Updated: Dec 16, 2020
That didn't come from us, we promise!
The European Union has launched a new €4.5 million three-year campaign called "Proud of EU Beef" with two beef and meat production organisations, Provacuno in Spain and APAQ-W in Belgium. The EU is financing €3.6 million of the total cost, and running ads encouraging consumers to eat more beef in Belgium, France, Portugal, and Germany.
The campaign says it will "enable consumers to be again confident about their beef consumption decision” and comes with a new ad regaling people with the benefits of "becoming a beefatarian" While sustainable farming is specifically mentioned as an upside of the beefatarian diet, we have to ask: Given what we know about emissions from cattle rearing and beef consumption alone, could their claim be true?
The answer is complicated. Producing a kilogram of beef emits 60 kilograms of greenhouse gases which is much higher than other animal products- producing roughly seven times the amount of emissions that come from poultry. Carbon emissions from beef come from three areas: emissions from changes in land use, emissions from the farming practices themselves, and methane produced by cows (by far the largest group). While sustainability-focused farms can aim to offset the inherent emissions that come from raising cattle with conscientious farming practices and agroforestry (planting trees to create a net carbon sink,) whether beef farms can actually reach carbon neutrality is debatable.
Additionally, while local European beef does stop the emissions that come with importing beef from South America or other traditional hubs, the transport emissions (less than 1%) are dwarfed by the emissions from farming and the burping cows themselves.
While it's hard to argue that beef is sustainable- or could be carbon neutral in the near future- there is a conversation to be had about what role farmers will play in the sustainable economy over the next 25 years. The EU's campaign certainly helps sustain European farmers with steady employment, but it's producing consumption levels that developed nations can't afford to continue. Greenpeace released a study that states EU citizens will need to decrease current meat consumption by 71% percent less meat by 2030 and 81% by 2050 in order to slow global heating and ensure food security.
In the end, with the future of the agricultural industry and preserving the Earth(!) in the balance, we are left with tough questions to answer as individuals and as organizations about our food systems: What are we willing to keep in our current life that will continue to emit carbon? And what makes sense? As our global consumption patterns change, how do we work with farmers and landowners to incentivize them to make those wide-reaching systemic changes while maintaining their livelihood?
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