Slow Food fights EU plans to beef up meat industry

By Louis Gore-Langton

- Last updated on GMT

Commissioner Phil Hogan
Commissioner Phil Hogan

Related tags: Meat consumption, European union, Greenhouse gas

A coalition of organisations led by Slow Food is protesting EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan’s decision to allocate €15m to promote meat consumption in Europe.

Speaking at the annual Livestock Summit in Clermont-Ferrand, France, the commissioner pledged the money in support of European farmers who are facing falling meat prices.

 Earlier in the year he placed emphasis on the beef industry and promised continued support of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement which guarantees easy access to third country markets.

Slow Food’s letter was signed by a number of other groups including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the European Public Health Alliance.

Industrial Meat

The letter of protest urged the commissioner to withdraw his commitments, saying: "Promoting meat consumption is in direct contradiction with the European Union’s objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

It cited studies showing reduced meat consumption as critical to meeting the objectives of the recent Paris Agreement on climate change (COP21).

The letter said 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions were attributable to meat consumption, and referenced studies showing deforestation, biodiversity loss, soil degradation and the depletion of water resources as a direct result of industrial meat production.

According to a study by the European Safety Process Centre (ESPC), a non-profit organisation specialising in chemical and pharmaceutical safety, nitrogen pollution from large amounts of manure is destroying soil capacity and consequently other areas of the environment.

More than 75% of agricultural land globally is now used for livestock production, according to the same study.

Slow Food also mentioned animal cruelty and human diet-related diseases; eight billion land animals are slaughtered per year in the EU alone, the majority of which are kept in conditions where they cannot express their natural behaviours.

The letter also referenced a study relating meat consumption to type-2 diabetes, obesity, several types of cancer and "an elevated risk of all-round mortality". 

Industry reform

The meat industry has welcomed Hogan’s announcements saying they could actual improve the environmental sustainability of the sector.

Micheal Gore, CEO of Belgium’s meat trade group FEBEV told FoodNavigator: “The meat industry within Europe is in a profound crisis...  If support can be provided for promotion of meat within the EU, it might help improve local consumption and thus have a beneficial impact on the environment.”

He said the more money that is invested in the meat industry, the better equipped it will be to reform and promote the 'act local, think global' principle.

He added that “80% of Belgian pork meat is exported within the EU, for beef the percentage is even higher​”.  Funding to aid the meat industry across Europe could also cut carbon emissions associated with transport.

Paolo Patruno, deputy secretary general of trade group CLITRAVI which represents the interests on European meat processors, also welcomed Hogan’s commitments, saying it would increase the European GDP and aid other industries such as machinery, logistics and services.

He said: ”The meat sector is investing in sustainability and the right way to proceed is to promote research and innovation and to look at the good practices”​ , adding that the commissioner’s pledges also stood for the fruit and vegetable industry, which will be receiving a larger share of promotion and investment than the meat sector.

Calls to curb consumption

Hogan’s decisions come after a global analysis earlier this year found a levy on meat could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one billion tons and save half a million lives.

The study, conducted by Oxford Martin School on the Future of Food, suggested increasing the price of beef by 40%, saying this would result in a 13% decrease in consumption and would produce a huge range of public health and environmental benefits.

The Danish Council of Ethics also recently proposed a tax on all 'climate damaging foods' particularly beef, acknowledging it as the only way for Denmark to stick to COP21.

Related topics: Policy

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