If you’re eating beef for dinner, you’re contributing to global warming. So, if you want to be a hero, stop eating meat.
That’s the message from Mark Bittman in his opinion column published online yesterday by The New York Times. Following closely on the heels of a well-publicized essay contest that asked Times’ readers to explain why it’s ethical to eat meat, Bittman – one of the contest’s judges – leaves no doubt about his views of livestock production when chides readers, “You already changed your light bulbs; how about eating a salad?”
Bittman writes “on food and all things related” for The Times, and he’s the author of several successful books, including “How to Cook Everything,” “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,” and “Food Matters,” which he says is a “look at the links among eating too much meat, obesity, global warming, and other nasty features of modern life.”
Although Bittman admits to no formal training as a chef, his recipes are quite popular, and he’s worked as a food writer since 1970. He has also appeared as a regular guest on the Today Show. That Bittman is so popular among consumers is why it is so discouraging to see him rely on tired, inaccurate claims about beef and livestock production to peddle his theories about saving the planet.
“The purely pragmatic reasons to eat less meat (and animal products in general) are abundant,” Bittman wrote. He then cites a famous – and famously flawed – report on livestock’s environmental footprint.
“Five years ago, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a report called ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow,’ which maintained that 18 percent of greenhouse gases were attributable to the raising of animals for food. The number was startling.”
Yes, that number is startling. So startling, in fact, it sent a few scientists who actually know how to use a slide ruler scurrying to do some fact checking. One of those scientists is Frank Mitloehner, PhD., an animal scientist and air-quality specialist at the University of California, Davis, Air Quality Center.
Mitloehner says that the claims that livestock are to blame for the bulk of global warming are both “scientifically inaccurate” and a dangerous distraction from more important issues. However, Mitloehner has repeatedly acknowledged global warming is occurring, and that human activity contributes to it. But he wants people to understand that the contribution of animal agriculture to climate change is much smaller than what many believe.