Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a four-part series identifying falsehoods regarding the consumption and production of beef. The series exposes a classic “scare campaign” designed to manipulate public opinion and force changes in government policy.
In 2006 the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” that was so full of absurd claims, dressed up to look like science, that I made a mental note to revisit the issue.
Several recent events have made this an increasingly urgent matter. In August 2008, for example, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) compared the murder and beheading of a 22-year-old man on a Greyhound Bus by a deranged passenger to “acts of cruelty and killing performed every day by the meat industry.” The claim exemplified how divorced from reality PETA is and how persistent the attacks on beef production and consumption have been.
Also in August, USA Today ran an article noting, “Animal rights groups pick up momentum.” A spokesman for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, an organization defending the livestock industry, noted, “Ultimately, their goal is to eliminate animals being used as food.” He added, “There’s a real danger when we allow a very small minority of activists to dictate procedures that should be used to raise animals for food.”
An ominous new angle to the issue of livestock production came with the FAO report, however, because activists claim worldwide beef production is a major contributor to present and future global warming harms asserted by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
As Krystle Russin noted in the September 2008 issue of of Environment & Climate News, “Global warming activists are putting agriculture firmly in their crosshairs, launching new efforts to restrict meat production and consumption.” The article noted, “Global warming activists say keeping livestock at a farm uses too much energy,” and observed, “the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations attributed 18 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions to livestock.”
The FAO complaint ignores an extremely important consideration, however, as the Pacific Research Institute reports: “Worldwide, livestock production provides livelihoods for 1.3 billion people, and particularly in developing countries, livestock are also a source of renewable energy for farming activities, and a source of organic fertilizer.”
At least one-sixth of the world’s population bases its livelihood on raising livestock, and of course meat’s many nutritional elements benefit consumers. As incomes have begun to rise in nations such as China, the consumption of meat has risen as well, bringing greater health to the populations.
Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, points out, “I think this shows us that [global warming alarmism] is really about controlling people’s lives rather than saving the planet.”
Environmental activist groups have always depended on alarmism in various forms, and that is why the FAO report on livestock production requires a strong dose of truth to offset its many distortions.
Let us begin with the assertion that global warming is occurring. It isn’t. The Earth has been cooling since 1998. Carbon dioxide is a minuscule element of the Earth’s atmosphere, barely 0.038 percent. Thus, to advocate an attack on livestock production because of global warming is to engage in the kind of boldfaced fraud we associate with Al Gore.
Curiously, there is relatively little overt criticism of FAO despite the occasional passing notice of its abject failure to make a dent in the frequency of famines. Hamstrung by its vast bureaucracy, FAO has often been known to stand by while people died, engaging in internal politics and favoritism instead of useful action.
FAO’s Chronic Problems
A 1988 study by The Heritage Foundation noted FAO’s chronic problems, reporting it was created in 1945 “with the lofty aspiration of feeding the world’s hungry. It has not done so, despite over $8 billion in outlays.
“The sad fact is that the FAO has become essentially irrelevant in combating hunger,” the Heritage study observed.
“A bloated bureaucracy known for the mediocrity of its work and the inefficiency of its staff, the FAO in recent years has become increasingly politicized,” the report continued. “As in the case of other U.N. agencies, the FAO is anti-Western and oblivious, even hostile, to the role of free enterprise in development. It embraces the collectivist ideology espoused by the radical leftist nations who now dominate U.N. proceedings.”
Not much has changed since that report was issued. The issue at hand is whether free people in a nation founded on liberty will permit massive hoaxes such as global warming and organized attacks on its thriving beef production industry to determine what they will eat, while undermining an important element of the nation’s economy.
[In the second installment in this series, the FAO report’s substantive assertions will be refuted with facts, mostly from agencies of the U.S. government.]