Last week, during my monthly Patreon AMA livestream – and yes, that is an obvious plug to encourage you to go to patreon.com/rebecca and join my fun nerd community – one patron asked what I thought of a Telegraph headline titled “Meat is crucial for human health, scientists warn.” My patron couldn’t read the article because it’s behind a paywall, and I couldn’t either. Not only do I not want to give the Telegraph any money, but I don’t even want to give them my contact info for the “Coronation Offer” of 3 months free.
Luckily, British tabloids operate like a human centipede, in that the Telegraph takes in the information and then poops it out directly into the Daily Mail’s mouth, which they then reconfigure intestinally and poop out as Meat is crucial for human health, scientists say as they call for end to the ‘zealotry’ pushing vegetarian and vegan diets, an article you do not have to pay to read. I mean, you don’t have to pay with fiat currency. You pay with your sanity.
That said, I was able to get the gist before I was swallowed by the maw of madness: the initial food for the tabloid centipede came from a declaration, which is this thing that scientists fucking love to do when they all get together at a conference. Like, some scientific association will hold a conference somewhere, like Shitterton, Dorset, and everyone in the field flies there and they present papers and have panel discussions and then hit up the pubs and then things just spin out of control and the next thing you know, someone shouts “LET’S DO A DECLARATION” and someone else pulls out a big sheet of poster board and a fat marker and by the time day breaks, everyone has agreed that the Shitterton Declaration is going to change the course of human events.
In this case, the conference was held in Dublin and so we are blessed with the Dublin Declaration of Scientists on the Societal Role of Livestock, published in a very special edition of Animal Frontiers. The host of the conference was Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority. The special edition of Animal Frontiers was published by the American Meat Science Association. The entire thing is a delicious, savory product of the Meat Industry. Big Meat. Wait that doesn’t sound right…
Anyway, the Very Special Carnivore Issue argues in favor of meat-eating with a few claims: humans evolved to eat meat, meat provides us with a lot of nutrients, people who are very poor and who don’t have meat lack important nutrients, eating a lot of red meat isn’t THAT bad for you probably, we can’t just get rid of all the livestock by snapping our fingers like Thanos or we’d be left with a bunch of inedible biomass, the studies that all show the enormous impact of cow burps on climate change have some limitations, and finally, that we should not worry about the ethical treatment of animals in the meat industry because poor people need to eat meat to survive.
Obviously I’m summing this all up in a very mean way because I honestly don’t think it’s worth my time to go through this journal line by line and explain why it’s ridiculous: like, yeah, we shouldn’t just get rid of all livestock. No one is arguing we should. And yeah, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how bad red meat is when there are always confounding factors, and that’s why researchers look at literally billions of data points and crunch the statistics every which way they can only to come to a wishy washy conclusion that, yeah, a diet high in red meat is probably bad for you. Even a very skeptical systematic review found some evidence linking red meat to colorectal cancer, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and ischemic heart disease, though they call on more rigorous study before making an official recommendation to forgo it. There’s no health risk to not eating red meat, so yeah I’m actually fine forgoing it and it seems to me that the only people who worry that there isn’t enough evidence are the people who make a living by selling you meat.
Anyway, if you think I’m being unfair you can go read the issue in full if you’d like to. Public access to scientific research remains a huge problem but the nice thing about propaganda is that they pretty much always let everyone read it.
And while this may seem like pretty weak propaganda, the proof is in the pudding, by which I mean the science pudding that was fed to the Telegraph, and then the Daily Mail. This not-particularly-revelatory journal issue produced by the meat industry turned into the attention-grabbing headline “Meat is crucial for human health, scientists warn.” It’s not, actually. “Meat is crucial for human health, for humans who can’t afford or don’t have the understanding of health to eat a nutritious meat-free diet.” Scientists warn. Oooh.
I’m not sure what PETA is up to these days but other than them, I can’t think of any reasonable vegan or vegetarian who would argue for the entire population of humans to suddenly stop eating meat. The actual suggestion that I make is for everyone to reduce their consumption of meat in whatever way they reasonably can, whether that means going vegan or doing “meatless Mondays.”
Because the simple fact of the matter is that according to researchers, even if everyone in the world stopped using fossil fuels right this moment, we still wouldn’t stop global warming at 1.5 degrees celsius because of the emissions of our food system alone. Forget about whether or not eating red meat is killing us through cancer–we have become so addicted to eating as much meat as we can that it is killing our PLANET. And the meat industry knows that, which is why, much like the fossil fuel industry, they have been fully ramping up their propaganda machine, as documented in this excellent Guardian piece published this week:
“A five-year strategy document written in 2020 by a handful of leading cattle industry organizations identified a need to turn up the heat in its messaging fight. Their highest priority was to “demonstrate beef’s positive sustainability message and key role in regenerative agriculture”.
““It is highly likely the beef industry will continue to be threatened by legislation and/or regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions,” the document said. It went on: “The task force believes it is more important than ever to aggressively promote the multiple advantages of beef and educate consumers on how beef fits into a healthy lifestyle and sustainable diet.””
And remember a few months ago how I found a science influencer who was being paid by the fossil fuel industry to promote propane? Well, get ready for MEAT INFLUENCERS:
“In a private video training session for beef industry influencers, Sarah Reece, NCBA’s senior executive director of brand marketing, described a plan that involved paid advertising on Google, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube and Instagram, as well as video and audio ads spots on ESPN, Spotify and Sirius XM Radio.
“According to strategy documents posted to the Beef Board’s website, NCBA requested $9.1m for content marketing and paid advertising this year – all of which will serve to improve beef’s image, and some of which will specifically “communicate the net climate and environmental impact of beef production”.”
And I’m not even kidding here, but the writer of this piece took a Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) course offered by the meat industry to literally train influencers on their talking points to downplay their role in climate change. Master of Beef Advocacy. Holy hell. Guys, I don’t spend enough time on apps like TikTok so I absolutely need you to tell me if you see one of these meatfluencers in the wild. I want to look at them. I want to marvel at them. I want to be disgusted by them.
Anyway. A few months ago I happened across a discussion between George Monbiot and Ana Bradley about Russel Brand spreading far-righ conspiracy theories and I found it very interesting in that it was connected to the meat industry: Dutch scientists have been warning their government that the meat industry there was unsustainable because of the massive amounts of nitrate pollution caused by manure. They were ignored because the meat lobby was too powerful, and convinced the government to ignore them. After decades of hoping the problem would simply disappear, the government finally realized they had to do something, and because they had dragged their feet for so long, they now need to take drastic action. They’re doing that by asking the farmers to use their land for something else, and offering to buy their land if they can’t or don’t want to.
White supremacists spun this on shows like Tucker Carlson, claiming that the government wants to steal the farmers’ land to house immigrants.
I found it very sad, but also fascinating because it had never occurred to me before that our inaction on climate change forces us to take more drastic action to correct it, which can then lead directly to a rise in fascism and far-right conspiracy theorists. I had really just never seen that connection before.
It’s bad enough that the meat industry is, like the fossil fuel industry, actively trying to stop humanity from slowing climate change, but to make matters worse, they might be fueling far-right nationalism and, in turn, terrorism.
I’ll end on an interesting side note: will you look at this graph from that Guardian piece that compares the carbon output of various foods? Cows bred for meat are the runaway winners, obviously, but number two is dark chocolate??? So obviously I spent some time reading up on that and it’s because of the clearcutting of forests: loggers remove old-growth trees, which leaves behind soil that is rich for cocoa, but only for 5 to 10 years, at which point the farmers pick up and move on to the next clearcut space. I guess I’ll add chocolate to the list of foods that I stop eating so much, but I reserve the right to change my mind when Big Candy gives me a million dollars to write a study about how it’s actually unethical to stop eating chocolate because if everyone stops eating chocolate all at once than a bunch of farmers in Cote d’Ivoire will starve to death.