In an era where consumers care very much about where their food comes from and have a strong desire to use their spending power in support of "good" products or companies, no industry can afford to ignore claims that depict their industry as unsustainable and damaging to the planet. The long-term profitability for industries over the next 20 years will be greatly affected by how well or poorly they communicate and prove that they offer what consumers are looking for: a great product that people can feel great about buying.
Case in point: beef sustainability.
Today's Washington Post has a story that shows just how damaging an uncorrected myth can be. The headline: "Denmark says you are 'ethically obligated' to eat less beef" because of its high impact on climate change. The story notes, "The meat industry contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than the combined exhaust from every form of transportation on Earth — a whopping fifth of the total."
Wow. Just let that one sink in a minute. Something really is rotten in Denmark!
Then, I read in Politico's Morning Agriculture newsletter that a new white paper has been released from Professor Frank Mitloehner, University of California - Davis stating that livestock's contribution to climate change has been grossly over-exaggerated and politicized. In fact, says the professor who has actually studied EPA's numbers, all of animal agriculture in the U.S. accounts for 4.2% of greenhouse gas emissions.
I have heard a number of inflated figures regarding agriculture's contribution to climate change. But the fact that Denmark is now considering a tax on beef based off of flawed numbers that have been repeated enough to be considered true -- that was a wake-up call.
Also surprising -- on the positive side, was the fact that the UC-Davis white paper was covered the same day - and by Politico no less! It is worth highlighting some of what the paper states:
- One argument often made is U.S. livestock GHG emissions from cows, pigs, sheep and chickens are comparable to all transportation sectors from sources such as cars, trucks, planes, trains, etc.
- The argument suggests the solution of limiting meat consumption, starting with “Meatless Mondays,” which will show a significant impact on total emissions.
- Leading scientists throughout the U.S., as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have quantified the impacts of livestock production in the U.S., which accounts for 4.2% of all GHG emissions, very far from the 18% to 51% range that advocates often cite.
- Comparing the 4.2% GHG contribution from livestock to the 27% from the transportation sector, or 31% from the energy sector in the U.S. brings all contributions to GHG into perspective.
- Breaking down the 4.2% EPA figure for livestock by animal species, shows the following contributors: beef cattle 2.2%, dairy cattle 1.37%, swine 0.47%, poultry 0.08%, sheep 0.03%, goats 0.01% and other (horses, etc.) 0.04%
This is just another example of why it is so important for the beef industry -- including those of us that serve it as business advisors, to actively engage in defining "sustainability." The facts are often favorable to the industry, but without communication, activists are left to set the agenda.
Coming up in about two weeks, my firm will be co-hosting a beef sustainability knowledge summit with our friends and partners at Kansas State University's Beef Cattle Institute. Yours truly will be facilitating much of the day! We are lucky enough to be joined by a really amazing line-up of speakers and participants from across the beef industry coming together with restaurants, grocery stores and some key environmental groups interested in promoting solutions rather than taking on an anti-animal agriculture agenda.
If you are looking for a way to get engaged, find allies or find people capable of supplying sustainable beef, please join us in Manhattan, KS or follow along via Twitter. We will be using the #SustainBeef2016 . Follow my twitter feed @SustainAg for updates along the way.
Even if you can't attend, please do what you can to take advantage of this opportunity to share the great research and stories that will be shared there through social media. Let's all do what we can to make sure the sustainable truth about beef makes its way to the consumers who want to know about it!