What messages will animal activist groups be pushing this year? In a recent PORK poll, respondents weighed in on four topics they think consumers will hear about in 2019: greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), taking meat out of the diet, alternative proteins and animals’ legal status.
“There is a need to defend objective truth – especially around food and agriculture – because ‘alternative ag facts’ harm sustainability,” said Alison Van Eenennaam, a cooperative Extension specialist in the field of animal genomics and biotechnology and the Department of Animal Science at the University of California Davis.
According to a 2019 PORK poll, 38% of respondents said the hot topic of 2019 will be messages attempting to take meat out of the diet. In January, a group called the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health issued a report suggesting drastic limits on meat and dairy consumption will improve the world’s health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
During a recent AgriTalk segment with Chip Flory, Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California Davis, said the report positions their diet as a planetary diet to improve human health and planet health.
“It encourages people to largely divorce from animal-based foods and allow no more than seven grams, which is a ¼ ounce of either beef or pork a day and 1 ½ eggs a week,” Mitloehner said. “I call that quasi-vegan.”
Alternative proteins, such as cell-cultured meat or plant-based meat, ranked a close second in the recent PORK poll. Cellular agriculture has quickly evolved from an internet phenomenon to a serious policy issue. Consumers (and producers) are looking for clarity about what this new technology might mean for their lives.
Part of the cell-cultured meat push is based on increasing concerns about agriculture’s impact on GHGs. However, a recent study from the Oxford Martin School found that in some circumstances and over the long term, the manufacturing of lab meat can result in more global warming, reported BBC News.
Legal standing for animals
Animal rights activists continue to push efforts to increase the legal status of animals because they believe that animals should be treated as equal to people – not only in society, but in the courtroom as well. With 21% of PORK’s respondents saying this will be a hot topic in 2019, Animal Agriculture Alliance’s Hannah Thompson-Weeman agrees that any efforts to afford more legal rights to animals should be viewed as part of a long-term strategy to elevate animals to have the same legal status as people.
“Thus far, efforts by groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Nonhuman Rights Project to extend personhood rights to certain animals have failed, but their attempts should still be of concern to livestock producers. If one animal is granted ‘personhood,’ it will embolden activists to push for those rights to be extended to all animals, including livestock and poultry,” Thompson-Weeman says.
Greenhouse gas emissions
Animal agriculture is responsible for just 4% of total U.S. GHGs, with pork production being about one-third of 1%, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“Wrongly focusing on restricting diets distracts from the highest environmental priority – the burning of fossil fuels, which is responsible for a large portion of global greenhouse gas emissions,” says Brett Kaysen, assistant vice president of sustainability for the National Pork Board. “It is not true that animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas than transportation, a frequently-cited but mistaken claim.”
Although greenhouse gas emissions came in fourth with 12% of the votes, this is a topic that isn’t going away soon and is often woven into other issues pushed by activists.
Mitloehner said, “There is no other sector of society that is more sustainable than agriculture. And for some reason, instead of endorsing it and owning it, people in agriculture are fighting it. We should be the leaders in the field and not the followers.”
It’s up to farmers to do what they do best, Mitloehner said on AgriTalk.
“We need to not only grow food, but we also need to inform the public as to how we do it,” he said. “The public is largely unaware of it. I have never seen a more uninformed public than the one today when it comes to how we grow food, source food, eat food, waste food, etc. Farming communities need to be in the center of this conversation.”
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