Big Meat’s aggressive campaign at COP28 a strategic push to influence climate policy

The aim is clear: To disseminate a pro-meat message throughout the summit, countering growing environmental concerns.

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A strategic plan by major meat corporations and industry groups to dominate the narrative at the upcoming COP28 has been exposed by DeSmog and the Guardian. The aim is clear: To disseminate a pro-meat message throughout the summit, countering growing environmental concerns.

Documents reveal the meat industry’s intent to “tell its story and tell it well” at the Dubai conference. This comes in a year marked by unprecedented global temperatures, underscoring the urgency of climate action.

JBS, the world’s largest meat company, is leading the charge, preparing to attend COP28 in “full force” along with other industry giants like the Global Dairy Platform and the North American Meat Institute. These revelations are part of a strategy crafted by the industry-funded Global Meat Alliance (GMA), focusing on promoting “our scientific evidence” at the summit.

This year’s COP28 places a special emphasis on farming, with a “food and agriculture” agenda that seeks collaborative solutions to climate-induced food insecurity. The Alliance urges its members to adhere to key communication messages, notably portraying meat as environmentally beneficial and crucial for global food security.

Amidst increasing scrutiny, the meat and dairy sectors, responsible for substantial emissions, are under pressure to mitigate their environmental impact. The collective emissions of the top three meat companies exceed those of oil giants like Shell and BP, while the dairy industry contributes a higher percentage of global human-induced emissions than aviation.

In an intricate PR maneuver, the meat industry is being assisted by Red Flag, a PR firm with a history of lobbying for the US meat industry and a leading tobacco company. The firm will aid in maintaining a consistent narrative throughout COP28.

Trade groups also plan to influence the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to present “positive livestock content” at the summit. This follows instances where industry pressure led to the downplaying of the role of cattle in greenhouse gas emissions in FAO reports.

Animal agriculture, a significant emitter of methane—a potent greenhouse gas—poses a direct threat to the global goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5C. Without swift action, emissions from agriculture alone could push the planet past this critical threshold.

“These companies are intensifying their efforts in response to increased scrutiny,” says Jennifer Jacquet, Professor at the University of Miami. “Previously caught off-guard, they are now fully prepared.”

The GMA, in an email to DeSmog, stated its aim to “simplify and distill public information” around events often dominated by anti-meat narratives.

The meat industry’s PR strategy at COP28, described as a “notoriously challenging environment,” includes guiding industry stakeholders on how to effectively communicate their message across various segments of the conference, including thematic days and country pavilions.

The industry acknowledges its responsibility to influence governments toward “balanced, science-based outcomes,” as opposed to solutions it deems “ideologically driven.” Red Flag, embroiled in controversy for its role in pro-pesticide campaigns, will provide strategic support to navigate COP28’s complexities.

The meat sector is also reportedly planning to engage with social media influencers to amplify their messaging at the summit, as disclosed in earlier drafts of GMA documents. However, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) clarified that it does not intend to use social media influencers for this purpose.

AHDB emphasizes the need to increase food production by 70 percent to match population growth and voices concern over the prevailing narrative on livestock’s role in climate change and human health.

The GMA documents also mention influential pro-meat figures, such as author Diana Rodgers, known for defending meat consumption and opposing dietary changes in affluent countries.

Nusa Urbancic, CEO of the Changing Markets Foundation, warns, “The meat industry’s delay tactics to reduce emissions are evident. They fear any credible action leading to a reduction in meat and dairy production.”

The industry’s presence at COP28 will be formidable, with major emitters like JBS and Tyson Foods attending, accompanied by influential lobby groups. These groups have previously cast doubt on the human contribution to climate change.

The documents also reveal plans for close collaboration with major producer countries and governments to amplify the industry’s message at the summit. This includes equipping delegates with key messages and solutions and hosting events at country pavilions.

Government support for animal agriculture, as evidenced by disproportionate public funding compared to alternative protein sources, is a significant factor in sustaining the industry’s influence.

Jennifer Jacquet underscores the importance of addressing the interplay between governments and the meat industry. “To align our diets with climate goals, we must target production, akin to the fossil fuel sector’s ‘keep it in the ground’ movement,” she asserts.

In their messaging, the meat industry emphasizes sustainable nutrition and argues for the environmental benefits of meat production. This narrative includes claims that grazing livestock can support healthy soils capable of storing carbon, often referred to as ‘regenerative agriculture’. However, many scientists question the reliability of soil as a long-term carbon sink, pointing out that such carbon storage can be easily reversed.

In a comprehensive set of talking points, the Global Meat Alliance (GMA) advocates for the meat sector’s role in sustainable food systems, arguing that the industry is committed to carbon-friendly farming. These points often highlight the supposed benefits of livestock grazing on soil health, despite scientific reservations about the long-term viability of this approach.

The industry’s messaging also heavily emphasizes the role of meat in addressing global hunger and malnutrition, particularly in the Global South. However, the UN-linked Committee on World Food Security has repeatedly highlighted that hunger and malnutrition issues are more related to access, distribution, and power, rather than a sheer lack of food. The disparity in global meat consumption, with Western countries consuming far more than the global average, also raises questions about the sustainability and equity of current dietary patterns.

Despite these arguments, the documents make only brief references to methane reduction, a crucial aspect considering the significant emissions from beef production. Instead, the focus seems to be on participation in events where methane is discussed, rather than proactive measures to reduce these emissions.

The Food4Climate pavilion, promoting plant-based diets, is labeled as “extreme” by the GMA, which also expresses displeasure at COP28’s choice of a vegan menu. This reflects a broader reluctance within the industry to acknowledge the environmental and public health impacts of high levels of meat consumption, which are also linked to biodiversity loss.

At COP28, meat lobby groups are set to present a counter-narrative, urging the FAO to host “positive livestock content”. The industry stresses the importance of presenting “our scientific evidence” to support their claims of meat being positive for the environment. This includes the promotion of the Dublin Declaration, a document signed by over 1,000 scientists, though criticized by climate experts as meat industry propaganda.

Furthermore, the industry plans to highlight initiatives like ‘greener cattle’ at COP28 through the US-led AIM for Climate initiative. These efforts aim to portray the industry as environmentally friendly, despite significant evidence to the contrary.

The Global Meat Alliance’s membership, heavily weighted towards producers in the Global North, raises questions about the inclusivity and representativeness of its global perspective. The dominance of these groups in the Alliance and their coordination for COP28 reflects a broader trend in climate initiatives, where smallholder voices are often marginalized.

Ian Scoones, a researcher at the Institute of Development Studies, highlights the danger of generalizing livestock discussions, which can overlook the vital roles of pastoralists and small-scale producers, mostly in Africa and Asia. He emphasizes the need for diverse perspectives in these conversations, particularly for those who might be adversely affected by global policy shifts.

As COP28 approaches, the meat industry’s planned presence and strategic messaging underscore the complex intersection of climate policy, industry interests, and global food systems. With the industry employing tactics similar to those used by the fossil fuel sector, the challenge lies in ensuring that climate negotiations and policies are informed by a broad range of perspectives and are based on comprehensive, unbiased scientific evidence. The global community will be watching closely to see how these dynamics unfold at the summit and what implications they may have for global climate action and sustainable development.

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