31.01.2017 |

Cut industrial meat and dairy production to save the climate, says GRAIN report

Factory farms are the problem, not small farmers and herders (Photo: CC0)

We can only solve the climate crisis if we cut industrial meat and dairy production and take meaningful steps towards agroecology and food sovereignty, says a new report released on Monday by the non-profit organisation GRAIN. Transformations over the past century in the way food is produced and consumed have made the food system a huge contributor to climate change, the report argues. Meat production alone now generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s transport combined. GRAIN cites official estimates according to which the food system is responsible for up to 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). “Some of these emissions are due to the growth of packaged and frozen foods, the increased distance foods are shipped and the rise in food waste. But the most important source of food system-related GHG emissions is the escalation of meat and dairy consumption – made possible by the expansion of industrial livestock and chemical-intensive feed crops,” the report reads.

But GRAIN also underscores that not all meat and dairy is created equal. “It’s crucial to make a distinction between different systems,” GRAIN researcher Renee Vellve told telesur. “Large-scale, confined feedlot operations controlled by a handful of corporations spew massive greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – from feed production to enormous manure lagoons to long-distance transportation. Not to mention additional negative impacts on the environment, labor conditions and public health.” In most of the Global South, however, livestock is raised mainly by small farmers practising low-emissions, mixed farming, plus 200 million herders who often graze their animals in areas where crops cannot be grown. The report highlights that not only do these production and consumption systems contribute little to climate change, they also improve family nutrition, enhance livelihoods and are an integral part of cultural and religious traditions. If we want to take meaningful action to address climate change, we therefore need to limit the power of meat and dairy corporations and the rapid expansion of industrial livestock farming. According to GRAIN this requires changing the policies, like corporate subsidies and free trade agreements, that promote factory farming.

One measures is to revise dietary guidelines to officially call for a reduction in meat consumption. The report says the drive to cut meat and dairy consumption must, in the first place, be directed towards the big offenders: North America and Europe, plus a few countries in Latin America like Brazil. Another measure is to impose a tax on meat, especially beef, to raise the price of meat and dairy in a responsible way in order to decrease consumption, as in the case of sugar, fats, fizzy drinks and tobacco. Another reommendation outlined in the report is a “socially positive tax”, e.g. a differentiated tax only on industrial meat or a tax that is coupled with subsidies to make locally and sustainably produced meat and non-meat alternatives available and affordable, especially for people with low income. Also the enormous subsidies behind the meat and dairy industry need to be addressed, says the report. In 2013, OECD countries paid US$53 billion to livestock producers, with the EU paying US$731 million to its cattle industry alone. Finally, we urgently need to reverse the push for global meat and dairy “value chains” as enshrined in big trade agreements between major trading blocks.

Instead, small-scale, local and agroecological meat and dairy production and marketing should be supported. The conclusion of the report is that “we can only solve the climate crisis if we take meaningful steps towards agroecology and food sovereignty. This would not only help stabilise our climate in a significant way, it would feed people better, healthier food, and treat animals more humanely. Moving from industrial production to agroecology will let farmers, pastoralists and ranchers capture carbon back into mistreated soils and improve food production over the long term.” (ab)

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Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
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