HOW CARBON LABELS ARE GETTING PEOPLE TO EAT LESS MEAT

 By: Karen Asp    |    Reading time: 7 minutes
It’s no secret that the Western world needs a dietary intervention. Animal agriculture continues to be among the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions, and without a major shift to a plant-based diet globally as well as at an individual level, the future looks bleak.
The question is, though, how do you make consumers aware of the carbon footprint of their food? Enter climate labels. Just as nutritional labels help consumers make the right purchase for their health, these labels, which are being added to restaurant menus and food products, are designed to help consumers make healthier choices for the planet. 

In 2020, the World Resources Institute launched the Cool Foods Meals badge to make it easier for consumers to choose climate-friendly meals when dining out. The launch was timely, as it followed on the tails of a survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and Earth Day Network which found that 64 percent of individuals said they were either purchasing or eating plant-based foods to help reduce global warming.

Science, of course, shows that the best foods for planetary health are also the same ones that support human health: plants. So, could these climate labels inadvertently end up encouraging people to eat less meat? There is hope.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL COST OF ANIMAL AGRICULTURE

Every year, around 70 billion animals are raised and slaughtered for food. Our industrial, profit-driven food system benefits some while exploiting and harming animals, marginalized communities, public health, and the planet we all call home. If we are to fight climate change, we must act to change the food system now
 Animal Agriculture’s Negative Impact on Climate ChangeReporting on our large-scale industrial farming of animals, Laura Bridgeman writes, “Called humanity’s greatest mistake by some due to the resulting hard labor, diminished nutrition, and social inequality brought by agriculture, this system of food production now presents the world with a new quandary: environmental destruction on scales that can no longer be ignored.”

The environmental impacts of concentrated animal feeding operations [CAFOs], more widely known as factory farms, are many and devastating. “CAFOs produce enormous amounts of waste, which collect in vast open-air lagoons that can be breached by extreme weather events or gradually seep into groundwater. Water pollution from CAFOs can cause algal blooms which can devastate entire marine ecosystems. Air pollution is generated from CAFOs as manure is vaporized, sending toxic wafts through the air to surrounding communities,” writes Bridgeman.

Farmed animals generate well over 14 percent of all anthropogenic emissions. The bulk of these emissions are due to the raising of cattle for meat and dairy, which contribute 60 percent of total livestock emissions.
 Cattle Farming Is One of the Most Destructive Industries on the Planet: Animal agriculture is a leading cause of environmental degradation, and cattle farming is among the worst offenders.

“Farming is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, thus being a major cause of climate change,” writes Nimisha Agarwal. “Cattle farming has also often displaced local communities who have ensured more regenerative and balanced uses of land in their environments. It causes air and water pollution.” Agarwal adds that cattle farming, which “also treats living beings as commodities and shows no consideration for their welfare,” is an industry that “depends on clearing the land of forests, which is the habitat of many animals, thus threatening biodiversity.” 

While grass-fed beef has been offered up as a more sustainable option, Jessica Scott-Reid writes that consumers are being duped. “Grass-fed beef production is often marketed as small-scale with wholesome images of family farms and small herds. But in most North American supermarkets, grass-fed beef is sold by some of the largest, most environmentally destructive meat producers on the planet, including PerdueHormel, and JBS.”
 Is Regenerative Agriculture Really a Climate Solution?: “Regenerative agriculture is an attempt to reconcile agriculture with a healthy environment, and therefore address the destructive nature of farming as it currently exists,” writes Matthew Chalmers. 

But as farmers are embracing regenerative grazing and other forms of regenerative agriculture, experts remain skeptical of the positive impacts of these methods. Chalmers writes that while regenerative agriculture could be a “vital component” in fighting climate change, it alone is not enough: “If corporate agriculture and opportunistic farmers adopt sustainable farming practices without introducing a comprehensive plan to overhaul the farming system, animal agriculture’s contribution to the climate crisis will continue to accelerate.”
 9 Boundaries We Must Respect to Keep the Planet Habitable: Our food system is one of many threats the planet faces, and experts are warning that we must take action to change it.

“Scientists note nine planetary boundaries beyond which we can’t push Earth Systems without putting our societies at risk: climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol pollution, freshwater use, biogeochemical flows of nitrogen and phosphorus, land-system change, and release of novel chemicals,” writes Claire Asher. “The best way to prevent overshoot, researchers say, is to revamp our energy and food systems.”
 POLITICO: White House Dances Around A Big Contributor to Climate Change: Agriculture: While President Biden announced this month his plans to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, Ryan McCrimmon writes that the administration is not taking enough action when it comes to the agriculture industry.

“President Joe Biden needs the help of the powerful farm industry to reach his sky-high climate goals. But his plans for cutting agricultural emissions might not have enough teeth to take a big bite out of global warming,” writes McCrimmon. “The White House hasn’t set any specific targets yet for agriculture.” Read more from Sentient Media.We are exposing the truth about Big Ag. Donate now.
The Cool Foods badge, which identifies dishes with a lower carbon footprint, was first embraced by Panera Bread, which became the first company to receive the Cool Food Meals certification. Today, when you look on Panera’s menu, you’ll see climate-friendly foods denoted with a bright green badge. As of October 2020, 55 percent of its menu was labeled as low-carbon Cool Food Meals. 

In 2020, Chipotle launched its Real Foodprint tracker, giving customers detailed information about five metrics behind the chain’s ingredients, including how much water an order saves, how many antibiotics it avoided, how much organic land it supported, how much less carbon it put into the atmosphere, and how much it improved soil health.

A new survey from Michigan State University indicates a disconnect between climate change and food. Only 44 percent of participants knew that eating more plant-based foods could have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.  

Researchers in Sweden asked 803 individuals to answer questions online about their food-related habits and choices, finding that the majority of study participants either wanted the knowledge of the climate impact of food products, or at least weren’t against it—and after individuals who wanted the information digested it, their willingness to pay for meat substitutes increased.

While climate labels are still so new that long-term data doesn’t yet exist to understand their full impact, early data from some restaurants shows positive changes. For instance, after Just Salad introduced its Climatarian menu, sales of those items increased significantly.

Read the full story here.
Featured Image: Push Doctor/Flickr

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