The United States and other countries will be asked to reduce meat consumption at the COP28 UN Climate Change Summit Agriculture Day on December 10. The road map to 1.5 degrees Celsius is not a binding plan, but it is expected to influence decisions around the globe to take immediate action on climate policy. This document could cause a reduction in meat production in countries around the world. 

The details of the plan have not been released. What is currently known is that countries that “overconsume” meat will be told to reduce that consumption. The method for reducing meat consumption is not yet known. Whether suggestions include an increase in plant-based agriculture or synthetic, lab-grown meats to replace livestock is left to be seen. One report published by the American Society of Animal Science indicates that a switch to lab-grown meats could actually increase the amount of emissions because of the rigorous energy that would be required. The lab process for culturing this product involves many of the same systems that pharmaceutical companies use. This makes people wonder, “Is this product a food product or a pharmaceutical product?”

In a 2021 interview with MIT Technology Review, Bill Gates stated his support for a switch to synthetic meat. “I do think all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef,” Gates said. “You can get used to the taste difference, and the claim is they’re going to make it taste even better over time. Eventually, that green premium is modest enough that you can sort of change the [behavior of] people or use regulation to totally shift the demand.”

Meanwhile, plant-based burgers often rely on soy and canola. The current plant-based agriculture model utilizes monoculture, the process of growing one plant throughout a field. This type of agriculture leads to erosion, nutrient depletion, and desertification and may lead to more food insecurity if not replaced with resilient, regenerative agriculture systems. Regenerative agriculture relies on grazing livestock to fertilize and add nutrients to the soil. When this kind of grazing is done properly, it significantly reduces the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by preventing topsoil erosion. 

The “Beyond Burger” is a highly processed product that contains the following ingredients: water, pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, natural flavors, dried yeast, cocoa butter and methylcellulose; it also contains less than 1% of potato starch, salt, potassium chloride, beet juice color, apple extract, pomegranate concentrate, sunflower lecithin, vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, vitamins and minerals (zinc sulfate, niacinamide [vitamin B3], pyridoxine hydrochloride [vitamin B6], cyanocobalamin [vitamin B12], and calcium pantothenate).” Compare this to a typical hamburger that contains ground beef and seasoning. 

Another study indicates that removing animals from agricultural systems in the U.S. would result in a modest 2.6 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Dr. Robin White, an Animal Sciences Researcher, and Mary Beth Hall, a USDA Research Animal Scientist, conducted the study. The study also determined that removing animals in agriculture would result in a diet that is “nonviable in the long or short term to support the nutritional needs of the US population without nutrient supplementation.”

The call by the UN FAO to reduce meat consumption is not advocating for removing animals from agricultural systems or meat from the typical diet. However, the research completed by White and Hall indicates a holistic approach to policy change is necessary to obtain meaningful results without causing vast nutritional deficiencies in the greater population. One of the study’s authors, Robin White, responded to a request for comment. 

“A variety of reports and scientific efforts suggest that a more flexible and localized approach to these challenges might be more appropriate and successful,” said White while indicating a one-size fits all model is not suitable based on the inherent regional concerns and complexities. “This push toward locally-relevant solutions is important given the tremendous variability in economic, social, cultural, and climatological factors which dictate and constrain food systems and, more broadly, human activities around the world.”

White also affirmed that participating in nuanced discussions at the COP28 summit is what world leaders should be doing. White stated, “I think they should be participating in efforts like COP28 to engage in global dialog and define global priorities, and subsequently follow-up locally to establish efforts, policies, incentives, programs, etc. to support and encourage human action toward those priorities considering the unique economic, social, cultural, climatological, etc. factors at play within their unique context.  

Frank Mitloehner, a professor in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, responded to the question of whether reducing animal consumption would significantly reduce carbon emissions. He stated, “It’s complex and depends on where we’re reducing or increasing herds. Less animals may lead to less emissions, but consumption of animal-sourced foods is set to increase globally. We should be working to reduce emissions on farms, regardless, to maximize our opportunities to reduce the impact of animal agriculture on climate change.”

The United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made a statement on the second day of the summit regarding the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS). In the statement, he mentions Bill Gates and the need to focus on the fundamental elements of soil and seed. Blinken stated, “We’re also celebrating our inaugural VACS Champions: Bayer, Catholic Relief Services, ADM, Concern Worldwide, and the One Acre Fund.” He also mentioned the corporations of Cargill and ADM supporting this mission. 

The inclusion of Bayer in the discussion of agricultural production causes many people to shudder. This is the same corporation that bought Monsanto and continues to push the cancer-causing herbicide, Roundup, which has lost multiple lawsuits for hundreds of millions of dollars with 160,000 total cases pending. Bayer’s website discusses solutions to climate change. It includes crop protection, which they define as pesticides and herbicides, like Roundup. The website also discusses the importance of innovating seeds for crop production. Monsanto’s patented GMO seeds were the basis for lawsuits against at least 144 different farmers, many of whom were unaware that the patented seeds had blown onto their farms. 

Cargill, another company mentioned by Secretary Blinken, has recently been sued for labor violations in the poultry industry, child labor in the cocoa harvesting industry, and also deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest. Continued deforestation, scientists say, will turn the area into dry grassland and significantly increase the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. 

These multi-billion-dollar companies do not have a good reputation for caring about the health and sustainability of the Earth. While the specific details of the agricultural plan have yet to be released, the vagueness of the discussion is an opportunistic way for massive corporations to take even more control of the food supply. Some doubt whether that would help us work towards economic sustainability, food stability, or preventing climate change. 

The Agriculture Day takes place on December 10 where more details will be revealed regarding the UN’s intent for reducing meat consumption. Creating a roadmap that reduces emissions around the globe requires the participation of the major corporations, many of whom are causing the greatest impact. Some say, however, it is important to realize that the profit-motive of these companies may overshadow the desire to reduce emissions holistically. Rushing into major changes to agriculture may lead to unhealthy, unsustainable diets and economic hardship. 

 

 

 

 

Steven Middendorp

Steven Middendorp is an investigative journalist, musician, and teacher. He has been a freelance writer and journalist for over 20 years. More recently, he has focused on issues dealing with corruption and negligence in the judicial system. He is a homesteading hobby farmer who encourages people to grow their own food, eat locally, and care for the land that provides sustenance to the community.

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