Forcing us to eat veggie-burgers won’t save the Earth


By Breanne Kincaid, Opinion, The Modesto Bee

February 08, 2019


Kincaid is the Research Director of the Center for Accountability in Science.


There has been no shortage of scientific papers this year outlining the “best” paths forward on climate change and public health. All demand that farmers and consumers change their polluting ways, but each one has overlooked one crucial factor – agricultural ingenuity.


It’s everywhere you look on farms up and down California’s Central Valley. This ingenuity assures us that the dire predictions contained in those papers needn’t come true, and makes their draconian recommendations unnecessary at best and likely counterproductive.


Consider “The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change,” commissioned for the British medical journal Lancet. It describes how a broken “international economic order” is swaying the public’s preference for environmentally unfriendly diets heavy with red meat, ultra-processed foods and sugary beverages. Another Lancet article, “The 21st-Century Great Food Transformation,” said “civilization is in crisis” and that our ability to feed the world’s population is “stretching Earth to its limits and threatening human and other species’ sustained existence.” Sounds dire.


Their recommendations? Forcing farmers to double fruit, nut, legume and vegetable production while simultaneously halving consumption of red meat and sugar. Oh, and putting a moratorium on developing more land for farming.


These ideas are, or should be, nonstarters.


It’s entirely true that most Americans don’t consume enough vegetables. And we could probably make a dent in obesity numbers if every man, woman and child ate more carrots and spinach. It’s true, too, that red meat production creates the bulk of ag emissions. But forcing such changes on people simply won’t work, and they won’t do much to address the impacts of climate change, either.


Livestock makes up roughly 5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. But in the U.S., it’s only 3 to 4 percent. Even considering the long shadow of getting animal protein from farm to table, the energy used cannot compare to the impacts of transportation and heat production in creating emissions.


The Lancet commission’s own modeling shows transitioning away from fossil fuels would cut ag emissions by 75 percent – not to mention the outsized impact high-efficiency or electric vehicles would have on overall transportation emissions.


But farmers are already on the front lines. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identifies agriculture as the only sector that hasn’t increased emissions since 1990. However, neither Lancet report devoted any substantive conversation to the technology that has allowed that to happen.


Farmers constantly seek to improve efficiency, which, in turn, creates environmental benefits and healthier foods.


We see these benefits every day up and down the Valley…