UK (Scotland): How the ‘Eat Local’ Food Myth Led to COP26’s Menu Failure.

‘Eat Local’: one of the most misguided pieces of advice

The idea that eating local food effectively reduces food emissions is a widespread sustainability myth. Our World in Data—an Oxford University project⁠ also quoted by Levy—regards the recommendation to eat local as “one of the most misguided pieces of advice” because transport accounts only for a fraction of food emissions. Far more important are food emissions caused by land-use change, such as deforestation, and processes at the farm stage such as fertilizer use, manure handling, and cow methane emissions.

On, Levy ironically mentions serving grass-fed beef approved by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) in a paragraph that explains how replacing meat with plant-based ingredients can help lower food emissions. The QMS is an executive non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government representing the red meat sector and has a record of opposing meat reduction initiatives.

Earlier this year, the QMS criticized the BBC for encouraging children to go meat-free for at least two weeks as part of the Blue Peter TV show. In an open letter co-signed by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), the QMS referred to a carbon calculator mentioned in the show as “a simplistic tool that cites global data not representative of the UK’s red meat industry.”

Ahead of this year’s climate conference, the three organizations launched a toolkit intended to “help positively manage the reputation of red meat during COP26.” The toolkit states that eating less beef and other red meats “is not the answer to improving the UK’s environmental impact and reducing carbon emissions.” 

The toolkit lists several narratives that often feature in meat industry climate messaging, including another widespread food myth: the notion that grass-fed cattle can bind more carbon than it emits. According to an Oxford University metastudy, carbon sequestration achieved through grazing “is small, time-limited, reversible and substantially outweighed” by the emissions the animals produce. A second study by Oxford researchers showed that beef, even when farmed using low-impact methods, has a higher carbon footprint than the highest impact plant protein.

Levy does not mention this claim directly. It claims, however, to be “calling for a food revolution” in response to the climate emergency while including beef on its menu, the most climate-damaging food available. Levy did not respond to Sentient Medias’s requests to comment on this story; neither did SEC, QMS, and HCC.

When contacted for comment by Sentient Media, the AHDB said that the carbon footprints of milk and beef produced in that the UK were lower than global averages and that the UK’s livestock sector’s share of national emissions was in line with the Paris Accord at 6 percent. “This is often overlooked in media reports and means UK livestock farming is not being fairly represented in terms of the work going on to reach net zero,” said Phil Maiden, Head of Media and PR at the AHDB.

COP27 opens in Egypt on November 7, 2022. The negative impact of meat-eating has to be on the next climate conference’s agenda, not its menu. To avoid another COP menu failure, more work needs to be done until then to dispel the sustainable food myths that perpetuate the climate-damaging business model of animal agriculture. 

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