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History, I think, will look back at the early 21st century as an important period in our developing attitude about greenhouse gases and global warming — and about how far we were willing to go to change our habits.  The fact is, there are many powerful forces, with seriously vested interests, who don’t want us to face facts about meat eating and its harmful effects on health and environment.

Consider two recent examples:

The meat industry, both here and in Britain, went apeshit.

Consider these comments directed at the administrators of BCPS:

Janet Riley of the American Meat Institute told Atlantic Food Channel that, “Meat is associated with weight control. It’s not the number one source of fat in [kids’] diet.” Atlantic writer Eliza Barclay gives Riley more digital room to ramble: Riley “also invoked her own two sons to emphasize that kids require animal protein in their diets. ‘Meat is what keeps them satisfied and out of the pantry,’ she told me.”

Pork Magazine also went postal over BCPS’ Meatless Monday: “The danger of the Baltimore City Public Schools system’s Meatless Mondays is in infringement of a student’s freedom of choice on that day. What is to stop the school system from determining that tomatoes, for example, are unfit for consumption on Tuesday’s and, since they have already set a precedent, declare Tomatoless Tuesdays? What about Fishless Fridays? Absurd, perhaps. But no more so than their rights-infringing and opinion-driven bad policy they call Meatless Monday.”

The reaction was considerably more interesting in Britain, where livestock producers didn’t deny their role in carbon emissions. Instead, they argued that they’re already well on the way toward creating better and more efficient farms to reduce their carbon footprint.

So says the Times Online, in a piece today:

It was the lack of acknowledgement about what the industry is doing to help to fight climate change that made senior farming leaders so outraged by the comment by Lord Stern. The reaction in Whitehall, however, was muted. The remarks were a personal view from Lord Stern, who is an economist, one senior insider said.

It was left to Professor Robert Watson, chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to set the record straight and make clear that stopping people eating meat was not on the government agenda. The professor, who eats meat, fish and cheese but admits that he consumes more fruit and vegetables these days, made clear that eating a balanced diet that was good for health and the environment was the key. However, he did not flinch from Lord Stern’s view that the nation had to reduce its carbon emissions.

“There’s no question we need to reduce greeenhouse gas emissions, not only the way we produce energy and use energy, but also from avoiding deforestation and our agricultural sector. Livestock globally could account for as much as 18 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

“When you look at the livestock industry, it’s not just the cows burping methane, it’s transporting the meat, it’s cooking the meat, it’s storing the meat. It’s not stopping eating meat. It’s how do we get a balanced diet that reduces the environmental footprint.”

Work is already under way to tackle emissions from livestock. Defra has a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 11 per cent in 2020. Duncan Fuller, head of research and development at the English Beef and Lamb Executive, said new feeding regimes were being investigated.

Photo by VirtualErn via Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution License