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INVESTIGATION: How the meat industry is climate-washing its polluting business model

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So far, the meat industry seems to be having considerable success with its climate-friendly communications strategy. This could be, in part, because it is benefitting from a general lack of media scrutiny.

CAROLINE CHRISTEN: In February last year, the head of a leading global meat industry body gave a “pep talk” to his colleagues at an Australian agriculture conference. “It’s a recurring theme that somehow the livestock sector and eating meat is detrimental to the environment, that it is a serious negative in terms of the climate change discussions,” Hsin Huang, Secretary General of the International Meat Secretariat (IMS), told his audience. But the sector, he insisted, could be the “heroes in this discussion” if it wanted to.

“We cannot continue business as we have done in the past,” he went on. “If we are not proactive in helping to convince the public and policymakers in particular, who have an impact on our activities – if we are not successful in convincing them of the benefits that we bring to the table, then we will be relegated to has-beens.”

Huang’s speech points to an industry nervous about its role in a carbon-constrained future. In the face of mounting evidence of the livestock industry’s climate impacts and a growing array of meat alternatives, the sector has developed a multi-pronged PR strategy that seeks to legitimise not only the industry’s current activities but also its plans to scale up production — despite clear warnings from scientists that this could scupper efforts to meet climate targets.

DeSmog conducted a five-month investigation into the meat industry’s PR and lobbying, reviewing hundreds of documents and statements by companies and trade associations. Our research shows how the industry seeks to portray itself as a climate leader by:

    • Downplaying the impact of livestock farming on the climate;
    • Casting doubt on the efficacy of alternatives to meat to combat climate change;
    • Promoting the health benefits of meat while overlooking the industry’s environmental footprint;
    • Exaggerating the potential of agricultural innovations to reduce the livestock industry’s ecological impact…

So far, the meat industry seems to be having considerable success with its climate-friendly communications strategy. This could be, in part, because it is benefitting from a general lack of media scrutiny. According to an analysis by researchers from Oxford University, Stanford University, and the State University of New York, elite media outlets in the US and UK rarely reported the link between the consumption of animal-based foods and climate-change between 2006 and 2018.

The study’s authors observed that when the media did report on the topic, it put a much higher emphasis on the impact of individual consumer choices than the responsibility of large-scale meat corporations such as Tyson… Like the tobacco and fossil fuel industries before it, the meat industry is engaged in a PR battle, with journalists struggling to mediate.

Jan Dutkiewicz, a Policy Fellow at Harvard Law School researching large-scale conventional meat production, is frustrated by media coverage that aids the meat industry by uncritically reporting unverified claims about its climate impact — a situation reminiscent of mistakes made when communicating the fundamentals of climate science. SOURCE…

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