes in ways that are favorable to industry

And there’s more:

Nicholas Carter sent me a copy of his and the Freedom Food Alliance’s report on meat industry efforts to deflect its role in climate change: Harvesting Denial, Distractions, & Deception: Understanding Animal Agriculture’s Disinformation Strategies and Exploring Solutions.

This analysis focuses on key strategies, including tactics to deny, derail, delay, deflect and distract6 meaningful discussion of the key issues, as well as methods that generally are intended to confuse and create doubt in the minds of policymakers and the general public.  It is common for the animal agriculture industry to challenge the necessity to shift to a plant-based food system, question causation, dispute the messenger, and contest suggested proplant-based policies.

Carter also sent an article about this study from DeSmog: Meat industry using “misinformation: to block dietary change, report finds.

He notes: “Relevant to all this to is the ironic timing of $4 million more just rewarded (announced yesterday) to Mitloehner and the CLEAR center.”

His comments on this irony:

Yes, feed swaps & quicker fattening can lower some methane, albeit with tradeoffs, but this ignores the far bigger opp. for shifts in demand & supply away from the highest methane-polluting practice.

Comment: In partnerships of this type, the sponsoring industry typically wins.  Much research shows that individual recipients of industry funding do not believe it influences the design, conduct, or interpretation of their studies, despite substantial evidence that it does. The role of beef methane emissions is an existential threat to beef sales.  The industry, understandably, is doing all it can to undermine concerns about its role in climate change.

Feb 26 2024

Industry-funded studies of the week: meat

Every now and then, someone sends me something about industry-funded research that does my work for me.  Here is an example.

I received this e-mailed message from John Andrews (reproduced with permission).

I’m sure others will have shared this with you, but as someone primed by reading your work to dig into authors’ backgrounds, I couldn’t help but notice some aspects of a new special issue of Animal Frontiers on ‘The Societal Role of Meat’ (link) that you might be interested to see. There are 36 authors across the special issue, but to highlight just a handful:

  • Peer Ederer, guest editor and co-author of the introduction article, has his affiliation listed as ‘GOALScience at Global Food And Agriculture Network’ in Switzerland. However, the website of GOALScience describes themselves as an initiative of the ‘Global Food and Agribusiness Network’ (my italics), and describes itself as a commercial entity that operates as a “service to the global livestock stakeholder community” (link). The paper Ederer et al in the special issue (link) has a conflict of interest statement: “None declared.”
  • Thompson et al (link) lists among its authors Jason Rowntree. Rowntree is described in his biography as having worked with the Savory Institute to develop its ‘Ecological Outcome Verification’ scheme for livestock farming. Rowntree’s biography on his university page describes him as an ‘advisor and educator’ to the Savory Institute. Savory’s website indicates that Rowntree’s university is what’s called a ‘Savory Hub’, and that Rowntree has at some point been ‘Hub leader’ (link). Rowntree is also co-lead on a $19mn research project in which Savory is a partner (link). The conflicts of interest statement for the article: “None declared”.
  • Rod Polkinghorne, co-author of the perspective article (link), describes himself on his LinkedIn as “actively involved with the beef industry”. In fairness, his biography in the special issue does not disguise this, and the perspective article does not contain a conflict of interest statement of any kind.

I don’t want to suggest that this is particularly surprising in a journal that has a longstanding partnership with the American Meat Science Association, which partnership is not at all hidden (e.g. the journal’s ‘about’ page and Dilger, 2020). But the special issue is noteworthy as the claimed evidence base to support the ‘Dublin Declaration’ on the ‘societal role of livestock’, reported in the press in classic fashion (a Daily Telegraph headline in the UK reads ‘Meat is crucial for human health, scientists warn’), and actively being used as part of the current lobbying battles around EU environmental legislation (see e.g. here).

Perhaps I just don’t understand the subtleties of the term ‘conflict of interest’ well enough…

Comment: Thanks for all this.  Yes, industry connections like these pose conflicts.  These authors—and the journal in which they publish—have financial ties to an industry with an economic stake in the results of studies and the opinions of authors.

Indeed, these particular conflicts of interest are so evident that The Guardian did an article about them:  Revealed: The livestock consultants behind the Dublin Declaration of Scientists.

While I’m at it, let me toss in one more as an example of how meat industry funding works.

The study: Higher muscle protein synthesis rates following ingestion of an omnivorous meal compared with an isocaloric and isonitrogenous vegan meal in healthy, older adults (thanks to Charles Platkin for sending this one).

Conclusion: “Ingestion of a whole-food omnivorous meal containing beef results in greater postprandial muscle protein synthesis rates when compared with the ingestion of an isonitrogenous whole-food vegan meal in healthy, older adults.”

Funding: “This study was funded in part by The Beef Checkoff, Denver, USA, and Vion Food Group, Boxtel, The Netherlands.”

When I see a title like this, I can guess who paid for the study.  Not good.

Feb 15 2024

Does cell-cultured meat have a future? This is not the moment.

I subscribe to AgFunder News, not least because I so admire Elaine Watson’s reporting on the food industry.

I was particularly interested in her detailed account of investment in cultured meat and seafood startups: ​Preliminary AgFunder data point to 78% decline in cultivated meat funding in 2023; investors blame ‘general risk aversion.’

Here’s what’s happening:

Funding may have dropped, but investors put nearly $200 million into this technology in 2023.  That isn’t nothing.

Watson reviews the reasons for the funding decline:

  • High interest rates
  • Risk aversion
  • Too many companies seeking investment
  • Scalability of the product
  • Cost parity
  • Lack of government funding

Cultivated meat is not yet on the market.  It’s hard to assess it or predict its future without tasting it.  I’m trying to keep an open mind.

For a deep dive into what’s happening in this industry, see Joe Fassler’s excellent piece in the New York Times: Opinion | The Revolution That Died on Its Way to Dinner.

His point:  Cell-cultured meat is “an escape hatch for humankind’s excesses.”

For all its terrifying urgency, climate change is an invitation — to reinvent our economies, to rethink consumption, to redraw our relationships to nature and to one another. Cultivated meat was an excuse to shirk that hard, necessary work. The idea sounded futuristic, but its appeal was all about nostalgia, a way to pretend that things will go on as they always have, that nothing really needs to change. It was magical climate thinking, a delicious delusion.

In the course of his investigations, Fassler got to taste cell-cultured chicken.  This did not make him optimistic about its future.

As I said, I’m trying to stay open minded.  I suspect this story is not over yet.  Stay tuned.

Feb 1 2024

Cultured meat: of great interest, still not on market

Cell-Based or Cultured Meat continues to generate predictions, positive (new products, new approvals, growth) and negative (doom, bans).

Current status: The FDA and USDA have approved sales of cell-cultured chicken but the only place selling it is Bar Crenn in San Francisco (where I have not been).

While waiting for it to get scaled up (if this ever will be possible), here are a few items I’ve collected recently.




Jan 16 2024

Is pasture-raised beef better for the environment? It sure could be.

A reader, Kris, sent me this query:

I hope in a future writing you can help sort out the mixed statements I’m reading  about how pasture-raised meat lines up in terms of environmental/climate change concerns, (particularly if it doesn’t involve extensive shipping). I’ve seen statements and studies on both sides of the argument and I’m having a hard time determining what is supported science vs wishful thinking or greenwashing marketing hype. (Links to 2 difference examples below).

I looked at her sources. Grass-finished beef operations found to have higher carbon footprint, study reveals. 

In a recent study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, researchers from the Breakthrough Institute in the United States, led by Daniel Blaustein-Rejto, present findings challenging the common belief that beef operations with lifelong grass-based diets have a lower carbon footprint than those incorporating grain-based diets, reported.  Cattle raised on lifelong grass diets, termed “pasture finished,” have been traditionally thought to be more environmentally friendly. But the study delves into a more comprehensive analysis, considering factors beyond direct greenhouse gas emissions.

This took me to the PLoS ONE article:  Carbon opportunity cost increases carbon footprint advantage of grain-finished beef.

We assess the carbon footprint of 100 beef production systems in 16 countries, including production emissions, soil carbon sequestration from grazing, and carbon opportunity cost—the potential carbon sequestration that could occur on land if it were not used for production. We conduct a pairwise comparison of pasture-finished operations in which cattle almost exclusively consume grasses and forage, and grain-finished operations in which cattle are first grazed and then fed a grain-based diet. We find that pasture-finished operations have 20% higher production emissions and 42% higher carbon footprint than grain-finished systems.

Agricltural Systems: Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems.

We used on-farm data collected from the Michigan State University Lake City AgBioResearch Center for AMP [adaptive multi-paddock] grazing. Impact scope included GHG emissions from enteric methane, feed production and mineral supplement manufacture, manure, and on-farm energy use and transportation, as well as the potential C sink arising from SOC [soil organic carbon] sequestration…This research suggests that AMP grazing can contribute to climate change mitigation through SOC sequestration and challenges existing conclusions that only feedlot-intensification reduces the overall beef GHG footprint through greater productivity.


I can understand Kris’s confusion.  The arguments about the environmental impact of grazing methods depend on assumptions about what needs to be measured.   There should be no argument, however, that pasture-raised animals are treated better and have better lives.  They enrich soil rather than polluting it, air, and water, as do animals raised in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).  When raised in a regenerative system, pastured animals replenish soil, cause carbon to be sequestered, and do other good things.  The downside?  Lower yields (but we overproduce meat anyway).  So, I’m all for pasture grazing.

The climate-change arguments depend on decisions about what gets counted; these vary depending on who is doing the counting.

Until everyone can agree on what has to be measured and included in climate-change assessments—and I see no sign of a movement to forge such an agreement—I’m voting for pasture-raised,.  Animal welfare and soil health are reasons enough.

Thanks Kris, for raising the issue so thoughtfully.

Dec 5 2023

The COP-28 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai—items

COP-28, the UN’s climate change conference is happening in Dubai, right now.

I’m trying to make sense of it.  For starters, the irony:

But food—the effects of agriculture on climate change (and vice versa) is on its agenda this year—a major big deal.

That’s why a coalition of farmers, communities, business, and philanthropy has issued a call to transform food systems.

Here’s my collection of food-related items.

I.  Food Tank’s Danielle Nierenberg is on the job: more than 30 Food Tank partnered events are scheduled.

Once again, four pavilions will be devoted to food systems: Food and Agriculture, led by our partners and friends at FAO, CGIAR, International Fund for Agricultural Development, and The Rockefeller Foundation; Food Systems, spearheaded by the European Union-backed program EIT Food and a variety of other groups including the Food and Land Use Coalition; Food4Climate, organized by a variety of partners—including youth voices—pushing for a more humane and sustainable food system; and the Sustainable Agriculture of the Americas Pavilion facilitated by IICA, bringing together the global north and south across the hemisphere.  You can read Food Tank’s coverage of the roadmap, which was announced last year, here.

IIFoodDive: Food system transformation on the menu at COP28

III.  Reuters: Countries urged to curb factory farming to meet climate goals

IV.  The lunch menu: The summit is featuries roughly two-thirds plant-based menu to highlight the link between greenhouse gas emissions and livestock.  But the meat industry is fighting  back.

V.  DeSmog: Big Meat Unveils Battle Plans for COP28

VI.  The Guardian: Plans to present meat as ‘sustainable nutrition’ at Cop28 revealed: Documents show industry intends to go ‘full force’ in arguing meat is beneficial to the environment at climate summit.

VII.  The Meat Institute

The Meat Institute and the Protein PACT for the People, Animals & Climate of Tomorrow will highlight animal agriculture’s commitments and progress toward global goals in multiple high-level engagements at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai November 30-December 12. The Protein PACT has organized or assisted with inviting expert speakers for six panels across five COP28 pavilions, including:

  • December 5 panel in the Food Pavilion, co-organized by IICA and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on the topic of sustainable and healthy livestock production systems
  • December 6 panel in the IICA pavilion, organized by the ​​Canadian Alliance for Net-Zero Agri-food on the topic of achieving net zero in agrifood systems
  • December 8 panel in the IICA pavilion, organized by the Protein PACT on the topic of principles, practices, and proof for animal agriculture driving climate and food security solutions
  • December 9 panel in the IICA pavilion, co-organized by IICA and ILRI on the topic of innovation and investment in livestock systems for climate change adaptation and  mitigation

VIII.  International Dairy Federation & European Dairy Association side event: How Animal Source Food Nourishes The World In Times of Climate Change.

IX. Vox: There’s less meat at this year’s climate talks. But there’s plenty of bull.  Meat and dairy are driving the climate crisis. Why won’t world leaders at COP28 do anything about it?

X.  Food Navigator: on The Emirates Declaration.  Food is finally at the top table but measurable targets are missing.  Over 130 prime ministers and presidents have today signed the Emirates Declaration at COP28 – a first of its kind commitment to adapt and ‘transform’ food systems as part of action on the climate crisis…. Read more

Comment: The Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action is the firsr statement out of this meeting.  It doesn’t mention fossil fuels (the elephant in this particular room) or meat.  But it does propose:

1. Financial and technical support for sustainable solutions, capacity building, infrastructure, and innovations for farmers, fisherfolk, and other food producers.while conserving, protecting and restoring nature.

2. Promoting food security and nutrition.

3. Supporting workers in agriculture and food systems whose livelihoods are threatened by climate change.

4. Strengthening water management .

5. Conserving, protecting and restoring land and natural ecosystems, enhancing soil health, and biodiversity, and shifting from higher greenhouse
gas-emitting practices to more sustainable production and consumption approaches, including by reducing food loss and waste and promoting sustainable aquatic blue foods.

As for how and when?

To achieve these aims – according to our own national circumstances – we commit to expedite the integration of agriculture and food systems into our climate action and, simultaneously, to mainstream climate action across our policy agendas and actions related to agriculture and food

In the meantime, consider these:

What will it take to stop the impending disaster?  This has to be #1 on the advocacy agenda.