- - Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Being good caretakers of the environment is important, but leveraging doomsday scenarios to stifle consumer choice goes overboard. The list of products and behaviors activists want nixed to “save the planet” grows by the day. Your favorite cut of beef, pork, or chicken is next on the chopping block.

Earlier this year, the school-aged child turned famed activist Greta Thunberg released a short film chastising meat production as inefficient land use and a major driver of climate change. Her conclusion: “If we don’t change, we are f—-ed.” The Swedish activist is not alone.  

In July, an organization called Animal Rebellion blockaded the entrance to a McDonald’s supplier company in the UK.  Using bamboo tripods and tents, the group demanded that McDonald’s switch to a fully plant-based menu by 2025. Operations were shuttered for two days.

A February op-ed headline in The Hill read, “The US is ripe for climate-friendly diets.” Another in the Orlando Sentinel advised, “Eat less beef. It could help to save the planet.” And in a Yahoo! News story, limiting animal products in your diet was highlighted as one of “7 steps you can take now to help avert the worst climate change consequences.” Wow! Your only question should be, did these copycat headlines indicate multiple reporters doing their homework before predicting melting glaciers from that bacon burger?

More likely, the doomsday imagery is being stoked by animal liberation groups—including the radical PETA and the one percent Human Society of the United States—as well as the new synthetic meat companies who intend to profit if people consume less chicken, beef, and pork.

These groups have joined the climate activists to argue that humans should stick to a strict rabbit diet to save the world. Instead of bulking up animals, they specifically believe people should eat the crops that currently feed livestock. But, efficiencies aside, cutting out the “middle animal” doesn’t work.

Eighty-six percent of global livestock feed consists of ingredients that humans can’t digest. Much of what cows are munching is what’s leftover in a field after a harvest. Even pigs and chickens can’t digest this stuff. You wouldn’t want a pulp byproduct of sugar production or ethanol residue called distillers grain on your dinner plate. And what about the grazing land itself? It’s estimated that only 1.6 percent of that land could feasibly be converted to grow crops for people.

Even if every American decided to become vegan overnight, research from the Department of Agriculture estimates total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. would only fall by 2.6 percent, given the new emissions generated by producing alternative human food supplies. And if you think that the fake “plant-based” sausage or bacon is healthy for you, check out the packaged ingredient list or go to www.fakefoodfacts.com for a sobering education.   

To the chagrin of climate crusaders, the White House has thus far sidestepped the most radical demands to curb meat consumption. Instead, the Biden administration focuses more on offering farmers financial incentives to voluntarily adopt new technology and processes that make agriculture businesses more “green.”

Most farmers already have what’s best for the land at heart; their livelihoods depend on a healthy environment. Providing them with the resources to adjust operations to better capture any greenhouse gases and offsets their emission footprint is a reasonable approach that won’t upend the industry and endanger domestic food production.   

Letting informed consumers with a wide range of product choices dictate their own diet makes the most sense. Climate worries are not to be discounted. But eating bacon or sausage patties at breakfast won’t wreck the planet. 

• Richard Berman is president of Berman and Co. in Washington, D.C.

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