Barbara Young


Nobody can hope to thrive under a constant barrage of bad news and failed endeavors. When it comes to bad news, the meat industry certainly has taken its share of hits in the headlines — albeit replaced of late by the woes of U.S. financial institutions.

The U.S. animal-protein industry continues to deflect blows hurled at it from activists and others accusing it of a multitude of sins against the environment in the name of commerce (financial gain). There is some justification. That is only one side to the story, however, for nobody needs to convince the meat-protein industry of the impact of economic change in the marketplace — especially tied to major gains and losses that have defined the past five years or so, to say nothing of changes on the geo-political front.

Environmental and energy concerns have rapidly moved up on business agendas. Thus, the industry is becoming more proactive regarding resource conservation, pollution prevention, upgrades to environmental sustainability, environmental training programs and public outreach.

Even so, climate pattern changes are escalating, turning attention to what that means for Mother Earth in the grand scheme of things. That is but one part of the environment equation, however, for the world’s long-term goal must also focus on renewable, pollution-free energy. There is worldwide consensus on this.

Reportedly, 70 million people around the world join the middle class every year, putting more pressure on the demand for oil and food. This is a problem that needs a solution concerning the impact on the environment and the world’s resources.

And, if there is a problem, there must be blame. Once again, the meat industry finds itself the target of blame — this time for worsening global warming. At least that is the conclusion of Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who is calling for the reduction in meat consumption by one day per week to reduce global warming.

IPCC was established in 1988 and is considered the world’s leading authority on climate change. It has issued a series of increasingly grim reports over the past 20 years, most recently about the warming of the planet and human responsibility for it. Clearly, this group knows its stuff.

As indicated in a New York Time Magazine report in early September, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization concluded in 2006 that worldwide livestock farming generates 18 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the major impact on global warming from livestock’s contribution is due to deforestations, since the growing demand for meat results in the loss of trees that make way for pasture or farmland to grow animal feed. Then there is nitrous oxide, the greenhouse gas from animal manure.

Meat-industry representatives responded to the matter in a recent CLEARPulse survey conducted by Clear Seas Research, September 2008. Findings in general indicated that “industry insiders are split on whether to be concerned about this publicity [Time Magazine’s “Meat: Making Global Warming Worse” report] and expressed indecision about the possible effects on the industry overall.” Other results include the following:

• One-in-five believed it is ‘very likely’ that meat will be taxed at a higher rate as a result of the publicity, while one-in-10 believed there will be no effect on the meat industry.

• One effect that experts did not believe would occur (by an overwhelming margin of 79 percent) was that U.S. consumers would make a conscious effort to consume less meat.

• Although processors do not expect consumers to change their eating habits, four-of-five agreed that the meat industry should work to become more environmentally conscious.

What does this mean? As stated above, environmental and energy concerns have rapidly moved up on business agendas, which means meat-industry managers can take nothing for granted — especially concerning how consumers will react to negative publicity. Reading consumers’ moods calls for constant vigilance and regularly taking their pulses.

Note: See my latest blog at www.provisioneronline.com for the full survey.