It may be easy to assume that an organisation with the word “youth” in the title is progressive. However, there have been exceptions in the past, and sadly, it seems there are today.
I have commented previously on Australian Youth Climate Coalition’s failure to adequately consider the impact of a major contributor to climate change, animal agriculture. 
This article focuses on Youth Food Movement Australia (YFM) and its collaborations with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).
What are YFM’s mission and objectives?
Something I find a little confusing is that YFM has two mission statements.
Mission Statement as described on YFM’s website:
“To build a healthy and secure food future for all Australians.” 
Mission Statement as described on YFM’s 2015 annual statement to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC):
“To grow a generation of young Australians empowered with the ability to make healthy and sustainable food choices.” 
The first is far broader than the second, with no hint as to which one actually applies. Neither seems to be adequately supported by the organisation’s actions, as referred to below.
YFM’s objectives (with my underlines):
Educate and empower Consumers to make informed decisions regarding food systems; including, health, environmental, biodiversity and equitable [sic] issues surrounding how food is bought, consumed and disposed of locally and in Australia.
Facilitate and organise networks and events for Producers and Consumers to strengthen individual activism and community projects and to raise awareness of food related issues as a platform for knowledge exchange and communication.
Publically [sic] advocate and make written submissions on issues of food sustainability and equality on behalf of Producers and Consumers to any Commonwealth, State of [sic] any other governmental authority or tribunal to further the advancement of food policy in Australia. 
That may be a mouthful, but YFM seems to be claiming it is concerned about:
- human health;
- the environment, including sustainability and biodiversity;
- equity (assuming that’s what it means when referring to “equitable issues” and “equality”).
The objectives raise a key question:
The social justice issue partially arises from the fact that animal agriculture is a grossly and inherently inefficient way to obtain our nutritional requirements. A 2013 paper from the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota indicated :
“The world’s croplands could feed 4 billion more people than they do now just by shifting from producing animal feed and biofuels to producing exclusively food for human consumption.”
Animal feed crops represent 90% of that figure (in turn representing 3.6 billion people), and biofuels only 10%.
Although the authors were not advocating for another 4 billion people, the transition would enable us to feed the nearly 800 million people who are chronically under-nourished, provided we were willing to share the benefits fairly. 
YFM’s failure to adequately consider livestock’s negative impacts is particularly concerning when it states:
“We simply advocate for the importance of understanding your food.”
It claims that two of its values are authenticity and transparency, but are they evident?
YFM seems to try hard to match its language to that of its target market, but I find it tiresome and contrived. Here’s an example from its “Spoonled” anti-waste page:
“Gen-Y (18-30) we’re lookin’ at’choo.”
Is this really young people talking to young people, or could external PR consultants be involved, such as those used extensively by MLA? [Footnote 1]
Another example was this response when I asked on Twitter about YFM’s 2015 “beefjam” collaboration with MLA (as referred to below):
“#beefjam is a project collaboration with @Target100AUS amazeballs crew.”
YFM’s Collaborations with Meat & Livestock Australia
YFM has collaborated with MLA in two exercises; a project known as “Beefjam” and a three-day visit to Bangor Farm in Tasmania. Both were organised in conjunction with MLA through its Target 100 initiative, which it claims involves “100 research, development and extension activities covering soil, water, energy, pests and weeds, biodiversity, emissions and animal welfare”.
I comment on both projects below, but firstly, it’s important to consider some aspects of MLA.
The organisation describes itself as:
“the marketing, research and development body for Australia’s red meat and livestock industry”. 
Is the marketing role compatible with legitimate research and development?
The question may be particularly relevant when, in the same description, MLA states (with my underlines):
“MLA’s core focus is to deliver value to its 50,000 levy paying members by:
– growing demand for red meat; and
– improving profitability, sustainability and global competitiveness.”
I have challenged material from MLA in my articles “Meat, the environment and industry brainwashing“, “An industry shooting itself in the foot over “Cowspiracy” and “Emissions intensity of Australian beef“.
In the first of those (as an example), I commented on a so-called “curriculum guide” created by MLA for primary school students.
I argued that the guide:
- inadequately allowed for livestock related water use, land clearing, land degradation (including erosion), loss of habitat and loss of biodiversity;
- misstated the ability of livestock’s direct emissions to be absorbed by the biosphere;
- ignored the very significant global warming impact of those emissions; and
- misstated the extent of modern ruminant livestock numbers relative to historic figures.
I concluded with concern about the PR machine of an industry group such as MLA seeking to influence the thoughts and actions of children via publications represented as legitimate educational tools.
MLA has not limited its reach to the class room, and YFM may represent another means of extending its audience using sophisticated PR techniques.
The Beefjam project occurred in mid-2015. Here’s how YFM described it (with my underlines):
“BeefJam is a 3-day event that takes young producers and consumers on a crash course of the Australian beef supply chain and gives them 48hrs to reshape the way we grow, buy and eat our red meat.
Fifteen lucky applicants – 8 young consumers and 7 young producers – were given the chance to see, hear, smell and touch the whole Australian beef supply chain. That means all the different stages a piece of meat will travel through before it reaches your plate. From farm, to feedlot, to processor (you might know that as an abattoir) and then to retailer, ‘Jammers’ were able to experience the whole system, but also given the opportunity to ask big questions about how we feed ourselves, and the world, as we move into a food-challenged future.
BeefJam culminated with a 48 hour ‘jam’ where young producers and consumers collectively designed and prototyped solutions to challenges surrounding Australian beef.”
It may be insightful that a cow or lamb enjoying a warm day in an open field could be considered “a piece of meat”.
In its article about a visit to a slaughterhouse, we were presented with a photo of twenty-one mostly smiling faces, decked out in biosecurity gear, ready to check out the process.  YFM and MLA did not choose a “run of the mill” slaughterhouse for the visit. It was the Stanbroke Pastoral Company slaughterhouse, which the organisation’s website indicates is in the Lockyer Valley, Queensland. According to Stanbroke, it “sets world standards in equipment methods and technology”.
Regardless of what the attendees were shown, no animals at the facility or elsewhere choose to have a bolt gun fired into their skull, then hoisted by a rear leg for the purpose of having their throat cut.
Yet a Beefjam participant in a related video tells us repeatedly that slaughterhouse workers “respect” the animals.
That type of respect is something I could do without.
Some other points YFM and MLA did not raise with Beefjam attendees
Mark Pershin is the founder and CEO of climate change campaign group Less Meat Less Heat. He attended Beefjam, and I asked him about the information the attendees had been provided in their exploration of “the whole Australian beef supply chain”. Sadly, YFM and MLA said nothing about the following issues:
- the extent of land cleared in Australia for beef production;
- cattle’s impact on land degradation, biodiversity loss and introduction of invasive grass species;
- legalised cruelty, such as castration; dehorning; disbudding; and hot iron branding (usually performed without anaesthetic).
MLA claims to be concerned about sustainability, which it suggests includes (in an unusual interpretation of the term) “good animal welfare”. [Footnote 2] Here’s what they’ve said (with my underline) :
“Australian cattle and sheep farmers are committed to producing beef and lamb sustainably . . . For Australia’s cattle and sheep farmers, sustainability isn’t only about the environment, it’s also about good animal welfare, contributing to their local communities, and ensuring that cattle and sheep farming is economically viable for future generations.”
Do the practices described above represent good animal welfare? They may be legal, but that simply means that governments around Australia consider animal cruelty to be an acceptable outcome of producing various types of food we do not need.
In relation to beef production’s environmental impacts, Beefjam attendees were addressed by Steve Wiedemann, who at that time was a principal consultant with FSA Consulting. The firm provides services to the agriculture sector, describing itself as “Australia’s predominant environmental consultancy for intensive livestock industries, environmental and natural resource management and water supply and irrigation”.
Wiedemann was the corresponding author of the paper I commented on in my article “Emissions intensity of Australian beef“, as referred to earlier.   I highlighted the following concerns about that paper and/or the related promotional efforts of MLA:
- Out of date 100-year “global warming potential” (GWP) used for the purpose of assessing the warming impact of non-CO2 greenhouse gases.
- 20-year GWP should be considered, in addition to the 100-year figure, in order to allow for the near-term impact of the various greenhouse gases. That is a critical factor when considering potential climate change tipping points and runaway climate change.
- The figures were based on the live weight of the animals, rather than the more conventional carcass weight or retail weight.
- Livestock-related land clearing is increasing despite MLA’s implication to the contrary.
- Savanna burning was omitted.
- Foregone sequestration was omitted.
- Short-lived global warming agents such as tropospheric ozone and black carbon were omitted.
- Soil carbon losses may have been understated.
There are many ways to present data and information, and the authors of the paper may legitimately argue that their findings, published in a peer-reviewed journal, were valid. However, there are valid alternative approaches that result in findings that are less favourable to the livestock sector.
When applying only some of the factors referred to above, the emissions intensity of beef nearly triples from the figure estimated by Weidemann and his co-authors. When basing the results on figures for Oceania (dominated by Australia) from the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there is a 5.6-fold increase from Wiedemann’s figure. [Footnote 3]
Some footage YFM and MLA did not show Beefjam attendees
If you’d like to see some of the reality of Australian cattle and lamb slaughter (a key component of the industry serviced by MLA), you can check out undercover footage from the Aussie Farms website here and from Animal Liberation NSW here.   Warning: Graphic footage.
As stated in the first video, every year, around 17-19 million lambs are killed in Australian slaughterhouses at around six months of age. Due to the high demand for meat and the resultant speed of the process, many are killed without being properly stunned. Many in the videos writhe on the kill table before and after having their throat cut.
What were the outcomes of Beefjam?
As stated earlier, YFM has reported that Beefjam participants “collectively designed and prototyped solutions to challenges surrounding Australian beef.”
But where are the details?
For such a commitment in terms of time and money, the output from the event seems incredibly scant.
Bangor Farm, Tasmania
While “Beefjam” involved YFM and Target 100 selecting the “lucky” participants, the role was left solely to Target 100 for the three-day visit to Bangor Farm in Tasmania.
And who should be among the three participants this time? None other than YFM co-founder, Joanna Baker. 
As with the slaughterhouse mentioned earlier, Target 100 did not select any old farm for the visit. A farm in northern Australian (where 70 per cent of our beef is produced), denuded of grass and losing top soil at a rapid rate, just wouldn’t do. They chose a farm in temperate Tasmania, with sweeping ocean views and much of the original forest cover in place.
Such an approach largely ignores the overall environmental impact of livestock production compared to the benefits that could be achieved with a general transition away from animal-based foods.
One of the highlights of a related Target 100 promotional video was weed control on the farm, which the grazing of sheep is said to enhance. There was no mention of comments from The Pew Charitable Trusts, who have reported on the destructive environmental impacts of livestock grazing, including the introduction of invasive pasture grasses, manipulation of fire regimes, tree clearing, and degradation of land and natural water sources. 
15 per cent of Bangor farm is said to have been cleared for pasture, with the balance being native grasslands and forest where light grazing occurs.  
Regardless of how one may perceive Bangor, because we need to allow massive areas of cleared grazing lands to regenerate to something approaching their original state in order to overcome climate change, livestock farming at current levels cannot realistically be considered sustainable.  
A report by the World Wildlife Fund has identified eastern Australia as one of eleven global “deforestation fronts” for the twenty years to 2030 due to livestock-related land clearing in Queensland and New South Wales. 
Here are some extracts from Target 100’s videos dealing with the visit, along with some of my thoughts:
Jo: “Hearing from Matt that we aren’t producing beyond our land’s capacity was a surprise for me.” [Terrastendo: But overall, we are Jo, and it’s primarily because of animal agriculture.]
Matt: “People talk about emissions, carbon emissions from sheep and cattle. Part of the way we address that is to try and grow them quickly.” [Terrastendo: Do we grow a cow or a sheep like a plant in a pot? Even raising the animals quickly leaves the emissions from animal agriculture on a different paradigm to those from plant-based agriculture.]
Jo: “So that there’s less inputs that go into actually growing that lamb, which in a way makes it a lot more sustainable for the farmer and the landscape.” [Terrastendo: But Jo, beef production is not sustainable at levels required to feed the masses. And do you also believe we can grow an animal like a pot plant?]
Even allowing for faster growth rates in Australia than many other countries, along with better feed digestibility and other factors, the Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN has estimated that the emissions intensity of beef production in Oceania (dominated by Australia) is around 35 kilograms of greenhouse gases per kilogram of product. That’s based on a 100-year time horizon for measuring the global warming potential (GWP) of different greenhouse gases. If we convert the figure to a 20-year estimate, it increases to around 72 kilograms. [Footnote 3]
The FAO’s global average figure for beef from grass-fed cattle is 102 tonnes of greenhouse gases per tonne of product based on a 100-year GWP.  That increases to 209 tonnes per tonne of product based on a twenty year figure, which is equivalent to around 774 tonnes of greenhouse gases per tonne of protein. [Footnote 3]
Compare those figures to the figure of 1 tonne of CO2 per tonne of product for cement production, as referred to by Professor Tim Flannery in his book, “Atmosphere of Hope”.  Flannery (who was previously contracted to MLA) expressed concern over the figure for cement, but seems unconcerned about the high level of emissions from beef production. 
The relationship between YFM and MLA includes direct funding.
As part of a crowd funding campaign in 2016, under the MLA logo and the heading “An extra big thank you”, YFM announced:
“High fives to Meat and Livestock Australia, who purchased our $5,500 perk!”
It is not known to what extent, if any, MLA contributed to YFM’s non-government income of $148,536 for the year ended 30th June 2015. The 2015/16 income statement is yet to be published by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.
There are no “joining” or “subscription” fees for individuals who want to become involved with YFM.
In early 2016, YFM announced a three-year grant from Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation. 
To conclude, let’s consider some thoughts of Alexandra Iljadica, who co-founded YFM with Baker.
Asked about her “favourite food moment” in an interview on the YFM website, Iljadica nominated the annual family feast in Croatia with her in-laws.
“Uncle Mile is a shepherd so will slaughter a lamb for the occasion, which we’ll enjoy with home-made prsut (Croatian for prosciutto), hard cheese made from sheep and goat milk and a tomato and cucumber salad picked 30 seconds before serving.” 
It seems that any one of the beauties shown here could be considered fair game by Uncle Mile, with Alexandra savouring the end result.
Don’t they deserve much better? Luckily for these happy individuals, they are living peacefully at Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary in Victoria.
Thank you to Greg McFarlane for information on YFM’s funding, including the donation from MLA.
- MLA has won advertising industry awards such as Marketing Team of the Year and Advertiser of the Year.  PR and advertising firms it has utilised include: Republic of Everyone (“Bettertarian”); Totem (“#Goodmeat”); One Green Bean (one of two firms with “You’re better on beef”); BMF (one of two firms with “You’re better on beef”, plus “Generation Lamb”, “The beef oracle”, and “The Opponent”); and The Monkeys (Australia Day 2016 “Richie’s BBQ” and 2017 “Boat People”). Republic of Everyone has also created graphics proclaiming the supposed health benefits of eating red meat. I beg to differ, as outlined in my article “If you think it’s healthy to eat animals, perhaps you should think again” and elsewhere.
- Australia’s National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (1992) defined ecologically sustainable development as: “using, conserving and enhancing the community’s resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased” 
- The revised figures allow for the global average percentage split of the various factors contributing to the products’ emissions intensity, and are intended to be approximations only.
Additional comments and references added on 13th January 2017 in relation to the paper co-authored by Steve Wiedemann.
Footnote 1 extended on 26th January 2017.
Lambs | Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary | https://www.edgarsmission.org.au/
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