Friday, August 7, 2009

Attacking Family Farmers

Meat, climate change, and industry tripe
Posted 8:50 AM on 5 Aug 2009by Tom Philpott

Washington Post food-politics columnist Ezra Klein has taken a stand: people should eat less meat, because of its vast greenhouse gas footprint. To make his case, Ezra cited the FAO’s landmark “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report, which found that global meat production is responsible for 18 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

To be honest, when I read Ezra’s column, I thought, “yeah, and?” Of course we should eat less meat. But how far will individual choice take us? Shouldn’t we focus on forcing the meat industry to pay up for its massive externalities, including its contribution to climate change? Yet this eat-less-meat plea ended up generating more controversy than I thought possible.

In a letter to the editor published Monday, J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat institute, fired back, declaring Klein’s take on meat “inaccurate and not scientifically based.” How so? According to Boyle:

The Environmental Protection Agency concluded that in 2007, only 2.8 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions came from animal agriculture.

He concludes: “The animal protein sector in the United States is environmentally and socially responsible, and we strive to provide the safest, most abundant and most wholesome product to consumers domestically and worldwide.”

Oh, really? Read More

The author of this article thinks that since the US is such a large producer of GHG emissions that livestock’s small percentage contribution is still a huge problem. Apparently he doesn’t understand the meaning of percent. A small percent means you are a small contributor. If he was as adamant about reducing GHG emissions then he would be going after the largest sources. And it’s almost comical how he tries to include as many other industries as he can in livestock’s column. But the main thing that’s important to notice is how his first inclination is to attack the people in our industry rather than talk about the issue. He devotes a significant portion of the column trying to demonize Mr. Boyle simply because he was citing US EPA data that undermines the authors attempts to put family farmers out of business. Reasonable people having reasonable discussions don’t need to do that. Does our industry produce GHG’s? Yes, just like every other profession and person on this planet. But the author, most importantly, fails to mention how much we have lowered those emissions over the last century and yet continually increased our outputs. While eliminating agriculture may reduce GHG emissions, it would also mean none of us would be around to notice if it makes a difference.

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