The EAT-Lancet report issued today calling for drastic cuts in meat, dairy and egg consumption to promote a healthier diet and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is based on dubious science and is irresponsible, says the National Pork Producers Council. While two of the report’s concerns are sustainability and undernutrition, its radical recommendations would be counterproductive to both.
There is ample scientific evidence supporting the nutritive value of meat, including pork, which has critical vitamins and minerals, such as B12, Heme iron, zinc and potassium. These often are lacking in many diets, particularly in developing countries.
As for sustainability, the U.S. animal agriculture sector is among the most environmentally friendly in the world. A 2018 study from the University of Arkansas found that over the past 55-plus years, U.S. pork producers have cut their land use by nearly 76%, water use by more than 25% and energy use by 7%; their carbon footprint today is almost 8% less than it was in 1960. The environmental improvements were achieved while the production of pork more than doubled, increasing to 25 billion pounds in 2017 from about 11 billion in 1960.
In fact, in its November 2006 environmental report Livestock’s Long Shadow, the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (starting on Page 278) pointed to the U.S. livestock sector as a model of sustainability. While the same report found livestock agriculture worldwide responsible for 18% of GHGs — later revised to 14% — U.S. agriculture accounts for less than 4%, with pork production being about one-third of 1%, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Additionally, about half of all livestock GHG emissions resulted from worldwide deforestation, an activity that doesn’t take place in the United States.
“Modern U.S. livestock agriculture is a tremendous example of how the world can produce the nutritious, safe food people need while contributing less GHGs per calorie of food,” says NPPC President Jim Heimerl, a pork producer from Ohio. “The U.N. has said there are ‘limitations to emissions reductions in the agriculture sector particularly because of … providing food for a global population that is expected to continue to grow’ and that ‘it would be reasonable to expect emissions reductions in terms of improvements in efficiency rather than absolute reductions in GHG emissions.’
“To address sustainability and undernourishment,” Heimerl adds, “maybe the report’s authors should call on the European Union to drop its Draconian ‘precautionary principle’ that all but prevents the use of new technologies and modern production practices. It’s those kinds of restrictions that are forcing farmers around the world to forego using scientifically proved technologies that produce more food and in a more environmentally friendly way.”
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