Tag Archives: Antonio Guterres

Meat industry propaganda and the climate crisis

Meat industry propaganda and the climate crisis
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
25 July 2022

In recent years United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made increasingly strong statements about the climate crisis. His latest warning came at last month’s Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in the US, organised by the White House. “We seem trapped in a world where fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat,” he said.

“For decades, many in the fossil fuel industry has invested heavily in pseudo-science and public relations – with a false narrative to minimize their responsibility for climate change and undermine ambitious climate policies.”

“They exploited precisely the same scandalous tactics as big tobacco decades before. Like tobacco interests, fossil fuel interests and their financial accomplices must not escape responsibility.”

New research suggests the UK meat industry should be added to the list of powerful forces working in opposition to the public interest and addressing climate change.

Published in Food Policy journal, the article is the first peer-reviewed systematic analysis of how meat industry documents publicly frame the health and sustainability aspects of their business.

Explaining the wider context, the authors – academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Boston University School of Health – note “current consumption trends of red and processed meat are being increasingly understood as a threat to both human health and the health of the planet.”

Red and processed meat have been linked with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, while the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans” and red meat as “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

The authors also highlight livestock farming accounts for 14.5 per cent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, with beef the biggest climate offender.

The study looked at the websites of six organisations representing the UK meat industry: the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board, the British Meat Processors Association, the Country Land & Business Association, Craft Butchers, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and Pasture For Life.

Their conclusion? The meat industry frames the debate about the environmental and health aspects of meat consumption “in line with the ‘playbook’ used by producers of other harmful commodities [e.g. the fossil fuel and tobacco industries] to portray their products in a more favourable light and to avoid regulation.”

The authors note four ‘classic’ framing devices deployed by the meat industry, which will be very familiar to observers of the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. First, it “fosters uncertainty about scientific consensus and casts doubt over the reliability of both researchers and the evidence”. Second, the industry was found to have shifted the focus to deflect attention away from the central issues – for example risk factors for cancer other than meat were highlighted. Third, the industry portrays itself as a well-intentioned actor, emphasising its own environmental credentials. And finally, there is an emphasis on personal choice. These devices lead to four broad messages: the evidence is “still open for debate”, “most people have no need to worry”, “keep eating meat to be healthy” and “no need to cut down to be green”.

While noting it is unclear whether the industry’s framing has impacted consumer or policy-making behaviour, the study does conclude that “in comparison to other producers of harmful products, the meat industry has thus far avoided significant inspection of its wider corporate tactics.”

Which brings us to the UK government’s (non)reaction to the National Food Strategy it commissioned in 2019 from Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain. Published last year, the report’s executive summary noted “our current appetite for meat is unsustainable: 85% of total land that produces UK food is used to graze livestock or produce crops to feed to animals… we have set a goal of a 30% reduction over ten years.”

This echoes the positon of conservation charity WWF, who argued in February that to meet the nation’s climate commitments British farmers needed to reduce the production of meat and dairy, ideally by at least 30% by 2030. And in 2019 a commission convened by the Lancet medical journal and the Eat Forum NGO highlighted how Europeans needed to eat 77 per cent less meat to avert planetary climate disaster. There are indications these kinds of measures have public support, with a WWF-Demos survey of 22,000 Britons finding 93 per cent of respondents supporting “a strong campaign run by supermarkets, food companies and government reduces red meat and dairy consumption per person by 10%”.

Despite all of this, the government’s response to the National Food Strategy, a White Paper published by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in June, did not include anything about reducing meat and dairy production.

No doubt the meat industry was very happy with the government’s continued inaction.

Lord Deben, the Chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), certainly wasn’t. “This is an opportunity wasted,” he said. “The government’s Food Strategy will do precious little to tackle emissions from agriculture which is now one of the most serious contributors to climate change.” The CCC recommended a 20 per cent reduction in meat and dairy by 2030 and 35 per cent reduction for meat by 2050.

The government’s refusal to engage with reality follows on from its 2021 Net Zero Strategy, a 368-page document that set out the policies for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy to meet the 2050 net zero target. According to Michael Thorogood, a political intelligence consultant at Dods, the strategy did not mention “meat” once.

Indeed the CCC’s recently published Progress Report found “major failures in delivery programmes towards the achievement of the UK’s climate goals” and that “the current strategy will not deliver Net Zero.” Chris Stark, the CCC Chief Executive, noted an absence of clear policies to deal with the 12 per cent of UK emissions the CCC estimates come from farming and land use. “DEFRA is really failing to deliver,” he noted.

Researching this article, I’ve found there is a paucity of information about the size and lobbying power of the UK meat industry. However, journalist George Monbiot gave an insight into its close relationship with the government in the Guardian last month. Describing the White Paper as “disastrous”, he noted “these failures reflect a general reversal of Johnson’s environmental commitments, feeble as they were, in response to one of the most pernicious lobby groups in the UK, the National Farmers’ Union… the environment department, DEFRA, occupies 17 Smith Square, London SW1; the NFU, 18 Smith Square, London SW1. It scarcely matters which door you enter: you’ll hear the same story.”

It is important to realise this story is bigger than the UK meat industry, and bigger than UK politics.

Echoing the results of the EAT-Lancet commission, an article published in the peer-reviewed Science journal in 2020 noted the centrality of the food system, and therefore of reducing meat and dairy production, to averting global climate catastrophe.

“We show that even if fossil fuel emissions were immediately halted, current trends in global food systems would prevent the achievement of the 1.5°C target and, by the end of the century, threaten the achievement of the 2°C target,” the study abstract noted. “Meeting the 1.5°C target requires rapid and ambitious changes to food systems as well as to all nonfood sectors. The 2°C target could be achieved with less-ambitious changes to food systems, but only if fossil fuel and other nonfood emissions are eliminated soon.”

In a sane world, the record breaking temperatures experienced earlier this week would sharpen minds and lead to a radical shift in policymaking. Sadly history tells us not to underestimate the governing elite’s ability to ignore the rapidly worsening climate emergency. As always it’s up to us, as concerned citizens, to get active and start challenging the meat industry and the government on this crucial issue.

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.   

Antonio Guterres’s United Nations: a democratic institution?

Antonio Guterres’s United Nations: a democratic institution?
by Ian Sinclair
The New Arab
11 January 2017

“We the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person”.

The humane, internationalist and poetic preamble to the United Nations (UN) Charter is one of the many reasons the UN continues to be a broadly popular institution, with the Pew Research Center noting in 2013 that “publics around the world continue to have a positive impression of the international organization”.

Having taken over from Ban Ki-moon on 1 January 2017, the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will, like his predecessors, become “a secular saint, an ambassador of peace and voice of the poor and downtrodden”, according to The Guardian’s Julian Borger.

Western governments have instinctively understood the importance of the UN’s popularity to their own foreign policy objectives. For example, the University of Connecticut’s Dr Stephen Benedict Dyson notes that in the run up to the March 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair “was aware that his stance on Iraq was not popular but remained confident that he could achieve support with a campaign of public persuasion, bolstered by the international diplomacy that would secure UN cover.” And Blair was right. Though he failed to get UN backing, polling conducted by Ipsos MORI just before the invasion showed that the backing of the UN would have massively increased support for the war among the British public.

Considering the global public’s high opinion of the UN, and the important ramifications this popularity can have, it is worth taking time to investigate just how democratic the UN is, and how the most senior position in the organisation is appointed.

With the UN set up in 1945 by the victors of World War Two, the 15-member Security Council dominates, wielding the real authority in the organisation, able to make and enforce decisions. In contrast, the far more representative 193-member, one-nation-one-vote General Assembly is relegated to a deliberative role, its resolutions recommendations only.

Within the Security Council itself the P5 – the permanent members of the Security Council, the US, UK, France, China and Russia – hold the real power. The other ten seats are non-permanent, with nations elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. Importantly, the P5 have the power to veto any resolution put before the group, even if it has majority support among the 15 members.

“The US is such a big power that it has enormous clout in the Security Council as its defacto ‘majority leader’, putting together the votes and resources to make things happen”, notes international affairs specialist Jeffrey Laurenti.

Accordingly, “for almost 30 years (since 1984) the leading wielder of the veto in the UN security council has been the United States”, explained John Weston, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN between 1995-98, in 2013. Most of Washington’s vetoes have been deployed for a specific reason – since 1982 the US has used its veto 35 times to block resolutions critical of Israel.

Beyond using its veto the US has a variety of other methods it can use to get its way. When Yemen joined Cuba on 29 November 1990 in voting against a Security Council resolution authorising force to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait, a US official told the Yemeni ambassador “That was the most expensive vote you will have cast”. Shortly afterwards the US aid budget to Yemen was severely cut.

With the US and UK once again looking for the UN’s stamp of approval as they geared up for war in Iraq 13 years later, massive pressure was again applied to the members of the Security Council. The US Ambassador to Mexico warned that if Mexico didn’t support the US it could alienate members of the US Congress. “Relatively straightforward issues related to Mexico” might be “difficult to pass”, he said. President George Bush was blunter, absurdly telling the Mexican President Vicente Fox “I want your vote, the security of the United States is at stake”.

Alongside this bullying diplomacy, the US, working with the UK, instituted a ‘dirty tricks’ spying campaign against the Security Council – involving the interception of the home and office telephones and emails of UN delegates – which was heroically uncovered by Government Communications Headquarters’s whistleblower Katharine Gun.

“When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow”, noted John Bolton, Under-Secretary of State for International Organizations under President George H Bush, in 1994. “When it suits our interest to do so, we will do so. When it does not suit our interests we will not.” This arrogant pick ’n’ mix attitude to working with the UN is also held by members of the Democratic Party establishment, with Madeleine Albright, the US Ambassador to the UN under President Clinton, telling the Security Council “We will act multilaterally when we can and unilaterally as we must.”

Sadly, the undemocratic structure of the UN is reflected in the secretive and opaque process used to choose the Secretary-General. Traditionally the Secretary-General has been chosen behind closed doors by the Security Council, and then presented to the General Assembly for approval.  There is no public record of these discussions except for brief communiques from the Security Council President, and at any point the P5 can veto a candidate.

Borger notes Ki-moon was the US’s preferred candidate ten years ago. During the recently concluded contest, Borger maintains Vuk Jeremic, the ex-Serbian foreign minister, will likely have been vetoed by Washington because of his opposition to an independent Kosovo.

However, it is not all doom and gloom: there are chinks of hope in this relentless pursuit of national interest and power. Proposals for reform have been repeatedly raised by many nations.

Conveniently, in the West ‘reform’ has largely been interpreted at considering the UN’s financial management and inefficiencies. Writing in her essential 1996 book Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN, Phyllis Bennis has a different take: “The key UN problem… is the question of power.” Suggestions to equalise the existing rank power imbalance include enlarging the Security Council to be more representative of the planet’s population; restricting the Security Council’s currently wide mandate; curtailing or abolishing the P5’s veto power; and empowering the General Assembly.

One small victory was the opening up of the process to appoint Guterres himself, with the contest beginning with all the candidates publicly explaining their ideals and intentions to the General Assembly – the first time this has happened. This increased transparency arose from pressure applied by the 1 For 7 Billion movement, a campaign supported by 750 organisations across the world working for “an open and inclusive selection process, with genuine involvement by all UN Member States.”

The Security Council still got to choose the final candidate but it is a small step in the right direction. “What we are doing is raising the costs for the permanent five of parachuting a candidate in at the last moment”, Natalie Samarainghe, the Executive Director of the United Nations Association UK, told The Guardian last year. “So it could still be a stitch-up but it wouldn’t happen without an outcry.”