Meat on the COP27 climate menu

Meat on the COP27 climate menu

The production of meat and dairy products is not yet on the agenda of governments


November 16, 2022

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3 minute read

Every morning at the COP27 climate conference, you can expect a gauntlet of anti-meat protesters wearing pig and cow costumes, holding banners decrying the carbon footprint of livestock and chanting slogans like “Let’s be vegan, let’s be free,” Reuters reported. .

Activist groups and business startups traveled to the two-week climate summit in Egypt to lobby the hundreds of global policymakers on the world’s love affair with meat and its role in reheating.

Their demands range from reducing meat consumption to seemingly outlandish policies such as a transition to cell-based meat grown in steel vats, which could eliminate the need for forage crops, ranch land and farms. slaughterhouses.

Cows, sheep, pigs and other farm animals are responsible for around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a peer-reviewed assessment conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois and published last year.

And researchers fear the impact could be greater, after recent efforts to measure emissions at individual US farms – by, for example, flying a methane detector plane above them – showed that ‘they were producing a lot more than expected.

“We seem to be completely off the mark. Virtually every time these…measurements are made, they don’t agree with (the official data),” said New York University researcher Matthew Hayek.

Realizing they can no longer ignore the role of food production in global warming, negotiators from nearly 200 countries at COP27 are holding focused discussions on this topic for the first time in the summit’s nearly three-decade history. of ONU.

Yet cutting meat and dairy production is not yet on the agenda of governments, many of which give ranchers billions of dollars in subsidies. Instead, they propose policies to reduce emissions produced by livestock, including feed additives that reduce gases emitted by livestock, and cut or capture methane that escapes from manure piles.

Activists don’t buy it.

“This can never be the way to net zero,” said Max Weiss, an activist with the Plant Based Treaty, a global group of activists promoting a meatless diet. “We need to move away from animal production.”

Climatologists also doubt that the measures favored by the industry go far enough. Andy Reisinger, agricultural emissions specialist and vice-chairman of the UN IPCC’s climate panel, said food additives would promote the kind of intensive farming that leads to emissions.

“This would lead to more intensive animal production which would require larger areas of land to produce animal feed, which would put pressure on forest land,” Reisinger told Reuters.

THE OTHER WHITE MEAT

Activists even protested the summit’s food kiosks selling burgers and chicken – foods they say don’t belong in a climate conference.

“When you walk into the conference, you get the smell of grilled animal meat in your nose. Which is dystopian to me,” Weiss said.

Not everyone cares about the smell of barbecue, however, and several companies want to commercialize an emerging technology to grow meat in steel tanks using microbial fermentation.

The hope is to be able to provide steaks, chicken breasts and pork without the drawbacks of traditional farming.

“We think people want to eat meat,” said Josh Tetrick, CEO of GOOD Meat, who served his company’s cell-based chicken at a COP27 side event.

“We’re just trying to find a more climate-friendly way to give them what they want.”

Tetrick’s company already sells small amounts of “cultured chicken” to restaurants in Singapore and is investing in production capacity in the United States in a bet that regulators will approve its sale there.

While the taste and texture are almost identical to chicken, the financial cost is about 10 times higher. “We have to fix this problem,” Tetrick said.

Helena Wright, policy director at the FAIRR Initiative, an investor network focused on sustainable agriculture, said she was encouraged by the focus on food at COP27.

“The conversation is on. And whether governments act or not, the market is already changing,” she said.


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