July 13, 2018
“The reason so many people misunderstand so many issues is not that these issues are so complex, but that people do not want a factual or analytical explanation that leaves them emotionally unsatisfied.” – Thomas Sowell
In the 21st century the cattle sector finds itself in a peculiar situation. The global demand for red meat and dairy products is at unprecedented levels, yet the sector is also facing more criticism than ever before.
Undoubtedly, there are significant sustainability issues with status quo dairy and beef production models’. However, many of the accusations directed towards the livestock sector transcend production systems and are targeted at the idea of animal agriculture in its entirety.
Therefore, in this week’s post, I intend to briefly examine the anti-animal agriculture narrative that has emerged in recent years; explain why these accusations are not only ill-founded, but why they are being purported; and finally, conclude with the course of action SAS will take to counter this anti-animal agriculture narrative.
Meat Causes Nutrition, Not Cancer
“For a modern disease to be related to an old fashioned food is one of the most ludicrous things I have ever heard in my life.” – Thomas Latimer (Peter) Cleave (1906 – 1983) Surgeon Captain.
The premise that meat is detrimental to human health makes no sense. However, researchers appear particularly keen on linking this food to modern diseases.
In October 2015, 22 scientists from ten countries met at the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) in France to evaluate the carcinogenicity of red meat and processed meat. The report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not provide a shred of proper scientific evidence to suggest that any component of red meat is dangerous to health, yet they are claiming red meat “probably” causes cancer. Why is this so?
This conclusion is derived from their use of epidemiological data. Epidemiology is a science that can establish associations (being in hospital is associated with death) but seldom cause and effect (being in hospital does not cause death).
The great success story of epidemiological science was its ability to link smoking to cancer. In that case, heavy smokers had a 9-to-25 times greater risk of contracting lung cancer than did non-smokers, a “relative risk” big enough to give researchers confidence that the association was real.
Unless relative risks are greater than 5, epidemiological studies typically provide only low-quality evidence. The WHO decisions on meat were based on relative risks of 1.17 to 1.18.
Weak associations are untrustworthy as they could very well be due to bias associated with any number of factors in diet or lifestyle. These effects are known technically as confounders – they confound the interpretation of the association.
For example, vegetarians tend to smoke less, exercise more and have a higher socioeconomic status. By contrast, red meat-eaters over the past 35 years are people who ignore official dietary guidelines and are likely to indulge in Big Mac meals (which is mostly a conglomeration of grain, potato, sugar and vegetable oil), all of which alone or in combination might explain the small relative risks associated with meat-eating.
Whereas the antithesis of the stereotypical meat-eater is American orthopaedic surgeon Dr Shawn Baker, the man spearheading the zero-carb diet movement in the U.S.
Given the absence of academic integrity displayed by the WHO, we can be almost certain that there are other agendas driving the vilification of meat.
The New “Scapecow”
The WHO report is not a scientific document, it is a political document, and it is likely that the political agenda is climate change.
Environmental activists believe cattle are a major emitter of greenhouse gases, and that this poses an existential threat to the world. I suspect climate change activists have realised that big oil is too big to take on, and that people are not easily persuaded to stop taking overseas holidays and buying new cars.
So where can activists vent their frustrations?
Unquestionably, animal agriculture is viewed as low hanging fruit. The livestock sector lacks the financial backing and political support that energy companies enjoy, and the industry’s economic contribution to national GDP and employment numbers is paltry in comparison to other industries.
But just as people are unwilling to give up air travel, the idea of giving up meat is not very compelling either.
But by linking animal source foods to modern diseases, it may be possible to discourage meat consumption, and therefore reduce the alleged environmental consequences of meat production.
In 2015, the WHO Director General published her six-point agenda outlining the organisation’s vision for high priority issues. The first point: “to drive the global agenda in the context of accelerating progress to the Millennium Development Goals.”
- Millennium Development Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
- Millennium Development Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Both millennium goals discuss “doubling agricultural growth” and restricting food production that worsens the “carbon footprint.”
In recent years, many organisations have progressively linked the cattle industry, and the consumption of red meat, to anthropogenic climate change – concluding that consumers need to “eat less red meat and dairy products.”
Since 2008, The Lancet (British medical journal) has published a series of articles calling for a reduction in the consumption of red meat to "control" climate change. Why is a medical journal commenting on climate change?
Whether the climate is changing because of anthropogenic activity is still a hotly debated and commercially sensitive topic.
Nevertheless, it is professionally and morally reprehensible to associate red meat consumption with negative human health outcomes, when the ulterior motive is to discourage meat consumption for supposed environmental reasons.
However, irrespective of one’s views, the contribution modern ruminant agriculture could be making to anthropogenic climate change is being vastly overestimated.
The 2015 U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) Inventory calculated that methane emissions from beef cattle represented 1.8% of all human-caused GHG emissions, and all other agriculture contributed 6%.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Animal Science analysed enteric methane emissions in the United States. The study compared methane emissions originating from wild ruminants (pre-European settlement), to the emissions generated by the current population (2012) of all farmed ruminants in the United States.
The study found that “enteric CH(4) emissions from bison, elk, and deer in the presettlement period were about 86% (assuming bison population size of 50 million) of the current CH(4) emissions from farmed ruminants in the United States.”
Are cattle really a key driver of “anthropogenic climate change,” when presettlement enteric methane emissions were 86% of what they are currently (2012), despite 300 million more people living in the United States?
Human activity is always going to have a degree of impact on the natural world. To say otherwise is disingenuous. Rather than lamenting the greenhouse gas emissions of agriculture, more effort and focus must be placed on developing climate smart production systems capable of using finite resources super-efficiently.
It is important to appreciate that production intensity and emissions intensity are inversely related. The more efficient farming systems become, the relatively lower the carbon footprint per unit of livestock product produced.
The SAS System will operate with a very low carbon footprint. Although it’s resource efficiency and zero diffuse pollution attributes are of far greater importance, its low greenhouse gas emission credentials will appeal to food retailers and carbon footprint conscious consumers.
Food is incredibly personal – more personal and socially charged perhaps, than religion or politics. Chef Anthony Warner, author of The Angry Chef, summarises this idea as follows:
“Food inspires strong beliefs. In our secular age, many modern tribes signal their status through diet rather than religious faith, with restrictions on what we eat a particularly potent identifier. Vegans are an especially vociferous tribe. The passions of many can run hot, and it can make them believe some curious things.”
The “healthy” plant-based diet concept has been vigorously promoted for several decades, with the “Mediterranean diet” being one of the early examples.
In her book, The Big Fat Surprise, Nina Teicholz explains the origins of the “Mediterranean diet.” The academic version of the Mediterranean diet is copious fruit and vegetables with everything covered in olive oil.
However, as anyone who has visited the Mediterranean will attest, the local diet is far from meat and cheese free. So how did America come to believe this false image of the “heart healthy” Mediterranean diet?
Well, the early academic research trips to the Mediterranean occurred during Lent and whilst many of the countries were still rebuilding from the Second World War.
“No doubt a Cretan or Calabrian peasant might find it ironic that New York socialites and Hollywood movie stars – indeed, nearly all the wealthy peoples on the planet – are now trying to replicate the diet of an impoverished post-war population desperate to improve its lot.” – Nina Teicholz.
As Michel de Montaigne allegedly wrote, “I prefer the company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly.”
Many of the so-called nutrition experts and urban elites fall victim to the same problem today. They are not uneducated, they are just miseducated.
Earlier this year, the Erasmus University Rotterdam released this message via social media:
“It’s a veggie revolution! Starting today, all lunch services and banqueting catered by Vitam and ordered by personnel of Erasmus School of Economics will be 100% plant based. This will become the new standard – however, freedom of choice will not be violated: meat or dairy can still be ordered. By changing the default option, ESE plans to significantly decrease meat and dairy consumption. Read how behavioural economist and advocate Dr Jan Stoop came up with the idea.”
The plant-based agenda being supported by this Erasmus School of Economics confirms Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s thesis, that strong intolerance of minorities to something others are indifferent to is sufficient to change the rules for all.
The number of people pursuing a plant-based diet is increasing, but this is still a minority. Social media has given minority opinion holders the ability to make it look as though they represent a much larger section of society than they do.
The plant-based diet is primarily an affliction of Western countries, and pales into insignificance alongside the growing international demand for dairy products and red meat.
It is the prerogative of modern food consumers to deprive themselves of quality nutrition if they so wish. However, what is not acceptable, is the disinformation campaign being waged by NGOs and plant-based zealots against animal agriculture.
Open Farm Enlightenment
“We have a new boss in agriculture: moms, bloggers, foodies, and yoga instructors who have an online certification in nutrition. They speak louder than we do, and they are full of inaccurate information, but they are powerful when they speak.” – Julie Borlaug, granddaughter of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and father of the Green Revolution, Dr Norman Borlaug
Arguing online with people who have renounced the use of reason is futile. We believe the best way to counter this virtual disinformation campaign is to change the battleground.
Our company’s fifth business objective is to make bovine agriculture transparent. This will be achieved by integrating a purpose-built Open Farm agri-tourism venture into the demonstration unit development.
The modern urban lifestyle is now almost completely divorced from food production. Many children grow up without ever visiting a farm. This is not necessarily a major problem in itself, but this distinct lack of agricultural knowledge does make food consumers far more vulnerable to indoctrination by those wishing to advance the anti-animal agriculture narrative.
By giving food consumers the opportunity to have a real-life experience “down on the farm,” the onus is on the activists to convince people that what they have seen and tasted whilst visiting the Open Farm was in fact an hallucination.
The Open Farm provides the platform from which SAS can expose the anti-animal agriculture narrative, and dispel the myths, misinformation and outright lies surrounding human nutrition.
However, I suspect there is much more to this anti-animal agriculture narrative than meets the eye, and that is the subject of next week’s post.