Archives for category: Health

The following email was sent to Youth Food Movement Australia on 1st December 2017:

Hello,

I refer to your Facebook comment of 21st November 2017, inviting me to contact you at this email address regarding my article “Some questions for Youth Food Movement Australia“.

You indicated in your comment that we had “chatted” about your approach previously. However, I received little more than the following comment:

“#beefjam is a project collaboration with @Target100AUS amazeballs crew.”

You never responded to my Facebook question of 25th July 2015:

“What about misinformation promoted by Target 100 and published by Meat & Livestock Australia in the form of its primary level (age 5-12) ‘study guide’, ‘Cattle and the environment‘?“

You have also not responded to the straightforward questions contained in my latest article, as referred to above.

Nor have you commented on these extracts from that article:

  • The links between YFM and the livestock sector also include the fact that co-founder, Joanna Baker, spent nearly two years (while also holding senior positions with YFM) as manager for membership, communications and policy at Dairy Connect. That organisation describes itself as “an advocacy body, 100% focused on being the voice for all partners in the dairy industry”.
    xxx
  • The other YFM co-founder, Alexandra Iljadica, was a speaker at the two-day 2016 Australian Dairy Conference, sharing speaking duties with high-profile industry participants. She was given two speaking opportunities; a plenary speech and a workshop, with the title of the latter being, “How to herd consumers toward Australian dairy: A workshop in human behaviour change”.

As I said in my Facebook comments, the issues apply to much more than BeefJam, including the forced and permanent separation of cows and calves as a fundamental aspect of dairy production in all its forms (with the calves sent to slaughter or retained to become dairy cows themselves). Also the maceration (and other forms of killing) of male chicks as a fundamental aspect of supplying layer hens for all forms of egg production.

I would have thought the issues I have raised would be of interest to many of your subscribers, volunteers and others who follow you, including people who have attended your “meet the maker” events (including the event with dairy and egg producers) and those who generally rely on your “food education projects”.

I look forward to hearing from you in a display of your professed values of transparency and authenticity.

Regards,

Paul Mahony

 

Image

Unconsciously Cruel via Aussie Farms, Untitled showing sheep at Ballarat Saleyards, Alfredton, Victoria

I have written three articles dealing with Youth Food Movement Australia (YFM) and its relationships with the animal agriculture sector. Links to the articles can be found below this post, which outlines some questions for the organisation in the form of memes.

Some of the memes refer to “BeefJam”, which was a project in which YFM collaborated with “Target 100”, an initiative of: Meat & Livestock Australia; Australian Lot Feeders Association; Sheep Meat Council of Australia; Cattle Council of Australia; and Australian Meat Industry Council.

YFM has described BeefJam as “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.

I’ve seen some very slick videos released jointly by Target 100 and YFM about the event that look to me like promotions for the meat industry. However, I have seen no evidence of the fifteen “young consumers” and “young producers” who attended reshaping the industry.

The links between YFM and the livestock sector also include the fact that co-founder, Joanna Baker, spent nearly two years (while also holding senior positions with YFM) as manager for membership, communications and policy at Dairy Connect. That organisation describes itself as “an advocacy body, 100% focused on being the voice for all partners in the dairy industry”.

The other YFM co-founder, Alexandra Iljadica, was a speaker at the two-day 2016 Australian Dairy Conference, sharing speaking duties with high-profile industry participants. She was given two speaking opportunities; a plenary speech and a workshop, with the title of the latter being, “How to herd consumers toward Australian dairy: A workshop in human behaviour change”.

I believe it is important for YFM to keep in mind its professed values of transparency and authenticity and its stated role of  running “food education projects for young people”.

Here are the memes. I hope they cause those involved with YFM to consider issues involved in food consumption beyond those that the organisation appears to have addressed to date.

Conclusion

I believe any group that states its mission is to “grow a generation of young Australians empowered with the ability to make healthy and sustainable food choices” must highlight the issues raised in this post.

I look forward to seeing if YFM addresses the issues in future.

Author

Paul Mahony

References

Animals Australia, “What you never knew about dairy”, http://www.animalsaustralia.org/issues/dairy.php

Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle, http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/cattle/

Kroon, F., Turner, R., Smith, R., Warne, M., Hunter, H., Bartley, R., Wilkinson, S., Lewis, S., Waters, D., Caroll, C., 2013 “Scientific Consensus Statement: Sources of sediment, nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment”, Ch. 4, p. 12, The State of Queensland, Reef Water Quality Protection Plan Secretariat, July, 2013, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/about/scientific-consensus-statement/sources-of-pollutants.aspx

Brodie, J., “Great Barrier Reef dying beneath its crown of thorns”, The Conversation, 16th April, 2012, http://theconversation.com/great-barrier-reef-dying-beneath-its-crown-of-thorns-6383

Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation, 2016. Land cover change in Queensland 2015–16: Statewide Landcover and Trees Study report. DSITI, Brisbane

World Wide Fund for Nature, “Accelerating bushland destruction in Queensland: Clearing under Self Assessable Codes takes major leap upward”, March 2017, http://www.wwf.org.au/ArticleDocuments/360/pub-accelerating-bushland-destruction-in-queensland-21mar17.pdf.aspx?Embed=Yx

Harper, L.A., Denmead, O.T., Freney, J.R., and Byers, F.M., Journal of Animal Science, June, 1999, “Direct measurements of methane emissions from grazing and feedlot cattle”, J ANIM SCI, 1999, 77:1392-1401, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10375217; http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/77/6/1392.full.pdf

Eshel, G., “Grass-fed beef packs a punch to environment”, Reuters Environment Forum, 8 Apr 2010, http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2010/04/08/grass-fed-beef-packs-a-punch-to-environment/

Wedderburn-Bisshop, G., Longmire, A., Rickards, L., “Neglected Transformational Responses: Implications of Excluding Short Lived Emissions and Near Term Projections in Greenhouse Gas Accounting”, International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 7, Issue 3, September 2015, pp.11-27. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: August 17, 2015, http://ijc.cgpublisher.com/product/pub.185/prod.269

Springmann, M., Godfray, H.C.J., Rayner, M., Scarborough, P., “Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change”, PNAS 2016 113 (15) 4146-4151; published ahead of print March 21, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1523119113, (print edition 12 Apr 2016), http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.full and http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.full.pdf

Images

Bear Witness Australia and Aussie Farms | 5-day old bobby calves from the dairy industry | The Aussie Farms Repository | https://www.aussiefarms.org.au/photos/food/dairy

Branding a calf | anrodphoto | iStock

Brian Kinney | Wonderful and beautiful underwater world with corals and tropical fish | Shutterstock

The Wilderness Society | Land clearing: Olive Vale, Queensland, 2014 (Youtube video) | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc06o7ayx-g

Sherjarca | Australian beef cattle charolais bred for meat | Shutterstock

Nyul | Medical team in operating room | Dreamstime.com

Youth Food Movement Australia | YFM logo badge only | Flickr | Creative Commons NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

 

https://www.aussiefarms.org.au/uploads/photos/2052-000015360-3e9e74f6f9e27dba8e69.jpg

I have written previously of my concerns regarding the practices of Youth Food Movement Australia (YFM). Those concerns relate primarily to YFM’s close relationship with the meat and dairy industries, while seemingly saying nothing meaningful (and possibly nothing at all) about the negative impacts of those industries in terms of animal cruelty, environmental damage (including climate change) and human health.

Is its failure to highlight such issues inconsistent with the group’s stated values of authenticity and transparency? Possibly, but I am not in a position to explain its reasons for ignoring such critical issues.

However, I am able to convey publicly available information about the group’s involvement with the industries.

I admit to finding it odd that co-founder Joanna Baker, while still in senior positions with YFM, spent nearly two years as manager for membership, communications and policy with Dairy Connect, an organisation advocating on behalf of the dairy industry.

I am uncomfortable with the industry relationships in the context of YFM describing its role “in a nutshell” as running “food education projects for young people”.

It also claims to “provide a place – be that in pubs, in living rooms, on laptop screens – for information and skills to be exchanged and for learning to happen”.

I recently discovered another industry relationship in the form of co-founder Alexandra Iljadica’s involvement in the two-day 2016 Australian Dairy Conference.

Iljadica was a presenter, sharing speaking duties with industry luminaries such as: Abhy Maharaj, Chief Financial Officer and Commercial Director of Fonterra Australia; Barry Irvin, Executive Chair of Bega Cheese Ltd; and Philip Tracey, the then Chair of Murray Goulburn (at the time Australia’s largest dairy company and co-operative).

She was given two speaking opportunities; a plenary speech and a workshop. I found the online workshop slide show of particular interest.

Remember that Iljadica at the time was a founding director, and soon to be CEO, of a group that has said its mission is to “grow a generation of young Australians empowered with the ability to make healthy and sustainable food choices”.

A group with stated values (as mentioned earlier) of authenticity and transparency.

But also a group whose co-founder and future CEO presented a workshop session at the 2016 national dairy industry conference with the title:

“HOW TO HERD CONSUMERS TOWARD AUSTRALIAN DAIRY: A WORKSHOP IN HUMAN BEHAVIOUR CHANGE”

Is that the aim, regardless of the consequences for the animals, the planet and the health of YFM supporters and others who follow them?

So what are Iljadica’s recommended methods for herding youthful consumers toward the dairy industry?

Her tips (citing the book “Changeology” by Les Robinson) included (among six necessary characteristics overall): “positive buzz”; “an enabling environment”; and “the right inviter”

Immediately after Iljadica’s slides listed the six characteristics, another asked how those characteristics might apply to dairy.

Immediately following that came the concluding “thank you” slide, showing a YFM registration desk and people wearing YFM gear at an outdoor event.

The message I took from the slide show (without attending the presentation itself): The “right inviter” for the dairy industry, and the group with the other necessary characteristics, is Youth Food Movement Australia.

I’m liking YFM less every day.

Author

Paul Mahony

Further information

Do you love dairy? Please check out this video of forced separation of mothers and calves on a Tasmanian dairy farm. This standard practice occurs for the purpose of ensuring the mothers’ milk finds its way to supermarket shelves rather than the calves’ stomachs. The calves are generally either slaughtered for meat or raised for a life of misery as producers of milk many times beyond what would occur naturally, enduring physical and psychological distress and many more forced separations.

Source: Aussie Farms Repository, aussiefarms.org.au/videos/food/dairy, supplied by DropDairy.com.au, a campaign by Animal Liberation (animal-lib.org.au) and Animal Liberation Tas (al-tas.org).

Image

Bear Witness Australia on The Aussie Farms Repository, aussiefarms.org.au/photos/food/dairy

Caption: “As I was around these dairy farms, there were just paddocks full of calves without their mothers. Calling for their mothers, just so alone. There was one paddock that had recently been occupied by bobby calves, and as I was walking along the fence next to the main road, I saw a dead calf lying on the ground. He was not more than a week dead, he just lay there in the paddock. I discovered another dead calf further along the fence, that had also died alone, without his mother. This was just next to the fence, on the main road, so I can’t imagine how many more would have died out of sight. Both dead calves that I found would have had mothers that loved them and cared for them, and that right was taken away from them just so someone can have a glass of her milk. I can’t imagine their pain. Witness #4″

Sources

Youth Food Movement Australia, “About”, http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/about-us/

Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Annual Information Statement 2015, Youth Food Movement Australia Ltd, https://www.acnc.gov.au/AIS2015?ID=8E78E032-C0CF-482B-9879-DF609B494B6E&noleft=1

Australian Dairy Conference, http://www.australiandairyconference.com.au/viewStory/Past+Conferences

Alexandra Iljadica, “How to herd consumers toward Australian dairy: A workshop in human behaviour change”, 2016 Australian Dairy Conference, http://www.australiandairyconference.com.au/inewsfiles/ADC_2016_Presentations/Alexandra_Iljadica_-_Human_Behaviour_Change_Workshop_18-02-16.pdf

The New South Wales government’s Office of Environment and Heritage has just announced the winners of its 2017 Green Globe Awards, which are supposedly designed to “showcase people and projects making real progress toward sustainability” across the state.

This is the conservative government that passed legislation in 2016 to repeal the Native Vegetation Act, with a large increase in land clearing seemingly inevitable, involving increased carbon emissions, loss of ongoing sequestration and destruction of wildlife habitat. The repeal took effect in August this year.

It was in anticipation of such law changes in NSW and Queensland (and the livestock-related clearing that would result) that the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) listed eastern Australia as one of eleven global deforestation fronts for the period to 2030.

The NSW government’s poor legislative performance in relation to the environment may be consistent with it naming Youth Food Movement Australia (YFM) and one of its co-founders, Alexandra Iljadica, as finalists in the categories of Community Leadership and Sustainability Champion, with Iljadica winning the latter.

The main driver of land clearing in Australia and around the world is livestock production. In Queensland alone, livestock-related clearing since 1988 (when detailed records began) has represented 91 per cent of total clearing. It has equated to more than 11 million rugby fields at rates of 42 per hour overall and 50 per hour in 2015/16.

Despite that appalling record, YFM supports the sector and has failed miserably to highlight its negative environmental and other impacts.

Cattle grazing on cleared and uncleared land in Queensland has also contributed massively to the ongoing demise of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals. Erosion caused by grazing has released sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus to the reef’s waters. The sediment blocks the sun and smothers coral, making it less resilient than it would otherwise have been to the impacts of other stressors, such as warming waters. [Footnote 1]

The fertilisers promote algal growth that is a food source for crown-of-thorns starfish larvae. Adult starfish eat nothing but coral, and have had a devastating impact. They were doing so decades before the first coral bleaching event in 1998, and the destruction is continuing.

As I have reported previously, YFM has collaborated with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) via its Target 100 “initiative” on some very questionable projects. A key output from one of those was what appeared to be an MLA promotional video, laughably described by the two organisations as a “documentary”. The video featured Iljadica’s fellow YFM co-founder, Joanna Baker. [Footnote 2]

Joanna Baker (left) and Alexandra Iljadica, YFM Australia

MLA is no mug in the PR game, and has won advertising industry awards such as Marketing Team of the Year and Advertiser of the Year. It has utilised  firms with expertise in PR, branding or advertising, such as: Republic of Everyone; Totem; One Green Bean; BMF; and The Monkeys, and prefers the term “community engagement” over “PR”.

The promotional concepts have included “Bettertarian”; “#Goodmeat”; “You’re better on beef”; “Generation Lamb”; “The beef oracle”; “The Opponent”; and Australia Day campaigns such as “Richie’s BBQ” and “Boat People”.

Republic of Everyone has also been nominated for a Green Globe Award. In addition to the “Bettertarian” campaign (launched by MLA as a “counter campaign” during Meat Free Week), its work for MLA has included graphics proclaiming the supposed health benefits of eating red meat. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

That’s from a firm that claims to only create projects “that make the world a better place”, where “everything is fair” and where no animals are “harmed in the making”.

Why doesn’t it tell people that forced breeding, tail docking, castration and hot iron branding (all without pain prevention or relief) are all routine aspects of beef production?

Why doesn’t it tell people about the true environmental and health impacts of the industry?

Why doesn’t YFM do the same?

MLA prefers to provide primary school children with so-called “curriculum study guides”, containing erroneous information about its members’ products.

Another YFM link with the livestock sector involves Dairy Connect, a group based in New South Wales, which describes itself as “an advocacy body, 100% focused on being the voice for all partners in the dairy industry”.

During most of 2014 and 2015, Joanna Baker was Dairy Connect’s manager for membership, communications and policy. While in that role, she was also in senior positions with YFM.

I am not in a position to explain the motivation behind the collaborations and relationships mentioned here, but I do wonder if the Green Globes are effectively nothing more than straw man awards, with some straw man nominees.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnotes

  1. The Queensland government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement reported that livestock grazing was responsible for 75% of sediment, 54% of phosphorus and 40% of nitrogen in the Great Barrier Reef’s waters.
  2. In addition to MLA, the Target 100 “initiative” involves Cattle Council of Australia, Sheepmeat Council of Australia, Australian Meat Industry Council, Australian Lot Feeders Association and Australian Meat Processing Corporation. MLA maintains copyright over the Target 100 website, and some material (e.g. the so-called “curriculum study guides”) has been released under MLA’s name.

Images

Paul Looyen | A herd of cattle in pasture, standing in early morning fog | Shutterstock

Zo Zhou | Guerrilla Dinner 2013 | Flickr | Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Update

Footnote 2 added 23 October 2017 with minor text amendments.

A recent initiative of Terrastendo has been the creation of the global slaughter index.

Across 194 countries for which relevant data is available, the index shows the number of land animals slaughtered per member of the human population in a single year.  The index was prepared using the most recent (2014) livestock data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and human population data from the World Bank for the same year.

Although it also shows the total number of animals slaughtered in each country, the rankings are not based on that measure.

Here are results for the “top twenty” nations:

The full listing can downloaded here.

Israel’s position at the top of the list may surprise some readers given the recent prominence of veganism in the country, with (for example) animal rights marches and significant media coverage devoted to the work of  activist Gary Yourofsky, amongst others. However, the country’s vegan population was still a small percentage of the total during the period covered by the index, and is unlikely to have grown sufficiently to alter the country’s position on the table.

The ratings of the top twenty countries (ranging from 53.5 to 22.1) are significant given the median figure of 6.3. This indicates that the top twenty have ratings that are at least three times those of half the covered countries.

A key purpose of the index is to highlight the enormous scale of the global livestock sector and provide a meaningful comparison of each country’s contribution to mass slaughter.

For any meat-eater concerned about their cruelty footprint, it can also potentially indicate (after allowing for the animal-bodies-equivalent of cross-border meat sales) how many animals are consumed by a typical individual in their home country. They could also use life expectancy figures to estimate their potential lifetime consumption in the absence of change.

For example, the current life expectancy in Australia is around 82 years. Assuming constant consumption levels, and allowing for the fact that domestic consumption is responsible for around 92 per cent of slaughtered animals, a typical Australian would be responsible for the slaughter of over 2,000 land animals in their lifetime.

The actual figure could be much higher if past trends continue. The overall number of animals slaughtered in Australia in 2014 was 8.4 times the 1961 figure, while the number of chickens was 16 times. By way of comparison, the size of the human population in 2014 was only 2.2 times that of the 1961 level. Here’s a snapshot:

A similar trend has occurred globally:

A critical factor in the increase has been a growing preference for chicken meat over (for example) beef. However, if you replace beef with chicken meat for perceived health or environmental benefits, or for other reasons, then you are massively increasing your cruelty footprint. This chart shows the number of chickens required to replace one cow in the top per capita beef-eating countries:

Here is another way to view the comparison for the United States:

In addition to showing the number of animals slaughtered per person, the global slaughter index shows the number of animals slaughtered per second and per minute in each country. The “leaders” are China with around 350 per second, the United States with nearly 300, and Brazil with nearly 200. Globally, the figure is over 2,200 per second or nearly 134,000 per minute.

Conclusion

The numbers presented in this article may seem astonishing. A general transition to a vegan lifestyle would avoid the horrendous cost and suffering created by the consumption of animal-based foods, which are a grossly and inherently inefficient way to obtain our nutritional requirements.

If you would like to learn more, please visit the not-for-profit campaign sites, veganeasy and whyveg.

Author

Paul Mahony

Images

Main image: Aussie Farms | http://www.aussiechickens.com.au/photos

Other images: Shutterstock | DnD-Production.com | Cow | ID 159146585; and Shutterstock | yevgeniy11 | Hen | ID 154817177

Update

Minor text amendments on 1st and 2nd October 2017.

 

 

I recently created a two-page infographic containing charts and images I had used in various articles and papers. The infographic highlights the following issues:

  • Livestock-related land clearing in Australia
  • Livestock production’s impact on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Greenhouse gas emissions intensity of animal-based foods
  • Livestock production’s share of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • The relative nutritional value of plant-based and animal-based foods

The infographic can be seen and downloaded here:

Related articles

Meat Eaters vs the Great Barrier Reef

Beef, the reef and rugby: We have a problem

Eating for a safe climate: Protein and other nutrients

Less Meat Less Heat: Falling short of what’s required

Author

Paul Mahony

It’s a little frightening that a diet containing animal products can be considered “plant-based”. But that’s what Katherine Livingstone from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University in Melbourne contends in a recent article in The Conversation.

Is this a form of doublespeak that might cause those in the livestock sector to rub their hands in glee at the prospect of confusing consumers?

Another concern is that some of the health evidence presented by Livingstone seems extremely selective. For example, she suggests that consumption of unprocessed red meat is not linked to heart disease or diabetes. There is strong evidence to the contrary.

The findings of a study by Pan et al., using data from two longitudinal studies involving 121,342 participants over a 26-year period, were published in Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012.

The researchers, from Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, German Institute of Human Nutrition and elsewhere, reported that each daily increase of 85 grams (three ounces) of unprocessed red meat was associated with a 16 per cent increase in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. For processed meat, the figure was 21 per cent.

A related study by Pan et al., using data from three longitudinal studies dealing with diabetes risk among 204,157 participants over periods ranging from 14 to 28 years, was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011.

The researchers reported that daily consumption of 100 grams of unprocessed red meat increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 19 per cent. Processed meat was even worse, with a daily 50 gram serve increasing the risk by 51 per cent.

These are just two examples of damning health evidence against consumption of processed and unprocessed meat and other animal products. (Processed meat includes meat that is cured, smoked, salted or treated with nitrates or nitrites. Examples include ham, bacon and smallgoods.)

With the community’s health at stake, along with the plight of billions of animals and the environment on which we all depend, a supposedly reputable website like The Conversation needs to be more accurate and thorough than it appears to be in informing the community about the relevant issues.

Author

Paul Mahony

References

Livingstone, K., “Why you should eat a plant-based diet, but that doesn’t mean being a vegetarian”, 13 July 2017, https://theconversation.com/why-you-should-eat-a-plant-based-diet-but-that-doesnt-mean-being-a-vegetarian-78470#

Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Schulze MB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Hu FB. Red Meat Consumption and MortalityResults From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(7):555-563. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287, http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1134845

Bakalar, N., “Risks: More Red Meat, More Mortality”, The New York Times, 12 March, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/health/research/red-meat-linked-to-cancer-and-heart-disease.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=red%20meat%20harvard&st=cse#

Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Schulze MB, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB, Red meat consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: 3 cohorts of US adults and an updated meta-analysis, Am J Clin Nutr
ajcn.018978
, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2011/08/10/ajcn.111.018978.abstract

Shaw, J., A diabetes link to meat, Harvard Magazine, Jan-Feb 2012, http://www.harvardmagazine.com/2012/01/a-diabetes-link-to-meat

Dwyer, M., Red meat linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 10 Aug 2011, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/red-meat-type-2-diabetes/

Image

zi3000, “Vegetarian skewers”, Shutterstock

Have you ever felt ill with nausea, lethargy, aching joints, loss of appetite, abdominal pain or fever? The symptoms could have resulted from many different ailments. One is hepatitis E, a largely hidden and inadequately diagnosed disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). It is usually self-limiting, in that it will disappear without treatment (there is generally none available in acute cases) after several weeks. However, far more serious outcomes can also occur, particularly in people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, some cancer patients, HIV patients, organ transplant patients and pregnant women.

There are four types of HEV, two of which can be transmitted between animals (primarily pigs but also others such as deer, rabbits and rats) and humans. Unlike its effect on many humans, HEV does not make the animals ill. [1] Although avian strains exist, they are not known to be transmitted to humans. [2]

Genotypes 1 and 2 are limited to humans and are generally found in countries with poor sanitation systems. Genotype 1 is common in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, while genotype 2 is more common in sub-Saharan Africa and Mexico. [3]

Genotypes 3 and 4 are the forms that can infect humans and animals. [3] Genotype 3 has been found in all developed countries where its presence has been investigated, while genotype 4 is mainly found in China, Southeast Asia, some pockets of Europe and Japan (although it does not appear to be the dominant form in that country). [4] [5]

Accordingly, genotype 3 is the key form of the virus responsible for infections within developed nations.

Like all forms of hepatitis, HEV involves swelling or inflammation of the liver. In addition to the symptoms mentioned earlier, jaundice is common, with yellowing of the skin and eyeballs, while other symptoms can include tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms and legs, general itching, darkened urine, and mild flu-like symptoms. [1] The virus can sometimes cause acute liver failure, which can lead to death. [6]

Serious outcomes that are not related to the liver can include: (a) neurological conditions such as Guillain–Barré syndrome, brachial neuritis, transverse myelitis, Bell’s palsy (with paralysis of facial nerves) and vestibular neuritis; (b) haematological conditions such as thrombocytopenia, lymphopenia and monoclonal immunoglobulin; and (c) other conditions such as acute pancreatitis, arthritis and autoimmune thyroiditis. [4]

HEV in Britain

In a paper published in the medical journal, The Lancet, researchers estimated there were likely to have been 80,000 – 100,000 acute HEV infections in England during 2013. The findings were based on retrospective screening of 225,000 individual blood donations. After allowing for the duration of a detectable virus in the blood, the results were extrapolated across the country’s population. [7]

In comparison, only 846 cases were reported in England and Wales combined that year, indicating the extent to which the disease is insufficiently recognised by healthcare professionals and patients. [8] One reason may be that there are sometimes no symptoms, particularly in children (although the carriers can still spread the virus to others). [6] [22] Nevertheless, the number of reported cases more than tripled from 2010 to 2015, from 368 to 1,213 (with a further increase to 1,244 in 2016). [8] [22]

The Sunday Times in London recently reported that more than 60,000 Britons per year are being infected with HEV by consuming pig meat imported from France, Holland, Germany and Denmark, often consumed in the form of bacon, saus­ages, pork pies and salami. [9]

British farms may also be a source, with a 2013 study of abattoirs finding that 92.8 per cent of pigs tested had antibodies for HEV, which indicates they had previously been exposed to the virus. 5.8 per cent were found to have HEV in their blood and were therefore likely to be infectious at the time of slaughter. [10][11] [Footnote]

However, a study led by Sylvia Grierson of the Department of Virology at the Animal and Plant Health Agency, published in 2015, indicated that imported products were likely to be the dominant source. [12]

Although the Sunday Times report indicated that 10 per cent of sausages in the UK were affected, the nation’s Food Standards Agency has said that that particular finding needs to be “interpreted with caution as the sample size was small and not representative of the UK market and the majority of the HEV positive sausages were from the same batch”. [11]

HEV in Australia

HEV was first detected in Australian pigs in 1999, with a study reporting positive findings in 17 per cent of tested wild-caught pigs and more than 90 per cent of tested commercial piglets aged up to 16 weeks (which is close to the age at which piglets are generally slaughtered).

Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia in April 2016, Yapa et al. noted that there appear to have been no subsequent studies investigating the virus within Australia’s pig population, possibly leading to (as in Britain) inadequate recognition of the problem among clinicians and laboratories, in turn possibly leading to under-diagnosis. [13]

The first outbreak of locally acquired HEV in Australia’s human population occurred in New South Wales in 2013, when a number of people were infected after eating Australian produced pork livers or products made from them, such as pork liver sausages or pork pâté. The outbreak lasted nine months, and according to Dr Joseph Doyle of St Vincent’s Hospital and Dr Alexander Thompson of the University of Melbourne, shows that transmission of the virus should be considered an ongoing risk in Australia. [14]

In mid-2016, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service commenced a study with the aim of understanding how common the virus is in Australia, thereby assisting in determining appropriate blood safety measures. [20] The results are awaited.

Blood serum tests have found a higher incidence of the virus among pig veterinarians, pig farmers and abattoir workers than in the general population, which is consistent with overseas findings. [5] [13]

Australian Pork Limited (APL), which describes itself as “the producer owned organisation supporting and promoting the Australian pork industry”, has reported that around two-thirds of Australia’s processed pork (ham, bacon and smallgoods) is imported. [27] Around 45 per cent of imported product comes from Denmark and the Netherlands (Holland), two of the countries allegedly responsible for HEV in Britain. [28]

However, Australia’s import regulations distinguish between cooked, uncooked and cured meat. [33] Only Spain and Italy are permitted to export cured meat to Australia (that is meat preserved by salting, drying or smoking), with the product range limited to Iberian ham, Iberian shoulder ham or Serrano ham from Spain and dry-cured Culatta and Parma ham from Italy. (Product from those countries may also be responsible for some cases of HEV in Britain.)

All uncooked pig meat entering Australia is required to undergo heat processing at a facility operating under a compliance agreement with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and managed by the entry management national coordination centre in Adelaide.

Other foods can be affected

In addition to pig meat and venison (deer), other products found to carry HEV are strawberries, green leafy vegetables and shellfish. [17] [18] [19] Contaminated irrigation water was a suspected cause in studies examining the first two products. Similarly, human sewage and runoff from a pig slaughterhouse were suspected in the case of shellfish. The fact that shellfish are generally eaten raw means there is no opportunity to inactivate the virus through cooking.

The relevant papers also noted that the products can be contaminated through various other means, including: raw manure; compost; wildlife intrusion; and handling during harvesting or post-harvest activities. Two of the papers noted the robust nature of HEV and other viruses in the environment.

Given the risk of contamination, the practice of spraying pig waste on fields, supposedly as fertiliser rather than sewage, must be brought into question. [32]

A key mitigation measure in relation to other foods such as those mentioned here would be to reduce our reliance on animal-based food products, thereby reducing the contamination risk.

Prevention and treatment

The virus is passed on through faeces and contaminated food or water, so personal hygiene is an important factor in prevention. The British Liver Trust (BLT) has reported that, unlike some other forms of hepatitis, there is no evidence of HEV being transmitted through sharing needles, bodily fluids or sexual contact. [1] (NSW Health does refer to sexual contact as a risk factor, but notes that direct person-to-person transmission is uncommon.) [6]

BLT recommends that the following actions be avoided when traveling to high risk areas: drinking tap water (drink bottled water where possible); having ice cubes in drinks; cleaning teeth with tap water; drinking unpasteurised milk; eating uncooked meat and shellfish; eating unpeeled fruit and uncooked vegetables, including salads, that you have not been prepared yourself. [1]

To reduce the risk of becoming infected in developed countries (relevant to genotypes 3 and 4 ), all meat, especially pork, should be thoroughly cooked before eating. (Please see further comments below.) Hands should also be washed after touching uncooked meat or meat products and after contact with any animals that may be infected.

People who suffer from a long-standing liver disease, are pregnant or have a suppressed immune system for other reasons, should be particularly careful with raw meats, shellfish and pork products. Dr Harry Dalton, a gastroenterologist at Exeter University and Royal Cornwall Hospital, was quoted in the Sunday Times article as recommending that pregnant women and transplant patients avoid pork products altogether (with that view likely to also apply to anyone with liver disease or a suppressed immune system).

In terms of genotypes 3 and 4, it seems the most effective prevention measure would be for others to also avoid pig meat. Such an approach would also reduce an individual’s risk in terms of cancer, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease (noting that medical researchers generally consider pig meat to be a form of red meat). [25] [26]

There is no specific treatment for acute (non-chronic) hepatitis E infection. Some patients with chronic liver problems have been treated successfully with anti-viral therapy using the drug ribavirin. [23]

A vaccine was approved in China in 2012 but is not available in other countries. Researchers from the University Hospital Hamburg say it is unclear whether or not the vaccine prevents infections with HEV genotype 3, thereby questioning its value in most industrialised nations. [23] However, Zhang, et al, while acknowledging that the vaccine’s efficacy against genotypes 1 – 3 is yet to be investigated, argue that all HEV genotypes are recognised as belonging to the same serotype and that one hepatitis E vaccine can protect against infection with any HEV genotype. [24]

Because of various uncertainties regarding the vaccine, the World Health Organization has recommended against its use in children aged under 16 years, pregnant women, people with chronic liver disease, people on organ transplant waiting lists, and travellers. [29]

To what extent should meat be cooked?

Although it appears the virus can be inactivated by cooking, there is some uncertainty about the extent required. In any event, much of the pig meat consumed is cured rather than cooked, potentially providing no opportunity to inactivate the virus if it is present.

For pig meat that is cooked, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has said the required extent would depend, in part, on the number of infectious virus particles present and the composition of the food. [15]

In one study, the researchers reported that it was necessary to heat infected pig liver to 71oC for twenty minutes. [16] The FSAI has also referred to other studies indicating that 71oC for 10 minutes or 70oC for 5 minutes would be sufficient.

On balance, its opinion is that it is sufficient to cook pork and products containing pork (e.g. sausages) to a minimum temperature of 75oC at the centre of the thickest segment. It has not specified the duration, but stated: “Normal grilling or frying of sausages until they are well browned and firm inside with no traces of pink meat, usually results in centre temperatures in excess of 85oC.”

It says that visual cues should not be relied upon in isolation, and recommends that a meat thermometer be used to check the temperature of cooked meat and meat products before consuming them.

In Australia, NSW Health recommends the same approach, but specifies a minimum 2 minute time period. [6]

The UK Food Standards Agency is more general, recommending all whole cuts of pork, pork products and offal be thoroughly cooked until steaming hot throughout, with the meat no longer pink, and the juices running clear. [11]

HEV during pregnancy

The immune response in pregnant women is lower than normal, causing them to be more vulnerable to infection, including from HEV. There has been a high rate of mortality among pregnant women in developing nations after infection with HEV genotype 1.

Researchers led by Dr Harry Dalton (referred to earlier) have stated: “In contrast to HEV genotype 1, excess mortality in pregnant women is not seen with genotype 3, and the few women who have been described in the literature have all survived.” [2] Nevertheless, as mentioned, Dr Dalton argues that pregnant women should not eat pork products.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, who also perceive genotype 1 as the key area for concern, have cautiously stated, “the potential of genotypes 2–4 to cause adverse outcomes in pregnant women, given exposure, remains uncertain”. [30]

An increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and death and disease in newborn children has also been reported. [21]

Curiously, the Victorian State Government’s “Better Health” page dealing with pregnancy and diet mentions listeria and salmonella, but says nothing about HEV. It also includes pork in its “healthy eating” recommendations, although it does recommend against eating ham, salami, pate and certain other products in relation to salmonella. [31]

Product labelling

How many people know the extent of risk involved in consuming pig meat products? Product labelling laws may currently be inadequate to warn people of those dangers, particularly for those in the most vulnerable categories. Consumers have a right to be adequately informed regarding products they consider purchasing, particularly in what can literally be life and death situations. It is essential that regulators respond to the extent that current labelling laws are failing.

Conclusion

There appears to have been a general lack of awareness of hepatitis E risk among health care professionals and the wider community. However, preventative guidelines are available from numerous authoritative sources for anyone who is concerned.

As with so many ailments facing our planet and its human and non-human populations, a simple, effective and potentially critical mitigation measure, which is not widely communicated, is to avoid certain products. In this case, food products derived from pigs are the primary concern, and can easily be replaced by nutritious plant-based alternatives. It is time for the community to embrace such choices.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnote

There is a slight discrepancy between the two sources in the figures indicating the prevalence of HEV in British abattoirs. The Food Standards Agency reported figures of 93 per cent and 5.7 per cent, compared to figures of 92.8 per cent and 5.8 per cent used in the article, which it also contributed to.

References

[1] British Liver Trust, “Hepatitis E”, https://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/liver-information/liver-conditions/hepatitis-e/

[2] Shrestha, A. C., Faddy, H. M., Flower, R. L. P., Seed, C. R., & Keller, A. J. (2015). Hepatitis E virus: do locally acquired infections in Australia necessitate laboratory testing in acute hepatitis patients with no overseas travel history? Pathology, 47(2), 97–100. http://doi.org/10.1097/PAT.0000000000000229, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4341517/

[3] Chaudhry SA, Verma N, Koren G. “Hepatitis E infection during pregnancy”, Canadian Family Physician. 2015;61(7):607-608, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4501603 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4501603/pdf/0610607.pdf

[4] Dalton HR, Saunders M, Woolson KL. “Hepatitis E virus in developed countries: one of the most successful zoonotic viral diseases in human history?”Journal of Virus Eradication. 2015;1(1):23-29, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4946667/

[5] Khuroo MS, Khuroo MS, Khuroo NS. Transmission of Hepatitis E Virus in Developing Countries. Izopet J, ed. Viruses. 2016;8(9):253. doi:10.3390/v8090253, 20 Sep 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5035967/

[6] NSW Health, Hepatitis E Fact Sheet, 17 September 2014, http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Factsheets/hepatitis-e.pdf

[7] Patricia E Hewitt, FRCPath, Samreen Ijaz, PhD, Su R Brailsford, PhD, Rachel Brett, BSc, Steven Dicks, MSc, Becky Haywood, BSc, Iain T R Kennedy, MFPH, Alan Kitchen, PhD, Poorvi Patel, MSc, John Poh, PhD, Katherine Russell, MFPH, Kate I Tettmar, MBA, Joanne Tossell, RN, Ines Ushiro-Lumb, FRCPath, Richard S Tedder, FRCPath, “Hepatitis E virus in blood components: a prevalence and transmission study in southeast England”, The Lancet , Volume 384 , Issue 9956 , 1766 -1772, published 27th July, 2014, http://thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)61034-5/fulltext

[8] Public Health England, “Hepatitis E: symptoms, transmission, treatment and prevention”, 11th May 2017, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hepatitis-e-symptoms-transmission-prevention-treatment/hepatitis-e-symptoms-transmission-treatment-and-prevention

[9] Leake, J., “‘Brexit virus’ feared in 10% of sausages”, The Sunday Times, 21 May 2017, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/brexit-virus-feared-in-10-of-sausages-hepaitits-e-hev-pig-farms-mffq0vbg3

[10] Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agencies, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Food Standards Agency, Biomedical Physics & Engineering Express (BPEX), Public Health England, Veterinary Medicines Directorate, “Study of Salmonella, Toxoplasma, Hepatitis E virus, Yersinia, Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus, antimicrobial resistance in Campylobacter coli and extended spectrum beta lactamase E. coli in UK pigs at slaughter”, March 2014, http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140707135733/http://www.defra.gov.uk/ahvla-en/files/pig-survey-key-findings.pdf

[11] Food Standards Agency (UK), “Chief Scientific Advisor’s Science Report – Issue One – Foodborne Viruses”, 2015, https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/csa-report-issue-one-foodborne-viruses.pdf

[12] Grierson, S., Heaney, J., Cheney, T., Morgan, D., Wyllie, S., Powell, L., Smith, D., Ijaz, S., Steinbach, F., Choudhury, B., and Tedder, R.S., “Prevalence of Hepatitis E Virus Infection in Pigs at the Time of Slaughter, United Kingdom, 2013”, Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2015;21(8):1396-1401. doi:10.3201/eid2108.141995, Aug 2015, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/21/8/14-1995_article

[13] Chaturangi M Yapa, Catriona Furlong, Alexander Rosewell, Kate A Ward, Sheena Adamson, Craig Shadbolt, Jen Kok, Samantha L Tracy, Scott Bowden, Elizabeth J Smedley, Mark J Ferson, Vicky Sheppeard and Jeremy M McAnulty, “First reported outbreak of locally acquired hepatitis E virus infection in Australia”, Med J Aust 2016; 204 (7): 274, doi: 10.5694/mja15.00955, 18 Apr 2016, https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2016/204/7/first-reported-outbreak-locally-acquired-hepatitis-e-virus-infection-australia

[14] Doyle, J.S., and Thompson, A.J.V., “Local transmission of hepatitis E virus in Australia: implications for clinicians and public health”, Med J Aust 2016; 204 (7): 274, doi: 10.5694/mja16.00167, 18 Apr 2016, https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2016/204/7/local-transmission-hepatitis-e-virus-australia-implications-clinicians-and-public

[15] Food Safety Authority of Ireland, “Hepatitis E Virus and Food”, 14 Jan 2016, https://www.fsai.ie/faq/hepatitis_E.html

[16] Barnaud, E., Rogee, S., Garry, P., Rose, N., Pavio, N., 2012. Thermal Inactivation of Infectious Hepatitis E Virus in Experimentally Contaminated Food. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 78, 5153–5159, http://aem.asm.org/content/78/15/5153.full.pdf+html and http://aem.asm.org/content/78/15/5153.full

[17] Brassard J, Gagné MJ, Généreux M, Côté C, “Detection of Human Food-Borne and Zoonotic Viruses on Irrigated, Field-Grown Strawberries”, Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 May;78(10):3763-6. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00251-12. Epub 16 Mar 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3346374/

[18] Kokkinos P, Kozyra I, Lazic S, Bouwknegt M, Rutjes S, Willems K, Moloney R, de Roda Husman AM, Kaupke A, Legaki E, D’Agostino M, Cook N, Rzeżutka A, Petrovic T, Vantarakis A., “Harmonised investigation of the occurrence of human enteric viruses in the leafy green vegetable supply chain in three European countries.”, Food Environ Virol. 2012 Dec;4(4):179-91. doi: 10.1007/s12560-012-9087-8. Epub 21 Sep 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23412890 and http://tinyurl.com/ya2zc7mo

[19] Crossan, C., Baker, P.J., Craft, J., Yasu Takeuchi, Dalton, H.R., and Scobie, L., “Hepatitis E Virus Genotype 3 in Shellfish, United Kingdom”, Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2012;18(12):2085-2087. doi:10.3201/eid1812.120924, Dec 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3557861/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3557861/pdf/12-0924.pdf

[20] Australian Red Cross Blood Service, “Hepatitis E study kicks off”, 20 July 2016, https://www.transfusion.com.au/BSIB_July2016_8

[21] Price-Hayward, M. and Hartnell, R., Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science, “Summary Report of Joint Scientific Workshop on Foodborne Viruses” (Commissioned by Food Standards Agency and European Food Safety Authority), 20 Oct 2016, https://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/2016/15612/key-priorities-established-for-research-on-foodborne-viruses, http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/supporting/pub/1103e and http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/sp.efsa.2016.EN-1103/pdf

[22] C.C. Oeser, D. Morgan, S. Ijaz, B. Said, “Characterisation of the increasing numbers of autochthonous hepatitis E infections in England and Wales 2010-2015”, International Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vol. 53, p129, December 2016, http://www.ijidonline.com/article/S1201-9712(16)31538-7/fulltext and http://www.ijidonline.com/article/S1201-9712(16)31538-7/pdf

[23] Hartl J, Wehmeyer MH, Pischke S, “Acute Hepatitis E: Two Sides of the Same Coin”, Viruses. 2016 Nov 3;8(11). pii: E299, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27827877

[24] Jun Zhang, M., Xue-Feng Zhang, Shou-Jie Huang, Ting Wu, Yue-Mei Hu, Zhong-Ze Wang, Hua Wang, Han-Min Jiang, Yi-Jun Wang, Qiang Yan, Meng Guo, Xiao-Hui Liu, Jing-Xin Li, Chang-Lin Yang, Quan Tang, Ren-Jie Jiang, Hui-Rong Pan, Yi-Min Li, J. Wai-Kuo Shih, Mun-Hon Ng, Feng-Cai Zhu, and Ning-Shao Xia, “Long-Term Efficacy of a Hepatitis E Vaccine”, N Engl J Med 2015; 372:914-922 March 5, 2015 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1406011, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1406011#t=article

[25] Pan, A., Sun, Q., Bernstein, A. M., Schulze, M. B., Manson, J. E., Stampfer, M. J., Willett, W.C., and Hu, F. B. (2012). Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results from Two Prospective Cohort Studies. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(7), 555–563. http://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712342/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712342/pdf/nihms462637.pdf

[26] Pendick, D., “New study links L-carnitine in red meat to heart disease”, Harvard Health Publications – Harvard Medical School, 17th April, 2013, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/new-study-links-l-carnitine-in-red-meat-to-heart-disease-201304176083

[27] Australian Pork Limited, “Get the facts on your pork industry”, April 2015, http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/1113329_AustralianPork_Final-Cover_1-2_AustralianPork_Inner_1-2_Page-PDF-LoRes.pdf

[28] Australian Pork Limited, “Import, Export and Domestic Production Report”, Graph 4.3 Australian Import Volume Share by Country – Financial Year Comparison, March 2017, http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/ImportsExportsDom-Prod-March-Report-2017.pdf

[29] World Health Organization, Media Centre, Hepatitis E Fact Sheet, July 2016, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs280/en/

[30] Krain LJ, Atwell JE, Nelson KE, Labrique AB. Fetal and Neonatal Health Consequences of Vertically Transmitted Hepatitis E Virus Infection. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 2014;90(2):365-370. doi:10.4269/ajtmh.13-0265, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3919250/

[31] Victorian State Government, Better Health Channel, “Pregnancy and diet”, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/pregnancy-and-diet

[32] Strassmann, M., CBS News, “North Carolina hog farms accused of putrid pollution”, 4th July 2016, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/north-carolina-hog-farms-accused-of-putrid-pollution/

[33] Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, “The effectiveness of controls for imported uncooked, cooked and cured pig meat – Interim inspector-general of biosecurity audit report”, June 2013, http://apfa.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/IGB-report-imported-pig-2013.pdf

Image

Photographee.eu | Closeup of woman dishing out grilled sausage | Shutterstock | Photo ID 283801919

Update

29th May 2017: Additional comments and reference added in relation to Australian pig meat imports, along with additional comments in relation to the Victorian Government’s “Better Health” page.

Disclaimer

No information in this article is intended to represent medical, health, nutritional, dietary or similar advice, and should not be relied upon as such. Please consult a medical professional if you have any queries or concerns about the issues referred to in the article.

 

 

 

1445667842_4f0d864a5d_b

Less Meat Less Heat (LMLH) is an Australian climate change campaign group that was created in early 2015. Its mission is “to reduce the consumption of meat most damaging to the climate by promoting a Climatarian diet”.

It describes such a diet as one that involves “. . . choosing what you eat based on the carbon footprint of different foods”, and focuses on a reduction in the consumption of cattle and sheep meat (“beef” and “lamb”). The group’s founder, Mark Pershin, has said, “the only guideline we have for the climatarian diet is cutting back beef and lamb consumption to one standard serving a week”.

This post considers some of the climate change, animal rights and health aspects of LMLH’s campaign. Much of the LMLH material referred to comes from the FAQs concerning its “Climatarian Challenge“, which LMLH describes as a challenge to eat in a carbon-conscious way . . . for 30 days. Participation occurs via a specially-prepared smartphone app.

LMLH is a relatively recent arrival on the scene of climate change campaigning, and the basis of its message is not new. In fact, Pershin has said he was inspired to take action by (in addition to some post-graduate environmental studies) the 2014 documentary “Cowspiracy”, which was also a relatively late (albeit effective) arrival with the livestock message.

The group’s approach seems to be largely marketing based (reflecting Pershin’s background), in seeking behavioural change to an extent that it considers achievable. LMLH seems to see a reduction in ruminant meat consumption as “low hanging fruit” with a “big bang for the buck” in terms of climate change mitigation, as reflected in the relative greenhouse gas emissions intensity of different products.

That might seem a reasonable approach, but there are many shortcomings, some of which I aim to highlight in this post.

The urgent need to act

It seems impossible to overstate the extent of the crisis we are facing in the form of climate change. I agree with LMLH on the urgent need to act in order to avoid a global catastrophe. Feedback mechanisms within the climate system are (by definition and in practice) accelerating, potentially leading to runaway climate change beyond the scope of any mitigation efforts we might seek to initiate.

Nevertheless, we must fight to retain a habitable planet, and I also agree with LMLH that a key plank in the required emergency action must be a general change in dietary practices. However, rather than adopting LMLH’s approach of focusing almost exclusively on certain types of meat, I argue for a general transition toward a plant-based diet. More on that below.

The danger of “bright-siding”

To support its position, LMLH cites global “high meat” and “low meat” scenarios developed by UK “think tank” Chatham House, along with its own more optimistic scenario. The scenarios utilise the “global carbon calculator” developed by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, the World Resources Institute and others. It has used the two low meat scenarios to argue that a reduction in beef and lamb consumption will give us a reasonable chance of staying within a 2°C temperature target.  Here’s some of what it has said.

LMLH STATEMENT:

“If we can all cut back our consumption of beef and lamb down to once a week for a standard serving size (65g) or once a month for a large portion such as a roast or steak then we can actually limit climate change to what climate scientists consider safe levels . . .

This sounds too easy, like changing light bulbs, but that is what the climate models used by world leaders tell us and hence what we are telling you. So be part of the solution, take part in The Climatarian Challenge and become a climatarian!” [LMLH, Climatarian Challenge]

RESPONSE: That is a major overstatement that masks the true danger

The first problem with LMLH’s statement is that the 2°C target is widely considered politically expedient and lacking scientific merit.

The former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Dr James Hansen, has described it as “a prescription for disaster”.

Authors of “Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action”, David Spratt and Philip Sutton have said:

“A rise of 2 degrees over pre-industrial temperatures will initiate climate feedbacks in the oceans, on ice-sheets, and on the tundra, taking the Earth well past significant tipping points.”

Although LMLH understands the danger of runaway climate change and the need to stay well below 2°C, its message is inconsistent, and it appears to give challenge participants the impression that all will be well if people simply reduce their red meat consumption.

LMLH also fails to say that Chatham House’s low-meat scenario gives us less than a 50% chance of staying below 2°C. They are horrendous odds when the future of the planet (as we know it) is at stake.

It should perhaps also highlight the fact in its challenge material that an aspirational target of 1.5°C (which is also dangerous but perhaps inevitable) was established at the 2015 Paris climate summit.

Critically, Chatham House’s low meat scenario assumes: (a) global meat consumption will fall below current projections, with monogastric meats, such as chicken and pork, largely replacing ruminant meats like beef and lamb; and (b) nations will comply with pledges to limit energy-related emissions and seek to improve energy efficiency.

LMLH’s third scenario is consistent with the dietary aspects of Chatham House’s low meat scenario, but is more optimistic regarding energy-related emissions, assuming a general transition to renewables. It would almost certainly also involve a high risk of failure relative to what is at stake, and may reflect a high degree of wishful thinking.

LMLH’s notion that “we can actually limit climate change to what climate scientists consider safe levels” by reducing consumption of beef and lamb may represent a form of what David Spratt calls “bright-siding“. Spratt uses the term to describe the tendency of many environmental groups to act on the belief that only positive “good news” messages work, thereby avoiding “bad news” such as climate change impacts (or in this case, the fact that continued consumption of all animal-based foods will contribute significantly to climate catastrophe). LMLH seems to be offering a potential solution to climate change that falls well short of the mark if we want to have a reasonable chance of overcoming the crisis.

A key component of LMLH’s bright-siding approach is its aim “to drive behavioural change in the mainstream population by taking a pragmatic approach”. That approach is consistent with the fact that “pragmatism” is one of its stated values, and reflects the marketing background of its founder.

In the words of David Spratt:

“Is selling ‘good news’ and avoiding ‘bad news’ the way to engage communities in understanding how climate change will affect them and what they can do about it?   In the commercial world the answer is yes, you can sell a ‘solution’ without a real problem, because half the game is about fabricating demand (status, for example) for things people don’t need (a new car) . . .

But with climate change, the problem is not a commercial or political construct, and not fully solving the problem will be catastrophic beyond most peoples’ imaginations and current understandings.”

LMLH dangerously ignores the actual and potential impacts of animal products other than beef and lamb. With meat consumption currently increasing in developing nations such as India and China, we cannot afford to focus solely on beef and lamb in our efforts to create dietary change. Some more focus by LMLH on the impact of fossil fuels and the Catch 22 of aerosols would also be helpful.

Greenhouse gas emissions intensity

LMLH’s main concern is the high greenhouse gas emissions intensity of beef and lamb.

Per kilogram of product, the emissions intensity of those foods is high relative to that of other foods, including other animal-based and plant-based foods, and LMLH is justified in being concerned. However, if we measure the emissions per kilogram of protein, those other animal-based foods do not seem such favourable choices, as shown in Figure 1. The charts show the emissions intensity based on 100-year and 20-year time horizons for determining the global warming potential (GWP) of various greenhouse gases. [Footnote 1]

Figure 1(a): Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e/kg protein) for beef, sheep meat and cow’s milk

Figure 1(b): Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e/kg protein) for other products

Even when measured per kilogram of product, the emissions intensity figures of other animal-based foods are multiples of the figures for plant-based options, with the emissions intensity of eggs, chicken, fish and pork being between 160 and 340 per cent higher than that of soy beans. Economic rationalists may be horrified at efficiency differentials of 5 or 10 per cent, but here we have climate change inefficiencies that are up to 68 times as bad as those figures (5 per cent versus 340 per cent).

A related point is that the inherent inefficiency of all animal-based food products means we require far more resources, including land, than with plant-based options. That creates grave risks for what are currently carbon sinks, such as the Amazon rainforest. With no buffer in our need to deal with the climate crisis, we must use every mitigation opportunity available, including revegetation and avoidance of further land clearing.

The second point is highlighted by the fact that we need many kilograms of plant-based protein to produce one kilogram of the animal-based variety, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Feed conversion ratios

Some major impacts of industrial and non-industrial fishing on our climate system are not accounted for in emissions intensity figures or national greenhouse gas inventories.

The problem arises from the fact that fishing disturbs food webs, changing the way ecosystems function, and altering the ecological balance of the oceans in dangerous ways. The loss of ocean predators such as large carnivorous fish, sharks, crabs, lobsters, seals and sea lions, and the corresponding population increase of herbivores and bioturbators (creatures that disturb ocean sediment, including certain crabs) causes loss of carbon from vegetated coastal habitats and sediment. The ocean predators are either caught intentionally by fishing fleets, or as by-catch when other species are targeted.

These factors also reduce the ability of the oceans to sequester carbon. If sequestration capability was reduced by 20 per cent in only 10 per cent of vegetated coastal habitats, it would equate to a loss of forested area the size of Belgium.

In respect of emissions intensity figures generally, a major inconsistency in the approach of LMLH is that in written material it refers to methane’s GWP on a 20-year basis (e.g. methane’s warming impact is 86 times that of CO2), but figures used for the app are based on the more conservative 100-year timeframe.

Multiply your cruelty footprint with the Climatarian Challenge

LMLH expresses concern for animals, as demonstrated in the quotations below.

LMLH STATEMENTS:

“Let it be clear that we are firmly against the cruel treatment of animals in the factory farming system . . . we do encourage you to understand the compassionate footprint of your food and engage with other organisations that advocate for animal rights and bravely fight against factory farming. We think that together we can work towards a safer and more compassionate world . . .”  [LMLH, Climatarian Challenge, FAQ, Other Issues, What about animal rights?]

“When we buy meat that is not free range it is factory farmed. Animals raised in factory farms are subject to intensely stressful conditions and sometimes unimaginable cruelty all in the name of cutting costs. These conditions are fuelled and passively accepted by us, the consumers who demand more for less.” [LMLH, “Why free range?”, The Animals]

RESPONSE: The expressions of compassion and concern are not consistent with other aspects of LMLH’s campaign.

If LMLH is “firmly against the cruel treatment of animals in the factory farming system“, then why is it continually encouraging people to replace beef and lamb with chicken and pig meat?

As stated by Eric Baldwin in the short 2002 documentary, “Meet your meat“, “chickens are probably the most abused animals on the face of the planet”. Pigs are not far behind.

Every animal is an individual, with the ability to suffer physical and psychological pain. The fact that one is smaller than another, or perceived as less cuddly, does not reduce the suffering.

If you have a spare couple of minutes, why not watch this short clip, demonstrating the link between a mother hen and her chick, who (unlike most) were given the opportunity to live in a natural way.

xxx

Quite apart from the horrendous conditions experienced by most chickens and pigs in the food production system, to replace the meat from one cow with chicken meat in the top beef-consuming nations would require between 101 and 360 additional chickens to be bred, raised and slaughtered. (88 per cent of the 70 billion land animals slaughtered around the world annually are chickens. In Australia, they represent 90 per cent of the 642 million slaughtered.) The number of pigs is smaller, but still a multiple of cows.

Here are the comparisons by country, determined by the relevant production yields for each product. (Yes, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publish pig meat figures for all the countries shown here.)

Figure 3(a): Number of chickens required to replace one cow in top per capita beef-eating countries

Figure 3(b): Number of pigs required to replace one cow in top per capita beef-eating countries

Here is a statement that appears to demonstrate LMLH’s lack of concern for animals:

LMLH STATEMENT:

“Fill your plate with ethical deliciousness. Trade your centrepiece of Christmas roast beef or lamb shanks for a lower-carbon alternative. Turkey, ham, chicken, and kangaroo will be sure to satisfy the hunger of your guests with less of a heating effect on the Earth. [LMLH, “An Ethical Christmas Guide”, Dec 2016]

RESPONSE: Shouldn’t cruelty feature in a discussion on the ethics of consuming turkey, ham, chicken or kangaroo?

Here are some examples of legalised cruelty involving chickens, turkeys and pigs, enshrined in Australian livestock codes of practice and legislation (with similar arrangements in place in many other countries):

Chickens and turkeys:

  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • beak trimming without anaesthetic;
  • removing the snood of turkeys (the skin drooping from the forehead) without anaesthetic;
  • removing terminal segment of males’ inward pointing toes without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding;
  • killing of “surplus” chicks (mainly male) in the egg industry through gassing with CO2 or by “quick maceration”. (The Oxford defines “macerate” as “soften or become softened by soaking in a liquid”. In the case of chicks, they are sent along a conveyor belt to an industrial grinder while still alive.)

Pigs:

  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • confinement in a sow stall, with insufficient room to turn around, for up to 16.5 weeks, day and night;
  • confinement in a farrowing crate, with insufficient room to turn around or interact with piglets, for up to 6 weeks, day and night;
  • tail docking without anaesthetic;
  • ear notching without anaesthetic;
  • teeth clipping without anaesthetic;
  • castration without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding.

They are some of the legal forms of cruelty, and do not include brutality which has frequently been recorded with under-cover cameras.

It should go without saying that the slaughter process is also not something to be taken lightly, but that seems to be how most people consider it. According to the animal advocacy group, Aussie Farms:

Due to the high demand for meat and other animal products, abattoirs are required to kill very large quantities of animals per day, resulting in a typically rushed environment where ineffective stunning can easily occur. Animals that reach the kill floor without first being properly stunned are then ‘stuck’ and bled out while still conscious.

Regardless of the effectiveness or otherwise of different stunning methods, the sights, sounds and smells of an abattoir create a terrifying experience for animals awaiting their terrible fate.

If interested, you can see undercover footage from the Aussie Farms website here and from Animal Liberation NSW here. (Warning: Graphic footage.)

The great majority of pigs in Australia are stunned for slaughter using the CO2 method, whereby they are directed into a cage, which is then lowered into a CO2 chamber. Many people may wrongly believe that the process is free of pain and stress for animals. This video (Warning: Graphic footage) from Animal Liberation Victoria appears to indicate otherwise, a view supported by Donald Broom, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University.

LMLH also overlooks the horrific suffering of fish and other aquatic animals. Like other animals, those in the oceans and other waterways feel pain. In the aquaculture industry, they spend their lives in crowded, often filthy enclosures, with many suffering from parasitic infections, diseases, and debilitating injuries. In the wild, hundreds of billions of fish and non-target “bycatch” are caught each year in nets or dragged for hours on long-lines. Most fish die slowly through suffocation, and many aquatic animals are prepared by cooks for eating while still alive or killed in horrific ways.

Please also see comments below in relation to kangaroos and free range systems.

Kangaroos: The gross injustice of our present approach

It is pleasing that LMLH recently stated that it would cease advocating the consumption of kangaroo meat as a low-carbon option. However, three items in which it does so were appearing on its website at the time of writing, and kangaroo meat was mentioned by Mark Pershin in a radio interview as recently as 10th April 2017, without reference to its negative aspects.

To the extent that it applies, the decision may have been prompted by interactions on social media with individuals who pointed out various aspects of the kangaroo meat trade, such as its extreme and inherent cruelty (including the plight of joeys who are clubbed to death or abandoned) and the fact that it is not viable as a food source on a scale anywhere near that of the cattle and sheep meat sectors.

A grave concern is that the prime targets of shooters are the largest, strongest individuals, with potentially critical impacts on the prospects of their mob (the term used to describe their group), along with the gene pool and the resilience of the species in increasingly challenging environmental conditions.

Most modern kangaroo species have evolved over a million years or more. Without human intervention on the scale imposed by Europeans commencing just over 200 years ago, they would have continued to live in harmony with the landscape to the extent that it remained habitable. Like our interaction with most non-human animals, the power balance in our favour and a lack of compassion in respect of kangaroos create an example of gross injustice, for which we should be ashamed.

In any event, we consume kangaroo meat at our peril. Parasite infestations and the role of red and processed meat in bowel cancer, heart disease and stroke are major concerns in terms of human health. The fact that kangaroo meat is relatively low in cholesterol may offer little comfort, as it is high in L-carnitine, a compound associated with increased incidence of cardio vascular disease in the form of atherosclerosis.

The folly of “free range” and “grass-fed”

LMLH is a strong advocate of “free range” and “grass-fed” production systems, but free range production methods will never be able to respond on the scale required to feed the masses.

Here are some issues to consider.

Greenhouse gases

LMLH STATEMENT:

“When selecting your beef and lamb meal for the week we recommend opting for a grass-fed option . . .”

RESPONSE: Why does LMLH recommend grass-fed when the emissions intensity is far higher than the alternative?

Meat from grass-fed animals is far more emissions intensive than that from animals fed in mixed systems. [Footnote 2]

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has estimated that cows fed on grass produce four times as much methane as those fed on grain. [Footnote 3]

Similarly, Professor Gidon Eshel of Bard College, New York and formerly of the Department of the Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, has reported, “since grazing animals eat mostly cellulose-rich roughage while their feedlot counterparts eat mostly simple sugars whose digestion requires no rumination, the grazing animals emit two to four times as much methane”.

The estimates from CSIRO and Eshel relate to the period an animal is eating grass as opposed to grain. The “mixed-fed” result allows for both feeding regimes, resulting in a comparison that is less stark. For example, the FAO has recently reported that the global average emissions intensity of “grass-fed” beef was 62 percent higher than beef from mixed systems, based on the 2010 reference period (95.1 kg vs 58.6 kg CO2-e/kg product). [Footnote 4]

Cruelty

Please see comments from LMLH under the earlier heading “Multiply your cruelty footprint with the Climatarian Challenge”.

There are no legally enforceable free range standards in Australia, and the systems still involve cruelty.

In respect of cattle (who generally live in free range systems for most of their lives), the livestock industry codes of practice (endorsed by legislation) permit:

  • castration without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • dehorning without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • disbudding (prior to horns growing) without anaesthetic. Caustic chemicals may be used for that process under certain circumstances, including an age of less than fourteen days;
  • hot iron branding without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding.

Here is a calf, possibly “free range”, enduring the horror of hot iron branding.

Major problems have been exposed in relation to pig meat production on the “Free Range Fraud” website of Animal Liberation Victoria, involving brands accredited as free range by the RSPCA. A related point is that the RSPCA has been reported to earn a royalty equal to 2 per cent of sales from accredited producers. In any event, the RSPCA has no power in relation to the legalised forms of cruelty.

Many free range farmers send their animals to regular abattoirs for slaughter. Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms has confirmed that her business sends the animals to Diamond Valley Pork in Laverton, Victoria, where the CO2 stunning shown in Animal Liberation Victoria’s video, referred to earlier, occurs. (Warning: Graphic footage)

In its FAQ on dairy, LMLH recommends “grass-fed cheese”. The failure to acknowledge the animals whose milk is used seems to demonstrate a lack of empathy. It also highlights a failure to recognise the immense, inherent cruelty involved in dairy production, whereby cows are impregnated in order to stimulate their mammary glands, only to have their newborn calves removed within a day of birth so that the milk that was meant for them can be consumed by supermarket customers.

LMLH erroneously uses the term “animal rights”, when in reality it means “animal welfare”. The latter assumes that animals have no rights, and must be available for our use.

Health

LMLH STATEMENT:

“Meat is nowhere near as good for you as when the animal is raised on pasture and eats what it has evolved to eat.”

RESPONSE: Whether “grass-fed” or “grain-fed”, red meat has serious health implications.

The only health issue raised by LMLH is the fatty acid composition of meat. However, whether a cow eats grass or grain, the meat represents a serious health risk, with the detrimental impacts being well documented by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), the World Health Organization, and others.

A recent example was the April 2016 study by researchers from the Oxford Martin School (University of Oxford) reporting on the health and climate change benefits of changing diets, including reduced consumption of animal products. The researchers estimated that if the global population were to adopt a vegetarian diet, 7.3 million lives per year would be saved by 2050. If a vegan diet were adopted, the figure would be 8.1 million per year.

More than half the avoided deaths would be due to reduced red meat consumption. (The health organisations classify pig meat as red meat.) The results primarily reflect anticipated reductions in the rate of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

In 2012, Harvard University released a study involving more than 120,000 participants over twenty-six years, with similarly damning results. Citing the study, the New York Time reported that “eating red meat is associated with a sharply increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease . . . and the more of it you eat, the greater the risk . . . Previous studies have linked red meat consumption and mortality, but the new results suggest a surprisingly strong link”.

Land use

LMLH STATEMENT:

“Cows provide many valuable services to the grasses that they graze on, including feeding them with nitrogen from their manure.”

RESPONSE: The impact on land of cattle grazing is overwhelmingly negative.

Much of the land on which cattle graze was once forest or other forms of wooded vegetation, with an ongoing loss of carbon sequestration on top of the impact of carbon being released at the time of clearing. Even perennial grasslands are no match for forest in terms of sequestration, with Australia’s Chief Scientist reporting that forests are typically more than ten times as effective as grasslands, per hectare, at storing carbon.

Rather than promoting the growth of healthy grass, cattle grazing generally degrades soil, with devastating impacts well beyond the pasture. For example, the erosion generated by cattle grazing is one of the largely hidden reasons behind the ongoing demise of one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef. Cattle grazing is responsible for 75 per cent of sediment in the reef’s waters, along with 54 per cent of phosphorus and 40 per cent of nitrogen. The sediment blocks the sun and smothers coral. The fertilisers promote algal growth that represents a food source for crown-of-thorns starfish larvae.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Wollongong estimated in 2012 that the reef had lost around half of the coral cover that existed in 1985. [Footnote 5] The research attributed the loss to three main factors in the following order: cyclones (48 per cent), crown-of-thorns starfish (42 per cent) and coral bleaching (10 per cent). It is estimated that if crown-of-thorns starfish predation had not occurred during that period, there would have been a net increase in average coral cover.

The release of carbon due to soil erosion following livestock-related land clearing was a key factor in Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (University of Melbourne) estimating that animal agriculture was responsible for around 50 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other factors included an allowance for short-lived climate forcers and a 20-year GWP.

The Pew Charitable Trusts have reported on the destructive environmental impacts of livestock grazing in remote areas of Australia, including the introduction of invasive pasture grasses, manipulation of fire regimes, tree clearing, and degradation of land and natural water sources.

According to Professor Ian Lunt of Charles Sturt University, managed grazing systems are only suitable in a small number of Australian ecosystems, particularly lowland grasslands and grassy woodlands on productive soils in areas of moderate to high rainfall.

Conclusion

LMLH appears to have been effective in engaging with the public and media on climate change and the impact of diet, but there is too much at stake to avoid highlighting concerns over various aspects of its campaign.

Although those involved can be proud of their efforts in many respects, they appear to be: (a) understating the true dangers; (b) ignoring or overlooking key mitigation measures; and (c) failing to adequately recognise or acknowledge the plight of food production animals.

I hope LMLH will reconsider some aspects of its current approach, potentially enhancing its effectiveness while also raising awareness of various issues that are currently largely out of public view.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnotes

  1. Greenhouse gas emissions intensity and GWP: The 100-year figures have been published by the FAO, while the 20-year figures represent an adjustment allowing for the apportionment of various greenhouse gases for each animal-based product as also reported by the FAO, along with  and the IPCC’s 2013 GWPs for methane and nitrous oxide. The GWP-20 figures are approximations, as the apportionment of greenhouse gases per product was based on results from GLEAM 1 (2005 reference period), while the latest FAO GWP100 figures are from GLEAM 2 (2010 reference period). [GLEAM is the FAO’s Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model.] Some figures are higher than estimates I have conservatively reported elsewhere, where I chose not to adjust for yield. The beef figures include beef from the dairy herd, the emissions intensity of which is lower than that of the specialised beef herd, as emissions are also attributed to other products, such as milk and cheese.
  2. FAO reporting: A recent FAO spreadsheet using the 2005 reference period indicated the opposite result, but the organisation has confirmed that emissions from land use change for pasture expansion had inadvertently been attributed to mixed, rather than grassland, systems. The spreadsheet has been withdrawn, and correct results will be published for the 2010 reference period.
  3. Emissions from grass-fed cattle: Although the CSIRO subsequently reported a reduction of around 30 per cent in emissions from the northern Australian cattle herd, emissions from grass-fed cattle remain on a different paradigm to those of most food-based emissions. The same can be said for potential reductions in methane emissions through the use of seaweed and chemicals in animal feed, which are likely to have the added problem of being an impractical option for grass-fed animals.
  4. Feeding regimes for cattle: Cows are not fed grain exclusively. They have not evolved to consume it, and if it is used at all, they are generally only “finished” on it for up to 120 days prior to slaughter.
  5. Loss of coral from the Great Barrier Reef: The precise figure lost since 1985 was 50.7 per cent.

Some minor concerns

Here are some less serious concerns with LMLH’s material:

  1. In explaining the use of “carbon points” in its climate challenge app, LMLH has linked to a 2011 article from the Guardian, explaining Global Warming Potential. The problem is that the figures are out of date, and do not represent the figures used in the app.
  2. Twice on its Climate Challenge FAQ page, LMLH refers to “The United Nations Farming and Agriculture Organisation”. The title used is incorrect, with the main problem being the use of the word “Farming” rather than “Food”.

References

TedX St Kilda, Reclaim Our Future with the Climatarian Diet Mark Pershin TE”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zLE6Z4YLsM

Less Meat Less Heat, Climatarian Challenge FAQ, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/app/faq/

Room with a view, 3RRR 102.7 FM, 10th April 2017, http://www.rrr.org.au/program/room-with-a-view?an_page=2017-04-10

Pershin, M., “Meat the Biggest Threat and Opportunity to Climate Change”, 22 November 2015, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/article/meat-the-biggest-threat-and-opportunity-to-climate-change-2/

The Global Calculator: Pathways, http://uncached-site.globalcalculator.org/pathways

The Global Calculator, http://uncached-site.globalcalculator.org

Hannam, P., “Paris 2015: Two degrees warming a ‘prescription for disaster’ says top climate scientist James Hansen”, Sydney Morning Herald, 5th May 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/environment/un-climate-conference/paris-2015-two-degrees-warming-a-prescription-for-disaster-says-top-climate-scientist-james-hansen-20150504-ggu33w.html

Wellesley, L., “Left Unchecked, Western Diets Could Derail Climate Action”, Chatham House, https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/16752

Spratt, D and Sutton, P, “Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action”, Scribe, 2008, p. 47

Phillips, S., “Paris climate deal: How a 1.5 degree target overcame the odds at COP21”, 13th December 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-13/how-the-1-5-degree-target-overcame-the-odds-in-paris/7024006

ABC News, “The Paris Agreement Explained”, updated 9th December 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-09/the-paris-agreement-explained/8107100

Spratt, D., Climate Code Red, “Always look on the bright side of life: Bright-siding climate advocacy and its consequences”, 17th April 2012, http://www.climatecodered.org/2012/04/always-look-on-bright-side-of-life.html

Less Meat Less Heat, About, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/about

Hansen, J, “Storms of my Grandchildren”, Bloomsbury, 2009, pp. 97-98

Mahony, P., “On the edge of a climate change precipice”, Terrastendo, 3rd March 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/03/03/on-the-edge-of-a-climate-change-precipice/

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM) – Results, http://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference at http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/ via Nutrition Data at http://www.nutritiondata.com

Scarborough, P., Appleby, P.N., Mizdrak, A., Briggs, A.D.M., Travis, R.C., Bradbury, K.E., & Key, T.J., “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK”, Climatic Change, DOI 10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-014-1169-1

Myhre, G., D. Shindell, F.-M. Bréon, W. Collins, J. Fuglestvedt, J. Huang, D. Koch, J.-F. Lamarque, D. Lee, B. Mendoza, T. Nakajima, A. Robock, G. Stephens, T. Takemura and H. Zhang, 2013: “Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” , Table 8.7, p. 714 [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/

Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G. 2013. “Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm

Mahony, P. “GWP Explained”, 14th June 2013, updated 15th March 2015, https://terrastendo.net/gwp-explained/

Tilman, D., Clark, M., “Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health”, Nature515, 518–522 (27 November 2014) doi:10.1038/nature13959, Extended Data Table 7 “Protein conversion ratios of livestock production systems”, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v515/n7528/full/nature13959.html#t7, cited in Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, Terrastendo, 5th October, 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/10/05/chickens-pigs-and-the-amazon-tipping-point/

Less Meat Less Heat, Facts, Emissions, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/facts/

Mahony, P., “Seafood and climate change: The surprising link”, New Matilda, 23rd November, 2015, https://newmatilda.com/2015/11/23/seafood-and-climate-change-the-surprising-link/

Atwood, T.B., Connolly, R.M., Ritchie, E.G., Lovelock, C.E., Heithaus, M.R., Hays, G.C., Fourqurean, J.W., Macreadie, P.I., “Predators help protect carbon stocks in blue carbon ecosystems”, published online 28 September 2015, http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2763.html, cited in Mahony, P., “Seafood and climate change: The surprising link”, ibid.

Less Meat Less Heat, Climatarian Challenge, FAQ, Meal Entry, What if my meal contains two or more types of meat?, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/app/faq/#Meal_Entry

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Meet your meat”, 2002, http://www.peta.org/videos/meet-your-meat/

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAOSTAT, Livestock Primary, http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QL

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD Data, Meat Consumption, Kilograms/capita, 2015 (Source: OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2016), https://data.oecd.org/agroutput/meat-consumption.htm

Less Meat Less Heat, “An ethical Christmas guide”, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/article/an-ethical-christmas-guide/

Aussie Farms, “Aussie Abattoirs: Overview”, http://www.aussieabattoirs.com/facts

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Fish and Other Sea Animals Used for Food” (undated), http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/fish/

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Lobsters and Crabs Used for Food” (undated), http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/fish/lobsters-crabs/

Animals Australia, “Fishing” (undated), http://www.animalsaustralia.org/issues/fishing.php

Mood, A. and Brooke, P. “Estimating the Number of Fish Caught in Global Fishing Each Year”, July 2010, http://www.fishcount.org.uk and http://www.fishcount.org.uk/published/std/fishcountstudy.pdf

Nelson, B., “7 animals that are eaten alive by humans”, Mother Nature Network, 11th March 2011, http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/photos/7-animals-that-are-eaten-alive-by-humans/octopus#top-desktop

Croft, D.B., “Kangaroos maligned: 16 million years of evolution and two centuries of persecution” from “Kangaroos: Myths and realities” by Maryland Wilson and David B. Croft, 2005, Australian Wildlife Protection Council

Koeth, R.A., Wang, Z., Levison, B.S., Buffa, J.A., Org, E., Sheehy, B.T., Britt, E.B., Fu, X., Wu, Y., Li, L., Smith, J.D., DiDonato, J.A., Chen, J., Li, H., Wu, G.D., Lewis, J.D., Warrier, M., Brown, J.M., Krauss, R.M., Tang, W.H.W., Bushman, F.D., Lusis, A.J., Hazen, S.L.,“Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis”, Nature Medicine 19, 576–585 (2013) doi:10.1038/nm.3145, Published online, 07 April 2013, http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v19/n5/full/nm.3145.html

Kennedy P. M., Charmley E. (2012) “Methane yields from Brahman cattle fed tropical grasses and legumes”, Animal Production Science 52, 225–239, Submitted: 10 June 2011, Accepted: 7 December 2011, Published: 15 March 2012, http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AN11103

CSIRO Media Release, “Research sheds new light on methane emissions from the northern beef herd”, 27th May 2011, https://csiropedia.csiro.au/research-sheds-new-light-on-methane-emissions-from-the-northern-beef-herd/

Mahony, P.,Methane breakthrough not what it may seem, Terrastendo, 20th September 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/09/20/methane-breakthrough-not-what-it-may-seem/

Battaglia, M., “Seaweed could hold the key to cutting methane emissions from cow burps”, CSIRO Blog, 14th October 2016, https://blog.csiro.au/seaweed-hold-key-cutting-methane-emissions-cow-burps/

Australian Lot Feeders Association, “What happens in a feedlot?”, http://feedlots.com.au/industry/feedlot-industry/what-happens-on-a-feedlot/

Harper, L.A., Denmead, O.T., Freney, J.R., and Byers, F.M., Journal of Animal Science, June, 1999, “Direct measurements of methane emissions from grazing and feedlot cattle”, J ANIM SCI, 1999, 77:1392-1401, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10375217; http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/77/6/1392.full.pdf

Eshel, G., “Grass-fed beef packs a punch to environment”, Reuters Environment Forum, 8 Apr 2010, http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2010/04/08/grass-fed-beef-packs-a-punch-to-environment/

Emails to the author from the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations, 8th and 21st April, 2017

Smith, A., “RSPCA stamp ‘dupes buyers’”, The Age, 9th January, 2012, http://www.theage.com.au/business/rspca-stamp-dupes-buyers-20120108-1pq6z.html

Animal Liberation Victoria, “Free Range Fraud”, http://freerangefraud.com/

Mahony, P., “More on our open letter with Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms”, Terrastendo, 25th June 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2013/06/25/more-on-our-open-letter-to-tammi-jonas-of-jonai-farms/

Springmann, M., Godfray, H.C.J., Rayner, M., Scarborough, P., “Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change”, PNAS 2016 113 (15) 4146-4151; published ahead of print March 21, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1523119113, (print edition 12 Apr 2016), http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.full and http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.full.pdf

World Cancer Research Fund UK, “Informed – Issue 36, Winter 2009”, http://www.wcrf-uk.org/cancer_prevention/health_professionals/informed_articles/processed_meat.php

Phares, E.H., “WHO report says eating processed meat is carcinogenic: Understanding the findings”, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 3rd November 2015, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2015/11/03/report-says-eating-processed-meat-is-carcinogenic-understanding-the-findings/

Bakalar, N., “Risks: More Red Meat, More Mortality”, The New York Times, 12 March, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/health/research/red-meat-linked-to-cancer-and-heart-disease.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=red%20meat%20harvard&st=cse#

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Australian Government, “Which plants store more carbon in Australia: forests or grasses?”(undated), http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/2009/12/which-plants-store-more-carbon-in-australia-forests-or-grasses/

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “History of crown-of-thorns outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef” (undated – post October 2012), http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/about-the-reef/animals/crown-of-thorns-starfish/history-of-outbreaks

De’ath, G., Katharina Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H., Puotinen, M., “The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes”, PNAS 2012 109 (44) 17995-17999; published ahead of print October 1, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1208909109, http://www.pnas.org/citmgr?gca=pnas%3B109%2F44%2F17995

Longmire, A., Taylor, C., Wedderburn-Bisshop, G., “Zero Carbon Australia – Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry – Discussion Paper”, Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute of The University of Melbourne, October, 2014, http://bze.org.au/landuse

Woinarski, J., Traill, B., Booth, C., “The Modern Outback: Nature, people, and the future of remote Australia”, The Pew Charitable Trusts, October 2014, p. 167-171 http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2014/10/the-modern-outback

Lunt, I., Can livestock grazing benefit biodiversity?, The Conversation, 19th November, 2012, http://theconversation.edu.au/can-livestock-grazing-benefit-biodiversity-10789, citing Lunt, I., Eldridge, D.J., Morgan, J.W., Witt, G.B., Turner Review No. 13 – A framework to predict the effects of livestock grazing and grazing exclusion on conservation values in natural ecosystems in Australia“, Australian Journal of Botany 55(4) 401–415, http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/BT06178 and http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/BT06178

The Guardian, “What are CO2e and global warming potential (GWP)?”, 27th April 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/27/co2e-global-warming-potential

Images

Naqueles tempos | duardo Amorim | Flickr | Creative Commons | Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

noBorders – Brayden Howie | Young Kangaroo on east coast of Australia. Close up of head and face. Photographed in the wild | Shutterstock

Videos

Mama Hen & Baby Chick (English Subtitles) – from Peaceable Kingdom film, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLxSg42Oj5E

Aussie Farms, “Australian lambs slaughtered at Gathercole’s Abattoir, Wangaratta Vic”, Undated, https://vimeo.com/117656676?lite=1

Animal Liberation New South Wales, “Cruelty exposed at Hawkesbury Valley Abattoir”, 9th February 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp-8PpA4upM

Animal Liberation Victoria, “Pig Truth”, Undated, https://www.alv.org.au/pig-truth/watch-pig-truth/

Update

Comments and references concerning aquatic animals and livestock grazing expanded on 26th April 2017, along with other minor revisions to text.

The second sentence under the heading “Kangaroos: The gross injustice of our present approach” amended on 10th May 2017.

Comment on crown-of-thorns starfish modified on 26th June 2017.

26598176002_10e33f86d7_o

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. [1]

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.” [2]

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.” [3]

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. [3]

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:

As part of its objective to “educate” consumers, why does YFM largely ignore the negative impacts of animal agriculture on animals, the planet, human health and social justice?

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 [4]:

“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. [5]

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?

Contrived PR?

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.”

Amazeballs?

Really?

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”. [6]

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.

Beefjam

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. [7] 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).

slide5-1

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) [8]:

“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. [9] [10] 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. [11] [12] 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. [13]

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. [14]

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. [15] [16]

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. [17] [18]

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. [19]

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. [20] 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”. [21] 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. [22]

Direct funding

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. [23]

Conclusion

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.” [24]

It seems that any one of the beauties shown here could be considered fair game by Uncle Mile, with Alexandra savouring the end result.

around-the-farm-august-20

Don’t they deserve much better? Luckily for these happy individuals, they are living peacefully at Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary in Victoria.

Author

Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)

Acknowledgement

Thank you to Greg McFarlane for information on YFM’s funding, including the donation from MLA.

Footnotes

  1. MLA has won advertising industry awards such as Marketing Team of the Year and Advertiser of the Year. [25] 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.
  2. 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” [26]
  3. 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.

Related booklet

The low emissions diet: Eating for a safe climate

Updates

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.

Images

Youth Food Movement Australia | YFM logo badge only | Flickr | Creative Commons NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) | http://tinyurl.com/j4c8ad9 | https://www.flickr.com/photos/142322734@N08/

Lambs | Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary | https://www.edgarsmission.org.au/

References

[1] Mahony, P., “The real elephant in AYCC’s climate change room”, 5th September 2013, https://terrastendo.net/2013/09/05/the-real-elephant-in-ayccs-climate-change-room/

[2] Youth Food Movement Australia, “About”, http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/about-us/ (Accessed 9th January, 2016)

[3] Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Annual Information Statement 2015, Youth Food Movement Australia Ltd, https://www.acnc.gov.au/AIS2015?ID=8E78E032-C0CF-482B-9879-DF609B494B6E&noleft=1 (Accessed 14th Sep 2016)

[4] CassidyE.S., West, P.C., Gerber, J.S., Foley, J.A., “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare”, Environ. Res. Lett. 8 (2013) 034015 (8pp), doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034015, cited in University of Minnesota News Release, 1 Aug 2013, “Existing Cropland Could Feed 4 Billion More”, http://www1.umn.edu/news/news-releases/2013/UR_CONTENT_451697.html

[5] World Hunger Education Service, Hunger Notes, “2016 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics”, http://www.worldhunger.org/2015-world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/ (Accessed 30th September 2016)

[6] Meat and Livestock Australia, “About MLA”, http://www.mla.com.au/about-mla/ (accessed 4th Sep 2016)

[7] Soutar, T., Youth Food Movement Australia, “Behind the scenes at an Australian abattoir”, 20th January 2016, http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/behind-the-scenes-at-an-australian-abattoir/

[8] Target 100, “About”, http://www.target100.com.au/About (accessed 4th Sep 2016)

[9] Mahony, P., “Emissions intensity of Australian beef”, Terrastendo, 30th June 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/06/30/emissions-intensity-of-australian-beef/

[10] Wiedemann, S.G, Henry, B.K., McGahan, E.J., Grant, T., Murphy, C.M., Niethe, G., “Resource use and greenhouse gas intensity of Australian beef production: 1981–2010″, Agricultural Systems, Volume 133, February 2015, Pages 109–118, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308521X14001565 and http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0308521X14001565/1-s2.0-S0308521X14001565-main.pdf?_tid=e4c5d55e-fc16-11e4-97e1-00000aacb362&acdnat=1431813778_b7516f07332614cd8592935ec43d16fd

[11] Aussie Farms, “Australian lambs slaughtered at Gathercole’s Abattoir, Wangaratta Vic”, Undated, https://vimeo.com/117656676?lite=1

[12] Animal Liberation New South Wales, “Cruelty exposed at Hawkesbury Valley Abattoir”, 9th February 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp-8PpA4upM

[13] Youth Food Movement Australia, “Can meat production and sustainability go hand in hand?”, 26th June 2014, http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/target-100/

[14] Woinarski, J., Traill, B., Booth, C., “The Modern Outback: Nature, people, and the future of remote Australia”, The Pew Charitable Trusts, October 2014, p. 167-171 http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2014/10/the-modern-outback

[15] True Aussie Beef and Lamb (Meat & Livestock Australia), What is Sustainable Farming | Where Does Our Meat Come From“, 4:07, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGD2EAzj4SY, http://www.australian-meat.com/

[16] Paul Howard Cinematographer, “Target 100 Bettertarian Documentary”, 7:04, https://vimeo.com/138485968

[17] Hansen, J; Sato, M; Kharecha, P; Beerling, D; Berner, R; Masson-Delmotte, V; Pagani, M; Raymo, M; Royer, D.L.; and Zachos, J.C. “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?”, 2008. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/TargetCO2_20080407.pdf

[18] Stehfest, E, Bouwman, L, van Vuuren, DP, den Elzen, MGJ, Eickhout, B and Kabat, P, “Climate benefits of changing diet” Climatic Change, Volume 95, Numbers 1-2 (2009), 83-102, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-008-9534-6 (Also http://www.springerlink.com/content/053gx71816jq2648/)

[19] World Wildlife Fund (Worldwide Fund for Nature), “WWF Living Forests Report”, Chapter 5 and Chapter 5 Executive Summary, http://d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront.net/downloads/lfr_chapter_5_executive_summary_final.pdf; http://d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront.net/downloads/living_forests_report_chapter_5_1.pdf

[20] Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G., 2013, “Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Table 5, p. 24, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf

[21] Flannery, T., “Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis”, Text Publishing (2015), p. 170

[22] Manning, P., “Wrestling with a climate conundrum”, 19th Feb 2011, http://www.smh.com.au/business/wrestling-with-a-climate-conundrum-20110218-1azhd.html#ixzz47IvGiZjp

[23] Youth Food Movement Australia, “Youth Food Movement Australia is getting bigger than ever”, 3rd February 2016, http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/youth-food-movement-australia-getting-bigger-ever/

[24] Youth Food Movement Australia, “Alexandra Iljadica: Tell us a bit about you?”,  http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/teams/alex-iljadica/ (Accessed 11th January 2016)

[25] Baker, R., “The Marketer: Meat & Livestock Australia, cleaving, the brave way”, AdNews, 16th November 2015, http://www.adnews.com.au/news/the-marketer-meat-and-livestock-australia-cleaving-the-brave-way

[26] Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Energy, “Ecologically sustainable development”, https://www.environment.gov.au/about-us/esd (Accessed 14th Sep 2016)

%d bloggers like this: