UN Agency Wants More Meat Production, Less Climate Impact

The UN wants poor nations to ramp up meat production for to address malnutrition, and developed nations to cut back.

(Photo Credit: Tommao Wang/Unsplash)
Photo by Tommao Wang via Unsplash

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The United Nations has a beef with rich nations.

At the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for meat production to be ramped up for poorer countries to address widespread malnutrition, while at the same time saying developed nations should cut back on animal protein to curb carbon emissions. The double standard will likely be a tough road to navigate, the Financial Times reported.

Meat in the Middle

The World Food Programme — a humanitarian group within the UN — says roughly 60% of the planet’s hungriest people live in just a handful of countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia. People there often lack the protein, fats, and carbohydrates easily found in meat and dairy. But the UN’s Maximo Torero told the FT that while some countries need more meat and dairy, others should consider slimming down. He suggested nations like the Netherlands and New Zealand bolster livestock farming and boost exports to malnourished countries. But all of this seemingly flies in the face of the UN’s climate goal of reducing greenhouse gasses.

Though transportation and fossil fuels often take the blame for being the biggest carbon emitters, the global agricultural sector — which is worth about $13.5 billion — accounts for a third of all greenhouse pollution, with most of it coming from livestock. Some countries, including the Netherlands, have told their farmers to reduce livestock quantities or leave the industry to halve the nation’s nitrogen levels by 2030, a move that unsurprisingly has farmers worrying about their livelihoods.

Torero and the FAO say the world can limit food-based emissions while also boosting meat production, but environmental groups and even other UN agencies think that’s a bad idea:

  • Alex Wijeratna of the non-governmental organization Mighty Earth told the FT, “It’s essential that we transition to producing less meat rather than more.”
  • In another report, the UN’s Environment Programme said lab-grown meat and dairy is the solution to reducing the agricultural industry’s climate impact. While the FAO sees some value in that approach, it asserted lab-grown animal products are not nutritional substitutes for the real thing.

Just Keep Drilling?: The beef brouhaha is just the latest example of the UN’s inconsistent messaging on climate change. Early in the summit, COP28 President Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber said there was “no science” behind calls for a phase-out of fossil fuels. Maybe the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company he runs needs better scientists.