Consciously limiting your carbon footprint has become quite trendy among many young, urban Americans. It’s a practice I whole-heartedly support – it’s just that their ideas to achieve their goal are often way off the mark. This week produced another round of anti-meat chatter with the release of the “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health” by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington-based non-profit “organization that advocates on Capitol Hill for health-protective and subsidy-shifting policies.”
The research by EWG examined every stage of food production, processing, consumption and waste disposal, and determined that if everyone in the U.S. eliminated meat and cheese from their diet just one day a week for a year, “the effect on greenhouse gas emissions would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.”
The report found that traditionally raised lamb has the worst carbon footprint, followed by beef, cheese, pork and fish. EWG also made recommendations for people who choose not to give up eating meat. For beef eaters the suggestion is to eat grass-fed beef because it is “lean and healthiest.” It was also recommended that you choose “certified humane.”
From agriculture’s perspective, the “Meat Eater’s Guide” provides plenty of fodder for criticism. For instance, the report criticizes both antibiotic and hormone use by livestock feeders with unproven claims about the safety of those products. It’s also suggested that “pasture raised” animals are treated more “humanely” than traditionally raised livestock.
More important is the fact that this new EWG report provides new material for a host of writers and bloggers who have miniscule understanding of either economics or agriculture. Susie Middleton, a food writer for the Huffington Post, used the report as the basis of a column that listed 10 strategies for eating less meat.
Susie, like a lot of trendy food writers, quickly grabs the sensational tidbits of misinformation spewed out by the anti-meat crowd, such as: “We need big change fast: The latest studies estimate that our current system of intensive livestock farming is responsible for 51 percent of greenhouse gases.” Fifty-one percent? Susie, have you ever been fishing? Because that’s a whopper.
Like many other trendy food writers, Susie also says, “I want to support small farmers.” She encourages her readers to buy locally produced food from “small diversified family farms” as a way to reduce their carbon footprints.
That’s admirable, Susie. A worthy goal and one you obviously can afford. Reality is that even if every American could afford the luxury of eating only locally, naturally-produced meats and vegetables, small, diversified farmers couldn’t begin to meet the demand.