Drought ignites human-wildlife conflict in Zimbabwe

https://phys.org/news/2020-01-drought-ignites-human-wildlife-conflict-zimbabwe.html

Taken on November 12, 2019 it shows the carcass of an elephant that succumbed to drought in the Hwange National Park, in Zimbabw
Taken on November 12, 2019 it shows the carcass of an elephant that succumbed to drought in the Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean villager Dumisani Khumalo appeared to be in pain as he walked gingerly towards a chair under the shade of a tree near his one-room brick shack.

Wild  in Zimbabwe were responsible for the deaths of at least 36 people in 2019, up from 20 in the previous year.

“I thank God that I survived the attack,” said Khumalo with a laugh, making light of the fact that the buffalo almost ripped off his genitals.

Authorities recorded 311 animal attacks on people last year, up from 195 in 2018.

The attacks have been blamed on a devastating drought in Zimbabwe which has seen hungry animals breaking out of game reserves, raiding  in search of food and water.

“The cases include attacks on humans, their livestock and crops,” said national parks spokesman Tinashe Farawo.

He said elephants caused most fatalities, while hippos, buffalos, lions, hyenas and crocodile also contributed to the toll.

Hwange National Park, which is half the size of Belgium, is Zimbabwe’s largest game park and is situated next to the famed Victoria Falls. The park is not fenced off.

Animals breach the buffer and “cross over to look for water and food as there is little or none left in the forest area,” Farawo said

Starving animals

Khumalo vividly remembers the attack.

More than 200 elephants starved to death over three months last year
More than 200 elephants starved to death over three months last year

He was walking in a forest near his Ndlovu-Kachechete village to register for food aid, when he heard dogs barking.

Suddenly a buffalo emerged from the bush and charged, hitting him in the chest and tossing him to the ground.

It went for his groin and used its horn to rip off part of the skin around his penis.

Khumalo grabbed the buffalo’s leg, kicked it in the eye and it scampered off.

Villagers in Zimbabwe’s wildlife-rich but parched northwestern region are frequently fighting off desperately hungry game.

More than 200 elephants starved to death over three months last year.

Despite suspecting that Khumalo was hunting illegally when he was attacked, Phindile Ncube, CEO of Hwange Rural District Council admitted that  are killing people and that the drought has worsened things.

“Wild animals cross into human-inhabited areas in search of water as … sources of drinking water dry up in the forest,” said Ncube.

He described an incident that took place a few weeks earlier, during which elephants killed two cows at a domestic water well.

Armed scouts have been put on standby to respond to distress calls from villagers.

But it was while responding to one such call that the scouts inadvertently shot dead a 61-year-old woman in Mbizha village, close to Khumalo’s.

“As they tried to chase them off one (elephant) charged at them and a scout shot at it. He missed, and the stray bullet hit and killed Irene Musaka, who was sitting by a fire outside her hut almost a mile away.”

In this file photo taken on November 12, 2019 a hippo is stuck in the mud at a drying watering hole in the Hwange National Park,
In this file photo taken on November 12, 2019 a hippo is stuck in the mud at a drying watering hole in the Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe.

Chilli cake repellant

Locals are encouraged to play their part to scare off animals. One way is to beat drums.

But the impact is limited.

“Animals, such as elephants get used to the noise and know it… won’t hurt them, so it does not deter them in the long term,” said George Mapuvire, director of Bio-Hub Trust, a charity that trains people to respond to .

Bio-Hub Trust advocates for a “soft approach” that encourages peaceful co-existence between humans and wildlife.

Mapuvire suggested burning home-made hot chilli cakes to repel wildlife.

“You mix chilli powder with cow or elephant dung and shape it into bricks, once the bricks dry, you can burn them when elephants are approaching. They can’t stand the smell!”

Villagers have created an elephant alarm system by tying strings of empty tin cans to trees and poles.

When the cans click, they know an elephant is approaching and they light chilli cakes to keep it away.

Another way of keeping  at bay is the chilli gun, a plastic contraption loaded with ping-pong balls injected with chilli oil.

“When it hits an elephant, it disintegrates, splashing the animal with the chilli oil,” Mapuvire explained.

Grizzlies, black and polar bears found together for 1st time

Polar bears, black bears, and grizzlies have been found together for the first time during a University of Saskatchewan research project in northern Manitoba.
 Polar bears, black bears, and grizzlies have been found together for the first time during a University of Saskatchewan research project in northern Manitoba. University of Saskatchewan / Supplied
University of Saskatchewan researchers said they made an unprecedented finding – all three species of North American bears in the same subarctic region.

The researchers documented polar bearsblack bears, and grizzlies in Wapusk National Park on the west coast of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Man.

READ MORE: Draft plan says Nunavut has too many polar bears and climate change isn’t affecting them

“These sightings are consistent with expected ecological responses to the amplified effects of climate change on high-latitude ecosystems,” said Douglas Clark, a conservation scientist at the U of S School of Environment and Sustainability.

“Our observations add to growing evidence that grizzlies are substantially increasing their range in northern Canada.”

Researchers said they observed the bears between 2011 and 2017 using motion-activated cameras.

WATCH BELOW: Grizzly bears at Saskatoon zoo to begin 3rd hibernation

5 fun facts about grizzly bear hibernation at Saskatoon zoo

5 fun facts about grizzly bear hibernation at Saskatoon zoo

What was new in the observations, said Clark, were the grizzlies.

“It’s likely that they will benefit the most because they have been known to dominate the other two species elsewhere, for instance eating both black bears and polar bears, or displacing them,” he said.

However, Clark said, large black bears could have the upper hand when encountering a young grizzly, while smaller species of bears will modify their behaviour to avoid grizzlies.

Clark said the big question is how the interactions will affect bear conservation and management efforts.

He said the overlap could be due to climate change as bears seek out new or expanded habitats for food sources.

“This range overlap shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to any of these bears, but should be understood as an ecological response to environmental change.”

He added Wapusk is at the convergence of the boreal forest, tundra, and ocean ecosystems that are all changing quickly with climate change.

As the lab-grown meat industry grows, scientists debate if it could exacerbate climate change

KEY POINTS
  • Companies are moving quickly to bring to market meat products that are grown from animal cells in a lab.
  • Similar to companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, cultured meat will replicate the taste and consistency of traditional meat.
  • The move to the lab will appeal to people concerned about land-based animal agriculture and its role in accelerating climate change.
  • Some researchers speculate the rise of the cultured meat could actually make climate change worse.
GP: Lab grown meat, Laboratory Meat
Startup founder Didier Toubia holds a petri dish and a plate with a steak in his hands. The Petri dish contains certain stem cells of a cow from which a steak will be bred in the laboratory in three to four weeks.
Ilia Yechimovich | picture alliance | Getty Images

Companies across the world are moving quickly to bring to the market hamburgers and other meat products that are grown from animal cells in a lab.

This month, Israeli-based company Future Meat Technologies raised $14 million to build a production plant for its cultured meat products, joining several dozen other start-ups poised to launch their first commercial products within the next couple years.

Lab-grown meat will replicate the taste and consistency of traditional meat. Many expect the move to the lab will especially appeal to people concerned about the role land-based animal agriculture has in accelerating climate change.

But as investments and research ramp up for lab-grown meat, more people are debating the environmental and health implications of widespread production of alternatives.

Some researchers speculate that depending on the efficiency of the production process, the rise of the cultured meat industry could actually make climate change worse than traditional beef production. One issue is the longer lasting impact of carbon pollution versus methane gas pollution.

“Lab meat doesn’t solve anything from an environmental perspective, since the energy emissions are so high,” said Marco Springmann, a senior environmental researcher at the University of Oxford.

“So much money is poured into meat labs, but even with that amount of money, the product still has a carbon footprint that is roughly five times the carbon footprint of chicken and ten times higher than plant-based processed meats,” he said.

Despite these findings, commitment to protecting the environment is at the forefront of marketing efforts by plant-based protein and lab-created meat companies. Analysts project the market could be worth as much as $85 billion by 2030.

Animal agriculture remains a giant global economic force. It’s responsible for nearly 15% of global greenhouse emissions, according to United Nations estimates. Roughly 65% of those emissions come from beef and dairy cattle.

Companies say cultured meat is the future

Dozens of start-ups are racing to be the first to sell their lab-grown beef within the year. So far, the U.S. has at least nine cell-culturing companies out of the several dozen worldwide. The leading industries plan to release the first products, including like ground beef and chicken nuggets, by the end of this year.

Proponents of cultured meat say that producing it in a lab helps preserve endangered species and other animals, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and significantly curbs land and water use. Most of the cultured meat start-ups boast a firm commitment to protecting the environment.

MosaMeat in the Netherlands says that cultured meat generates up to 96% lower greenhouse gas emissions, and the company predicts that once cultured meat becomes a mass-market food, there will be no need for industrial farms.

In the U.S., San Francisco-based Memphis Meats says its businesses use significantly less land, water energy and foot inputs. Tyson Foods and Cargill have both invested in the company.

Future Meat Technologies says its cultured products will take up 99% less land, 96% less freshwater and emit 80% less greenhouse gases than traditional meat production, according to its Life Cycle Assessment.

“One of the reasons that Future Meat Technologies stands out in the cultured meat field is that our proprietary high yield production process lends itself naturally to distributive manufacturing,” said the company’s founder Koby Nahmias. “Because it’s so efficient, I think we’ll see more than an add-on to cattle production, but that it will start replacing it.”

The company’s process will allow farmers to shift production to a more sustainable, lower-risk and high-efficiency process, Nahmias said, and the small size of the company’s production modules can also be powered by renewable energy.

Production a work in progress

Since the cultured-meat industry is in such an early stage, it’s difficult to assess the actual carbon footprint of producing on a large scale without clear data on production processes.

As companies continue to develop their alternative meat products they’ll likely face increasingly climate-conscious consumers or stricter regulations on emissions as the planet warms. This could encourage the growing industry to use cleaner energy and technologies for cultured meat, researchers say.

However, if large-scale cultured meat industries start producing a lot of carbon dioxide pollution, it could be as damaging for the planet as the beef and cattle emissions, according to the research published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.

The impact would depend on decarbonized energy generation and the production systems cultured meat companies use, the study says. The research points out that emissions from a meat lab produce energy made up of carbon dioxide, which persists in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. In contrast, methane, a potent greenhouse gas produced by raising and killing cattle, disappears from the atmosphere in about 12 years.

“In the past year, we’ve seen more hype and investment around cultured meat,” said John Lynch, a researcher at Oxford University and co-author of the report.

VIDEO00:36
How ‘cultured meat’ can turn one cow into 175M burgers

“If these companies want to sell cultured meat as an environmental alternative, they will need to look at renewable energy resources for production. They need to have the drive to do it,” he said.

Of course, that research is based on speculating about how labs will produce their products and contain emissions. The companies are not yet producing on a commercial scale and are still trying to cut costs as they compete to bring the product to the market.

“We’ll need to take a step back and urge a bit more caution if environmental messaging continues to be a big part of advertising for cultured meat,” Lynch said. “The interest of the companies is making it clear how will they produce in an environmentally sustainable way.”

In a similar movement away from eating animals, companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger have gained popularity over the past few years. They produce fake meat products made from pea protein or genetically modified soy for consumers who want the taste to imitate a real burger, and market the environmental benefits of their products.

However, those fake meat products have also been debated by scientists, who argue that it’s healthier and better for the environment to consume plant foods rather than processed alternatives.

Future Meat’s Nahmias said that the research indicating that lab-grown meat could be worse for the environment than regular beef was widely “mischaracterized” as a claim against cultured meat.

“Under extreme cases, if you’re using polluting energy, you can get to parity with traditional meat,” he said. “We’re far away from that extreme case, so I don’t see that as a problem.”

Future Meat’s efficiency is expected to improve 10 times more in their new pilot production facility, he added, and the distributive manufacturing model will allow producers to couple each small facility to local renewable energy production.

“We are working in an industry with tight margins and thus a necessity for efficiency,” said Cai Linton, founder of London-based start-up Multus Media, a group that’s working to reduce the cost of lab-grown meat.

“As a company, our biggest environmental policy will be minimizing waste, particularly with regard to single-use plastics and fresh-water, and ensuring the electricity we use is produced sustainably and in a clean way.”

Linton said that by the time his start-up is ready to scale up, he’s confident the facilities will have net-zero carbon emissions.

“At this early stage, our estimations on efficiency and environmental impact will always be open to scrutiny since they are only projections,” he said. “We must also consider that although the research and development required to create a commercially viable product may not have environmental protection at its core, the long term benefits of this technology far outweigh the short-term cost.”

Why we must cut out meat and dairy

Jonathan Safran Foer: why we must cut out meat and dairy before… https://www.theguardian.com/books/20 19/sep/28/meat-of-the-mat. c#ftian Jonathan Safran Fo€r: why we must cut out meat and dairy before dinner to save theplanet Animal products create more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector, but we don’t want to confront this inconvenient truth: our eating habits are a problem

The Guardian

Jonathan Safran Foer

Sat 28 Sep 2019 03.00 EDT

Our planet is facing a crisis. But even when we know that a war for our survival is raging, we don’t feel that it is our war. Although many of climate change’s accompanying calamities – extreme weather events, floods and wildflres, displacement and resource scarcity chief among them – are vivid,

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personal and suggestive of a worsening situation, they don’t feel that way in aggregate. The distance between awareness and feeling can make it very difficult for even thoughtful and politically engaged people – people who want to act – to act.

So-called climate change deniers reject the conclusion that97% of climate scientists have reached: the planet is warming because of human activities. But what about those of us who say we accept the reality of human-caused climate change? We may not think the scientists are lying, but are we able truly to believe what they tell us? Such a belief would surely awaken us to the urgent ethical imperative attached to it, shake our collective conscience and render us willing to make small sacrifices in the present to avoid cataclysmic ones in the future.

In zot8, despite knowing more than we have ever known about human-caused climate change, humans produced more greenhouse gases than we’ve ever produced, at a rate three times that of population growth. There are tidy explanations – the growing use of coal in China and India, a sttong global economy, unusually severe seasons that required spikes in energy for heating and cooling. But the truth is as crude as it is obvious: we don’t care. So now what?

Of course there are some moments when the planetary crisis is acutely felt. Watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was an intellectual and emotional revelation for me. When the screen went dark after the final image, our situation seemed perfectly clear, as did my responsibility to participate in the struggle. And when that film’s credits rolled, at the moment of greatest enthusiasm to do whatever was asked to work against the imminent apocalypse that Gore had just delineated for us, suggested actions appeared on the screen. ‘Are you ready to change the way you live? The climate crisis can be solved. Here’s how to start.”

Among the suggestions were: tell your parents not to ruin the world that you will live in; if you are a parent, join with your children to save the world they will live in; switch to renewable sources of energy; plant trees, iots of trees; raise fuel economy standards; require lower emissions from automobiles.

A[ Gore in An inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Photograph: Participant Media/Paramount Pictures

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There is a glaring absence in Gore’s list, and its invisibility recurs in 2017’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, with one minuscule exception. It is impossible to explain this omission as accidental without also accusing Gore of a kind of radical ignorance. In terms of the scale of the error, it would be equivalent to a doctor prescribing physical exercise to a patient recovering from a heart attack without also telling him he needs to quit smoking, reduce his stress and stop eating burgers and fries twice a day.

So why would Gore deliberately choose to leave this particular issue out? Almost certainly for fear that it would be distractingly controversial and dampen the enthusiasm he had just worked so hard to ignite. It has also been largely absent from the websites of leading environmental advocacy organisations – although this now seems to be changing. It is unmentioned in the celebrated book Dire Predictions, written by the climate scientists Michael E Mann and Lee R Kump. After forecasting existential climate disasters, the authors recommend that we substitute clotheslines for electric dryers and commute by bicycle. Among their suggestions, there is no reference to the everyday process that is, according to the research director of Project Drawdown – a collection of nearly zoo environmental scientists and thought leaders dedicated to identifying solutions to address climate change – “the most important contribution every individual can make to reversing global warming”.

What I am thinking of is the fact that we cannot save the planet unless we significantly reduce our consumption of animal products. This is not my opinion, or anyone’s opinion. It is the inconvenient science. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector (all planes, cars and trains), and is the primary source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions (which are 86 and 3ro times more powerful than CO2, respectively). Our meat habit is the leading cause of deforestation, which releases carbon when trees are burned (forests contain more carbon than do all exploitable fossil-fuel reserves), and also diminishes the planet’s ability to absorb carbon. According to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, even if we were to do everything else that is necessary to save the planet, it will be impossible to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord if we do not dramatically reduce our consumption of animal products.

Why is this subject avoided? Conversations about meat, dairy and eggs make people defensive. They make people annoyed. It’s far easier to vilify the fossil fuel industry and its lobbyists – which are without a doubt deserving of our vilification – than to examine our own eating habits. No one who isn’t a vegan is eager to go there, and the eagerness of vegans can be a further turnoff. But we have no hope of tackling climate change if we can’t speak honestly about what is causing it, as well as our potential to change in response.

It is hard to talk about our need to eat fewer animal products both because the topic is so fraught and because of the sacrifice involved. Most people like the taste of meat, dairy and eggs. Most people have eaten animal products at almost every meal since

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they were children, and it’s hard to change lifelong habits, even when they aren’t freighted with pleasure and identity. Those are meaningful challenges, not only worth acknowledging but necessary to acknowledge. Changing the way we eat is simple compared with converting the world’s power grid, or overcoming the influence of powerful lobbyists to pass carbon-tax legislation, or ratifying a significant international treaty on greenhouse gas emissions – but it isn’t simple.

I certainly haven’t found it to be effortless. In my early 3os, I spent three years researching factory farming and wrote a book-length rejection of it called Eating Animals.I then spent nearly two years giving hundreds of readings, Iectures and interviews on the subject, making the case that factory-farmed meat should not be eaten. So it would be far easier for me not to mention that in difficult periods over the past couple of years – while going through some painful personal experiences, while travelling the country to promote a novel when I was least suited for self-promotion – I ate meat a number of times. Usually burgers. Often at airports. Which is to say, meat from precisely the kinds of farms I argued most strongly against. And my reason for doing so makes my hypocrisy even more pathetic: they brought me comfort. I can imagine this confession eliciting some ironic comments and eye-rolling, and some grddy accusations of fraudulence. I wrote at length, and passionately, about how factory farming tortures animals and destroys the environment. How could I argue for radical change, how could I raise my children as vegetarians, while eating meat for comfort?

I wish I had found comfort elsewhere but I am who I am. Even as my commitment to vegetarianism, driven by the issue of animal welfare, has been deepened by a full awareness of meat’s environmental toll, rarely a day has passed when I haven’t craved it. At times I’ve wondered if my strengthening intellectual rejection of it has fuelled a strengthening desire to consume it.

Confronting my hypocrisy has reminded me how difficult it is to even try to live my values. Knowing that it will be tough helps make the efforts possible. Efforts, not effort. I cannot imagine a future in which I decide to become a meat-eater again, but I cannot imagine a future in which I don’t want to eat meat. Eating consciously will be one of the

‘Rarely a day has passed when I haven’t craved meat’ Jonathan Safran Foer. Photograph: Christopher Lane

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struggles that span and define my life.

We do not simply feed our bellies, and we do not simply modify our appetites in response to principles. We eat to satisfy primitive cravings, to forge and express ourselves, to realise community. We eat with our mouths and stomachs, but also with our minds and hearts. All my different identities – father, son, American, New Yorker, progressive, Jew, writer, environmentalist, traveller, hedonist – are present when I eat, and so is my history. When I first chose to become vegetarian, as a nine-year-old, my motivation was simple: do not hurt animals. Over the years, my motivations changed because the available information changed, but more importantly, because my life changed. As I imagine is the case for most people, ageing has proliferated my identities Time softens ethical binaries and fosters a greater appreciation of what might be called the messiness of life.

There is a place at which one’s personal business and the business of being one of seven billion earthlings intersect. And for perhaps the first moment in history, the expression “one’s time” makes little sense. Climate change is not a jigsaw puzzle on the coffee table, which can be returned to when the schedule allows and the feeling inspires. It is a house on fire. The longer we fail to take care of it, the harder it becomes to take care of, and because of positive feedback loops – white ice melting to dark water that absorbs more heat; thawing permafrost releasing huge amounts of methane – we will very soon reach a tipping point of “runaway climate change”, when we will be unable to save ourselves, no matter how much effort we make.

We do not have the luxury of living in our time. We cannot go about our lives as if they were only ours. In a way that was not true for our ancestors, the lives we live will create a future that cannot be undone. The word “crisis” derives from the Greek krusls, meaning “decision”.

Future generations will almost certainly look back and wonder why on earth – why on Earth – did we choose our suicide? Perhaps we could plead that the decision wasn’t ours to make: as much as we cared, there was nothing we could do. We didn’t know enough at the time. Being mere individuals, we didn’t have the means to enact consequential change. We didn’t run the oil companies. We weren’t making government policy. The ability to save ourselves, and save them, was not in our hands. But that would be a lie.

Our attention has been fixed on fossil fuels, which has given us an incomplete picture of the planetary crisis and led us to feel that we are hurling rocks at a Goliath far out of reach. Even if they are not persuasive enough on their own to change our behaviour, facts can change our minds, and that’s where we need to begin. We know we have to do something, but “we have to do something” is usually an expression of incapacitation, or at least uncertainty. Without identifying the thing that we have to do, we cannot decide to do it.

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Forest fires in A[tamira, Para state, Brazil[ … ‘Our meat habit is the leading cause of deforestation, which releases carbon when trees are burned’ Photograph: JoSo Laet/AFP/Getty images

Climate change is a crisis that will always be simultaneously addressed together and faced alone. The four highest impact things an individual can do to tackle the planetary crisis are: have fewer children; live car-free; avoid air travel; and eat a plant-based diet. Most people are not in the process of deciding whether to have a baby. Few drivers can simply decide to stop using their cars. A sizable portion of air travel is unavoidable. But everyone will eat a meal relatively soon and can immediately participate in the reversal of climate change. Furthermore, of those four high-impact actions, only plant-based eating immediately addresses methane and nitrous oxide, the most urgently important greenhouse gases.

Some argue that plant-based eating is elitist. They are either misinformed, or knowingly taking the favorite emergency exit of privileged, performatively thoughtful people who don’t want to change what they eat. It is true that a healthy traditional diet is more expensive than an unhealthy one – about $SSo (f44o) more expensive over the course of a year. And everyone should, as a right, have access to affordable healthy food. But a healthy vegetarian diet is, on average, about $ZSo (f6oo) Iess expensive per year than a healthy meat-based diet. In other words, it is about $2oo (f16o) cheaper per year to eat a healthy vegetarian diet than an unhealthy traditional diet. Not to mention the money saved by preventing diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer – all associated with the consumption of animal products. Nine per cent of Americans making less than $3o,ooo per year identify as vegetarian, whereas only 4% of those making more than $75,ooo are. People of colour are disproportionately vegetarian. It is not elitist to suggest that a cheaper, healthier, more environmentally sustainable diet is better. But what does strike me as elitist? When someone uses the existence of people without access to healthy food as an excuse not to change, rather than as a motivation to help those people.

Different studies suggest different dietary changes in response to climate change, but the ballpark is pretty clear. The most comprehensive assessment of the livestock industry’s environmental impact was published in Nature in October 2018. After analysing food-production systems from every country around the world, the authors

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concluded that while undernourished people living in poverty across the globe could actually eat a little more meat and dairy, the average world citizen needs to shift to a plant-based diet in order to prevent catastrophic, irreversible environmental damage. The average US and UK citizen must consume 90% less beef and 6o% less dairy.

No animal products for breakfast or lunch would come close to-achieving that. It might not amount to precisely the reductions that are asked for, but

US and Canadian Bird Population Dropped by Nearly 3 Billion in 48 Years

America’s birds have taken wing. Ornithologists calculate that in the past 48 years, total U.S. bird numbers, reckoned together with Canada’s, have fallen drastically. There are now 2.9 billion birds fewer haunting North America’s marshes, forests, prairies, deserts and snows than there were in 1970. That is, more than one in four has flown away, perhaps forever.

Birds are one of the better observed species. Enthusiastic amateurs and trained professionals have been carefully keeping note of bird numbers and behaviour for a century or more.

A flock of avian scientists reports in the journal Science that they looked at numbers for 529 species of bird in the continental U.S. and Canada to find that while around 100 native species had shown a small increase, a total of 419 native migratory species had experienced dramatic losses.

Swallows, swifts, nightjars and other insectivores are in decline, almost certainly because insect populations are also in trouble.

Grassland birds are down 53%: more than 720 million fewer. Radar records of spring migrations suggest that these have dropped by 14% just in the last decade. More than a billion birds have deserted the American forests.

The 529 species studied were spread across 67 bird families, and of these 37 were less abundant than they had been. Where there had been concerted efforts at bird conservation, numbers were on the increase, especially for waterfowl and some of the raptors, such as the bald eagle, but while the gains are measured in millions, the losses are counted in billions.

“Multiple, independent lines of evidence show a massive reduction in the abundance of birds,” said Ken Rosenburg of Cornell University’s ornithology laboratory, who led the study.

“We expected to see continuing declines of threatened species. But for the first time, the results showed pervasive losses among common birds across all habitats, including backyard birds.”

That America’s birds are in trouble is not news. Nor is the loss of the planet’s living things confined to the U.S.: researchers have warned that, worldwide, a million or more species of plant and animal face extinction.

Pest Control

Climate change creates unexpected hazards: as northern hemisphere springs get ever earlier, migrant birds may arrive too late to take full advantage of supplies of caterpillars, aphids or other foods. Birds have an important role in ecosystems: they control pests, they disperse seeds and they are themselves food for other predators.

The researchers argue that all is not lost: conservation action and legislation has been shown to work, but as ever more natural habitat is destroyed, as sea levels rise to damage coastal wetlands, as global temperature rises begin to change local climates, there needs to be much more urgency in response.

“These data are consistent with what we are seeing elsewhere with other taxa showing massive declines, including insects and amphibians,” said Peter Marra, one of the authors, once of the Smithsonian Museum and now at Georgetown University in the U.S.

“It’s imperative to address immediate and ongoing threats, both because the domino effect can lead to the decay of ecosystems that humans depend on for our own health and livelihoods – and because people all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?”

The Companies Behind the Burning of the Amazon

The burning of the Amazon and the darkening of skies from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, have captured the world’s conscience. Much of the blame for the fires has rightly fallen on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for directly encouraging the burning of forests and the seizure of Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

But the incentive for the destruction comes from large-scale international meat and soy animal feed companies like JBS and Cargill, and the global brands like Stop & Shop, Costco, McDonald’s, Walmart/Asda, and Sysco that buy from them and sell to the public. It is these companies that are creating the international demand that finances the fires and deforestation.

The transnational nature of their impact can be seen in the current crisis. Their destruction is not confined to Brazil. Just over the border, in the Bolivian Amazon, 2.5 million acres have burned, largely to clear land for new cattle and soy animal feed plantations, in just a few weeks. Paraguay is experiencing similar devastation.

Logs burn at sunset in Bolivia. Photo Credit: 2017, Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

New maps and analysis from Mighty Earth, based on data from NASA, CONAB, and Imazon and released here for the first time, show which companies are most closely linked to the burning:

Cattle

Both domestic and international demand for beef and leather has fueled the rapid expansion of the cattle industry into the Amazon. From 1993 to 2013, the cattle herd in the Amazon expanded by almost 200%  reaching 60 million head of cattle. While deforestation for cattle had been reduced thanks to both private sector and government action, the new wave of deforestation this year shows that the large international beef and leather companies and their customers and financiers continue to create markets for deforestation-based cattle.

The effects of this demand can be seen in the clustering of deforestation near slaughterhouses and roads that have access to slaughterhouses. The company most exposed to deforestation risk in the maps above is JBS,  both Brazil’s largest meatpacker, and the world’s largest meat company. JBS, like other major Brazilian meatpackers signed the 2009 Cattle Moratorium, pledging not to buy beef from cattle connected to deforestation. However,  investigations by government and NGOs have repeatedly found serious violations by JBS, including through laundering cattle.

These scandals reached their apotheosis with the Cold Meat (Carne Fria) scandal in 2017, in which the Brazilian government enforcement agencies produced extensive evidence showing that JBS was sourcing cattle from protected areas.  This and other investigations found that JBS violated both government and its own policies by buying laundered cattle that had been raised in areas linked to deforestation and then transported to “clean ranches” to evade the requirements. The two brothers who control the company were imprisoned for their role in corruption scandals in Brazil.

Aerial cattle field and forest edge. Photo credit: Jim Wickens/Ecosotrm

Soy

Soy supply chains work differently from cattle, and that is reflected in the maps above. Much of the current wave of deforestation has happened close to BR-163. Big soy farmers routinely transport their soy down Highway BR-163 to Cargill’s major port at Santarem, where it is put on ships and sent around the world to be fed to livestock in Europe, China, and elsewhere. There are similar dynamics around other highways on the map. Cargill, Bunge and other leading soy traders have participated in the Amazon Soy Moratorium in Brazil for the last dozen years, in which they committed to cease sourcing from suppliers who engaged in deforestation for soy. Overall, the Soy Moratorium has been a major success, virtually eliminating deforestation for soy.

However, the Soy Moratorium contained two major loopholes. First, the big soy traders can continue to purchase soy from farmers who engage in large-scale deforestation, as long as the deforestation is for crops other than soy. The location of the deforestation close to BR-163 suggests that farmers are exploiting this loophole to continue deforestation even as they sell soy to major traders like Cargill and Bunge. The location of the deforestation close to BR-163 suggests that farmers are exploiting this loophole to continue deforestation even as they sell soy to major traders like Cargill and Bunge.

Second, the Soy Moratorium only applies to the Brazilian Amazon. Major soy traders have continued to drive deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon Basin, the Brazilian Cerrado, and the Gran Chaco of Argentina and Paraguay, creating a major incentive for the rapid deforestation in Bolivia in the last several weeks. Mighty Earth’s reports The Ultimate Mystery Meat and Still At It showed Cargill’s extensive links to deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon basin, and its repeated refusal to take action against key suppliers even when confronted with repeated evidence. And as much attention as the Amazon is getting, Brazil’s half a billion acre, highly biodiverse forest-savannah mosaic known as the Cerrado has been even more deforested. While 80% of the Amazon is still intact, cattle, soy and agriculture interests have destroyed more than half of the Cerrado, putting this ecosystem at even greater risk. Mighty Earth found that in the Cerrado, where deforestation has continued, two companies were primarily responsible for driving deforestation, Cargill and Bunge.

Cargill is the largest trader of soy from Brazil and the world’s largest food and agriculture company. Mighty Earth’s July 2019 report The Worst Company in the World profiled Cargill’s extensive deforestation in South America and elsewhere around the world, building on previous investigations in Bolivia, Brazilian Cerrado, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Although Bunge is a bigger player in the Cerrado, across South America – in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, Mighty Earth’s previous analyses of deforestation linked to soy animal feed in South America found Cargill most closely associated with deforestation. The company has refused to discontinue suppliers Mighty Earth found engaged in deforestation after evidence was shared with them, and has bitterly resisted efforts to expand successful industry-wide platforms for monitoring and policing deforestation to South America outside the Brazilian Amazon.

Table top mountains in the Brazilian Cerrado reduced to soy cultivation. Photo credit; Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

Sign for a Cargill silo in Bolivia reads ‘We buy soy’. Cargill is the biggest privately-held company in the U.S., and while it might not be a household name, people consume its products every day. Photo credit: Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

Five years ago, companies including Cargill, Unilever, and Yum Brands stood on stage at the Climate Summit in New York and proclaimed their commitment to removing deforestation from their supply chains by 2020. So too has the Consumer Goods Forum, whose members include Walmart, Mars and Danone.

They have yet to deliver on this commitment.

Now, with one year until their deadline and the Amazon in flames, it is far past time to act.

These companies must take responsibility for the impacts of their products. They must eliminate the market incentives that promote this reckless environmental destruction.

The Consumer Goods Forum and companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Ahold Delhaize – which owns Stop & Shop as well as Hannaford, Food Lion, Pea Pod, and Giant supermarkets – cannot continue to look the other way while the Amazon burns. They should instead source only from suppliers and regions that show evidence of eliminating deforestation. Not in another ten years. Not in five years. Not in one year. Now. Today.

The chart below shows the largest customers of the slaughterhouses and soy animal feed traders most associated with cattle and soy deforestation, respectively.

Brands

Several brands stand out for their contracts and relationships with the suppliers most responsible for deforestation.

Ahold Delhaize: The Netherlands-based supermarket powerhouse owns the brands Stop & Shop, Giant, Food Lion, and Hannaford in the United States and Albert Heijn, Delhaize, Etos, Albert, Alfa-Beta, and others across Europe. While consistently touting its sustainability commitments, Ahold continues selling its customers products from some of the worst companies in the world. With knowledge of Cargill’s ongoing child labor issues and its role in deforestation across South America, Ahold has simultaneously pushed Cargill to do a better job even while launching a joint venture partnership with them to provide the store-branded meat to Stop & Shop stores. In addition, Ahold Delhaize conducted business worth a whopping $113 million with JBS in 2019 through food sales and other partnerships.

As egregious as Ahold Delhaize’s actions are, they are not alone:

McDonald’s: McDonald’s is probably Cargill’s largest and most important customer. McDonald’s restaurants are essentially storefronts for Cargill. Cargill not only provides chicken and beef to McDonald’s, they prepare and freeze the burgers and McNuggets, which McDonald’s simply reheats and serves.

Sysco: With $55 billion in annual revenue, Sysco is the world’s largest distributor of food products to restaurants, healthcare facilities, universities, hotels, and inns. Despite claiming that they will “protect the planet by advancing sustainable agriculture practices, reducing our carbon footprint and diverting waste from landfill, in order to protect and preserve the environment for future generations,” they have honored Cargill as their most valued supplier of pork and beef and did $525 million worth of business with JBS in 2019 through sales and other partnerships.

Costco: Both JBS and Cargill list Costco as one of their top customers. Popular with families and small business owners, it ranks as the world’s third largest retailer. Costco states that it “has a responsibility to source its products in a way that is respectful to the environment and to the people associated with that environment.” According to their website, “Our goal is to help provide a net positive impact for communities in commodity-producing landscapes, by doing our part to help reduce the loss of natural forests and other natural ecosystems, which include native and/or intact grasslands, peatlands, savannahs, and wetland.” Nevertheless, according to Bloomberg, Costco conducted $1.43 billion worth of business with JBS in 2019.

Burger King/Restaurant Brands International: Burger King’s practice of selling meat linked to Cargill and other forest destroyers has earned the fast food giant a ‘zero’ on the Union of Concerned Scientists deforestation scorecard. Burger King has asked Cargill to stop destroying forests in their supply chain…but the deadline isn’t until 2030. It is also a significant customer of JBS. Burger King is part of the Restaurant Brands International (RBI) chain that also includes Tim Horton’s and Popeye’s.

Nestle: Based in Switzerland, Nestle is the largest food and beverage company in the world. Nestle was among the first companies to make zero-deforestation commitments, but only started actually monitoring its supply chains nine years later in 2019 – and only for palm oil, not for soy or pulp/paper. Recently certifying 77 percent of its supply chain as deforestation-free, Nestle continues to buy from Cargill for its pet food subsidiary, Nestle Purina Petcare. Bloomberg data also shows Nestle as one of Marfrig’s top customers.

Carrefour: The French company Carrefour is one of the world’s largest supermarket chains, the majority owner of the largest supermarket chains in Brazil, and at risk for cattle-driven deforestation. It has significant supply chain links to Cargill and JBS. Carrefour has committed to eliminating deforestation from its products by 2020, but the policy does not apply to processed or frozen beef products—which means that only around half of Carrefour’s beef distribution in Brazil is covered by its zero-deforestation policy.  According to Chain Reaction Research, 35 percent of the beef and beef products it sampled came from slaughterhouses located within the Legal Amazon including a 2.3 percent from high-risk slaughterhouses.

Casino: Casino, which owns Pão de Açúcar, is a French supermarket giant that prizes its reputation for sustainability in its home country. But as the second-largest supermarket chain in Brazil, it continues to purchase from Cargill, Bunge, and Brazil’s major cattle suppliers.

Walmart: Arkansas-based corporation Walmart is the single-largest company in the world by revenue, and also the largest private employer. Walmart also has a major presence in the UK, through its wholly-owned subsidiary ASDA. Walmart’s stated policy is “as a member of the Consumer Goods Forum, we supported the resolution to achieve zero net deforestation in our supply chain by 2020,encourage our suppliers of [beef, soy, palm oil, pulp and paper] products to work to source products produced with zero net deforestation. We ask suppliers to avoid ancient and endangered forests, to encourage conservation solutions, and to increase recycled content.” Nevertheless, Walmart conducted business with JBS worth $1.68bn in 2018 and remains a leading customer of Cargill meats and other products.

E. Leclerc: E.Leclerc is a French retail chain, with more than 600 locations in France and more than 120 stores outside of the country. Of the supermarket chains in France, Leclerc has perhaps the least robust sustainability policies. A recent report by SherpaFrance Nature Environment and Mighty Earth shows Leclerc failing on soy sustainability measures across the board. The company refuses to join industry calls to protect the endangered Cerrado, has not fulfilled legal obligations to disclose its sources, and has neither develop an alert mechanism to identify risk or follow up on deforestation alerts provided by others.  E.Leclerc’s latest sustainability report makes no commitments on meat sourcing, or any other commodity but palm oil.

By night forest fires can be seen for miles, tearing through Brazil’s Cerrado ecosystems. Photo credit: 2017, Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

A Preventable Disaster

While the rate of burning has increased dramatically in the last several months in response to Bolsonaro’s policies, these companies have been driving deforestation for years across South America. In many cases, they have bitterly resisted efforts to create systems that would allow for agriculture to expand without deforestation.

Bolsonaro’s mobilization of the army to fight the fires may help in the short term, as will Bolivian president Evo Morales’ new willingness to accept international help to fight fires. But as long as these international companies are creating a market for beef, pork, and chicken that is indifferent to deforestation, this type of environmental disaster is likely to continue.

After years of remarkably successful conservation initiatives that cut Brazil’s deforestation rate by two-thirds, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has reopened the doors to rampant destruction as a favor to the agribusiness lobby that backs him. That industry is accountable for the atmosphere of lawlessness, deforestation, fires, and the murder of Indigenous peoples that followed. According to data released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon in July 2019 increased 278 percent over the previous July. Bolsonaro responded to this news by firing the head of the INPE.

The recent fires are the latest example of the cattle and soy industries trying to take advantage of a culture of impunity in both Brazil and Bolivia. Since January 2019, more than 74,000 fires have broken out across Brazil – an 85 percent increase from the same point in 2018. In Bolivia, 2.5 million acres have burned in two weeks.

These are not wildfires. Nearly all are the result of intentional land clearing attempts undertaken by ranchers and industrial soy farmers feeding global markets and international companies. In fact, on August 10, farmers in the Amazon held a “Day of Fire” to show their support for Bolsonaro’s policies.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, these fires, which are large enough to see their effects from space, pose a significant threat to the “lungs” of the planet, one of the world’s last best defenses against climate change.

The deforestation crisis in Brazil and Bolivia wouldn’t be happening without companies like Cargill, Bunge, and JBS and their customers – companies like Stop & Shop, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Sysco – who create the market demand that finances the destruction.

Beyond Meat uses climate change to market fake meat substitutes. Scientists are cautious

[These articles never even mention the cruelty issue of animal agriculture, which is the main reason I, and other vegans, boycott meat…]
KEY POINTS
  • As concerns mount over the dangers of a rapidly warming planet, upstart food companies are targeting a major climate-damaging food: beef.
  • Beyond Meat and its privately held rival Impossible Foods have recently grabbed headlines and fast-food deals for their plant-based burgers that imitate the taste of beef.
  • They’ve also turned the environmental benefits of abstaining from meat into a key marketing tool for their products — drawing some skepticism from environmental researchers who say plant diets are healthier and less carbon emitting than producing processed plant-based products.
  • “Beyond and Impossible go somewhere towards reducing your carbon footprint, but saying it’s the most climate friendly thing to do — that’s a false promise,” said Marco Springmann, a senior environmental researcher at the University of Oxford.
GP: Impossible Burger at Burger King 190808
In this photo illustration, the new Impossible Whopper sits on a table at a Burger King restaurant on August 8, 2019 in Brooklyn, New York.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

As concerns mount over the dangers of a rapidly warming planet, upstart food companies are targeting a major climate-damaging food: beef.

Beyond Meat and its privately held rival Impossible Foods have recently grabbed headlines and fast-food deals for their plant-based burgers that imitate the taste of beef.

They’ve also turned the environmental benefits of abstaining from meat into a key marketing tool for their products — drawing some skepticism from environmental researchers who say plant diets are healthier and less carbon emitting than producing processed plant-based products.

Animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, with 65% of those emissions coming from beef and dairy cattle. Scientists warn that climate change will trigger an international food crisis unless humans change the way they produce meat and use land.

While companies producing imitation meat boast of the environmental benefits, some researchers point out that for people wanting to substantially lower their carbon footprint, having unprocessed plant-based diets instead of eating imitation products is healthier and better for the planet.

Beyond and Impossible use different sources of proteins to create their meatless meats. Beyond primarily works with protein from peas, while Impossible uses genetically modified soy.

“It makes sense to develop alternatives to beef, because we have to change our eating habits to more plant-based diets if we want to limit global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius. Impossible and Beyond tap into this market,” said Marco Springmann, a senior environmental researcher at the University of Oxford.

“However, while their processed products have about half the carbon footprint that chicken does, they also have 5 times more of a footprint than a bean patty,” he said. “So Beyond and Impossible go somewhere towards reducing your carbon footprint, but saying it’s the most climate friendly thing to do — that’s a false promise.”

VIDEO06:05
Is fake meat a healthier choice?

In fact, a recent landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of UN scientists, said that shifting towards plant-based diets would be a critical way to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as simply cutting carbon emissions from automobiles and factories won’t be enough to avert an impending crisis.

“On the consumption side, with people in developed countries wanting more cheap meat, and now in developing countries people wanting cheaper meat — it’s pushing the planet in the wrong direction,” said Hans-Otto Portner, a climatologist who co-chairs the IPCC’s working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

“It’s not sustainable. It’s a warning signal. If the world wants to keep to the UN’s sustainable development goals by 2030, there is something wrong here, there is a mismatch.”

Millennials driving shift away from meat

On Beyond Meat’s website, “positively impacting climate change” is listed second, behind “improving human health.” The founders of both Beyond and Impossible have named the environment as the motivating factor for creating their businesses.

Mintel found that 16% of U.S. consumers avoid animal products for environmental reasons. That reasoning is much more common with the 18 to 34 year olds, with nearly a quarter of that demographic saying that rationale applied to them.

“There’s a large enough group of millennials where it’s worth it to them to pay for more for their food. They take into account the values of the company, whether it’s best for the environment,” said Kit Yarrow, a professor at Golden Gate University who researches consumer psychology.

Products from Beyond and Impossible target flexitarians – people are looking to consume less meat. For the same reason, if you look for a Beyond Burger in the grocery store, you’re more likely to find it in the meat case than next to other vegan or vegetarian options.

There has been a historical dietary shift away from beef in the U.S. American consumers eat about a third less beef than they did in the 1970s, according to the World Resources Institute.

Promoting dietary shifts can be complicated, and assessing the impact of these changes on an international scale involves making assumptions about agricultural practices, the ability to choose what you eat and market forces.

Still, if everyone in the U.S. were to reduce meat consumption by a quarter, and eat substitutes like plant proteins, it would save 82 million metric tons of greenhouse emissions each year, according to a new study in the journal Scientific Reports. If everyone went vegetarian, it would save 330 metric tons per year – roughly 5% saved.

Impossible’s website includes a 2019 lifecycle assessment report by the sustainability firm Quantis, which spells out the smaller environmental footprint of the Impossible Burger. It found that the Impossible Burger used 96% less land, 87% less water and 89% less greenhouse gas emissions.

Rachel Konrad, Impossible’s chief communications officer, said that the Impossible Burger also has public health benefits because of its reduced land, water and energy use.

“It doesn’t contribute to the antibiotics arms race or the well known risk of antibiotic resistance — one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today,” Konrad said in a statement.

“If Beyond’s products help people switch from normal beef to a replacement, it’s not so bad. But it should not be the end goal,” Springmann said. “The carbon footprint of these processed plant-based products falls in between chicken and beef.”

Beyond commissioned its own lifecycle assessment, which was published in September 2018. The company has since tweaked the formula for its burgers. The report completed by the University of Michigan includes customers and consumers among the list of primary audiences for the study.

The study found that from cradle to distribution, the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions and requires 46% less energy, 99% less water and 93% less land compared to a quarter pound of U.S. beef.

The data about U.S. beef production came from a 2017 lifecycle assessment by the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, a lobbying group for beef producers. Beyond and its vendors primarily contributed the data for the Beyond Burger.

Climate researchers called on corporations making these meat substitutes and touting environmental benefits to continue assessing the carbon footprint of their production methods.

“In principle, the processed meat substitutes makes production more efficient. In that respect, it’s a benefit, and these plant burgers could be an attractive product,” Portner said. “It also depends on the carbon footprint of [the company’s] production. That needs to be keyed into the picture.”

Springmann said that Beyond and Impossible need to better assess their carbon footprint, saying that these companies make claims about sustainability that they do not sufficiently back with data.

“At minimum, they should continually assess the carbon footprint of their companies,” he said.

GP: Beyond Meat inc. Debuts Initial Public Offering At Nasdaq MarketSite
Ethan Brown, founder and chief executive officer of Beyond Meat, center, celebrates with his wife Tracy Brown, center left, and guests during the company’s initial public offering (IPO) at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York, on Thursday, May 2, 2019.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

New normal for plant-based burgers

Partnering with Beyond or Impossible allow restaurants or food service companies to tout a commitment to the environment, as Sodexo did in its August announcement.

“Sodexo is committed to providing customers with more plant-forward and sustainable options as part of their diet,” said Rob Morasco, senior director culinary development, Sodexo, when the company partnered with Impossible.

In recent years, consumers have increasingly put pressure on restaurants to become more environmentally friendly by swapping out plastic straws or using compostable to-go containers.

In turn, by serving an Impossible or Beyond burger, Burger King or Carl’s Jr. can normalize plant-based burgers for consumers because of their meat-oriented reputation, Yarrow said.

“People say all the time that they want to eat more fish or eat less sugar, but they don’t normally do it,” she said.

Last year, McDonald’s became the first restaurant chain to commit to science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at its restaurants and offices by 36% by 2030. While the Golden Arches has yet to offer a plant-based burger at its U.S. restaurants, doing so could demonstrate its commitment to the targets.

Big Food companies jumping in on the plant-based food trend are also using the environmental angle.

For example, when Nestle announced that it would bring a meatless ground meat product to Europe last week, it said in a tweet that it was meeting consumer demand for food “with less impact on the environment.”

Beyond Meat did not respond to a request for comment.

The Amazon is burning because the world eats so much meat

(CNN)While the wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest may constitute an “international crisis,” they are hardly an accident.

The vast majority of the fires have been set by loggers and ranchers to clear land for cattle. The practice is on the rise, encouraged by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s populist pro-business president, who is backed by the country’s so-called “beef caucus.”
While this may be business as usual for Brazil’s beef farmers, the rest of the world is looking on in horror.
So, for those wondering how they could help save the rainforest, known as “the planet’s lungs” for producing about 20% of the world’s oxygen, the answer may be simple. Eat less meat.
It’s an idea that Finland has already floated. On Friday, the Nordic country’s finance minister called for the European Union to “urgently review the possibility of banning Brazilian beef imports” over the Amazon fires.
Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef, providing close to 20% of the total global exports, according the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) — a figure that could rise in the coming years.
Last year the country shipped 1.64 million tonnes of beef — the highest volume in history — generating $6.57 billion in revenue, according to the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (Abiec), an association of more than 30 Brazilian meat-packing companies.
The growth of Brazil’s beef industry has been driven in part by strong demand from Asia — mostly China and Hong Kong. These two markets alone accounted for nearly 44% of all beef exports from Brazil in 2018, according to the USDA.
And a trade deal struck in June between South America’s Mercosur bloc of countries and the European Union could open up even more markets for Brazil’s beef-packing industry.
Speaking after the agreement as announced, the head of Abiec, Antônio Camardelli, said the pact could help Brazil gain access to prospective new markets, like Indonesia and Thailand, while boosting sales with existing partners, like the EU. “A deal of this magnitude is like an invitation card for speaking with other countries and trade blocs,” Camardelli told Reuters in July.
Once implemented, the deal will lift a 20% levy on beef imports into the EU.
But, on Friday, Ireland said it was ready to block the deal unless Brazil took action on the Amazon.
In a statement Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar described as “Orewellian” Bolsonaro’s attempt to blame the fires on environmental groups. Varadkar said that Ireland will monitor Brazil’s environmental actions to determine whether to block the Mercosur deal, which is two years away.
He added Irish and European farmers could not be told to use fewer pesticides and respect biodiversity when trade deals were being made with countries not subjected to “decent environmental, labor and product standards.”
In June, before the furor over the rainforest began, the Irish Farmers Association called on Ireland not to ratify the deal, arguing its terms would disadvantage European beef farmers.
Deal or no deal, Brazil’s beef industry is projected to continue expanding, buoyed by natural resources, grassland availability and global demand, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
And, with that growth, comes steep environmental costs.
Brazil’s space research center (INPE) said this week that the number of fires in Brazil is 80% higher than last year. More than half are in the Amazon region, spelling disaster for the local environment and ecology.
Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at INPE, told CNN that the burning can range from a small-scale agricultural practice, to new deforestation for mechanized and modern agribusiness projects.
Farmers wait until the dry season to start burning and clearing areas so their cattle can graze, but this year’s destruction has been described as unprecedented. Environmental campaigners blame this uptick on Bolsonaro, who they say has encouraged ranchers, farmers, and loggers to exploit and burn the rainforest like never before with a sense of impunity.

Brush fires burn in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso on August 20.

Bolsonaro has dismissed accusations of responsibility for the fires, but a clear shift seems to be underway.
And if saving the rainforest isn’t enough to convince carnivores to stop eating Brazilian beef — the greenhouse gas emissions the cattle create may be.
Beef is responsible for 41% of livestock greenhouse gas emissions, and that livestock accounts for 14.5% of total global emissions. And methane — the greenhouse gas cattle produce from both ends — is 25 times more potent that carbon dioxide.
An alarming report released last year by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, said changing our diets could contribute 20% of the effort needed to keep global temperatures from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Namely, eating less meat.
Still, global consumption of beef and veal is set to rise in the next decade according to projections from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
A joint report predicted global production would increase 16% between 2017 and 2027 to meet demand.
The majority of that expansion will be in developing countries, like Brazil.