EU-Logos

Let’s talk about CO2 emissions                                                                            

Animal farming in the EU emits more CO2 than all EU cars and vans combined and the emissions per animal in the livestock sector are constantly rising.

According to the last report from Greenpeace (2020) animal and dairy production increased from 2007 to 2018. This implied an increasing of total emissions from 664,70 Metric Tons of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2eq) to 703,69 Mt CO2eq.[1] To understand these numbers with practical examples, when Mt CO2 are mentioned in the article, they will be compared with CO2 emissions from the number of smartphones charged. For example, 703 Mt CO2 are equivalent to 89,655,152 smartphones charged.[2]

The 2018 Total Emissions per each livestock product are higher for dairy products with 235, 73 Mt CO2eq (29,970,072 smartphones charged) per year followed by pork products with 180,56 Mt CO2eq (22,955,800 smartphones charged), then beef products with 177,01 Mt CO2eq (22,573,203 smartphones charged) followed by poultry, eggs, sheep and goat that are each below the 100 Mt CO2eq. Greenpeace states that this increase shown in Figure 1 from 2007 to 2018 is equal to the climate impact of 8.4 million additional cars on the road or over 13 million roundtrip flights between Frankfurt and Dubai.[3] These shocking data represent the increase in animal farming in the EU only over the last 10 years.

In the same report, Greenpeace shows the emissions savings we would have if we reduce animal farming. Indeed, a change in our diet could mitigate up to 8,000 Mt CO2eq per year by 2050.

It seems like we do have one solution that can help the reduction of CO2 emissions. So, what is still blocking us?

Let’s talk about lobbies

Annually, the EU provides €200 million subsidy for the promotion of agricultural products. Among those, over the past three years, €60 million have been spent on 21 meat marketing campaigns.[4]

In 2017, the combination of money spent on promotional programmes of dairy products and different types of meat is more than the double of the money spent on the promotion of fruits and vegetables.[5] Nevertheless, this graph represents the money spent for promotional programmes across product categories until 2018. One year later, the 1st of December 2019, the EU released its Green Deal with the main goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Additionally, during the State of the Union 2020, the President of the European Commission, Von der Leyen said that the Commission proposes to increase the 2030 target for emission reduction to at least 55%.[6] Considering the EU’s commitments to combat climate change, one may expect that the EU would stop promoting food products that are among the most damaging for the climate.[7] However, this does not seem to be the case.

Who is pushing to support meat production in the EU?

Lobbies such as ‘Copa and Cogeca’ which represent the interests of the agricultural sector as a whole, has 50 working parties dealing either with specific production-related topics or with general questions.[8] In 2015, the Brussels-based lobby representing European farmers warned MEPs that they would have voted to quit the EU if they would have vote to limit agricultural gas emissions.[9] This year, in 2020, the known powerful lobby opened a debate on meat and dairy denominations for plant-based imitations. In the campaign manifesto, they highlight that European farmers have interest in producing both plant and animal protein and they are not opposed to vegan products. However, according to them, plant-based imitations have to develop their own approach with new marketing concepts and they will raise awareness for the importance of this meat denomination debate.[10] In order to have both views on the debate, the main arguments of the pro ‘Veggie Burger Ban’ are mentioned.

– There is no reason for two different products to have the same name as from a nutritional point of view a vegan steak is not the same as a traditional steak

– Meat denominations are deeply-rooted in our cultural heritage shaped by the hard work of farmers.

– The new innovative sector should take advantage of the situation and propose new denominations to break away from the meat culture.[11]

On the other side of the debate, there are different arguments not to change the words we’ve been using for years to describe common food items. The first risk is that the new law will decrease the fast-growing demand for plant-based alternatives. Indeed, a survey by the European consumer organization shows that 68% of consumers support the terms ‘burgers’ and ‘sausages’ as long as they are labelled as ‘vegan’. The pro ‘Veggie Burger Ban’ cannot claim that consumers are confused as consumers understand that ‘a plant-based burger’ does not come from an animal but from a plant substitute.[12]

The Swedish company Oatly, founded in 1990s with the main goal of “make it easy for people to turn what they eat and drink into personal moments of healthy joy without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources” created a plant-based drink which is mostly known as ‘oatmilk’. According to the agricultural lobby, this denomination is a problem as this drink is made from oats, therefore, it should not be called milk. On the Oatly website, the company published the main consequences that this amendment voted by the EU Parliament could bring. Firstly, plant-based milks may not be allowed to be packaged similarly to dairy products. Secondly, comparing the health and environmental benefits of plant-based products might be illegal.[13]

The European Parliament, on the 23rd of October 2020, has rejected the amendment that proposed to ban the use of meat denominations for plant-based products. However, they supported restrictions on plant-based diary labels, indeed, the European Dairy association twitted that the day of the vote was a good day for dairy, for European consumers and citizens of Europe. [14]

This is still very controversial. The good news is that the ‘Veggie Burger Ban’ was rejected; the bad news that the ‘Dairy Ban’ passed. Why is the EU not promoting a more plant-based diet, instead of making it more difficult for producers to sell their plant-based products?

Let’s talk about pork

The answer to this question will be clearer after having analysed the main promoters behind the latest European meat campaigns. The three latest discussed and contested projects are all related to pork meat: Pork Lovers Europe (2016), Love Pork (2018) and Let’s talk about Pork (2019). The EU contribution in terms of money for each project are respectively 1 366 348,20€; 2 548 420,16€ and 6 055 499,28€. Every project has a duration of three years.[15] [16] [17]

Pork Lovers Europe is a campaign that started because the consumption of pork meat in Europe has decreased from 2008 to 2015; the main countries involved in the project were Spain, UK, Germany, France and Portugal. In the campaign details, there is the name of the proposing organization, which is Interporc (Interprofesional Porcino de Capa Blanca). The main goals of the organization are to contribute to the economic development and profitability of the sector, improve the perception of meat and processed white pork, promote innovation and to boost the image of the pig sector as an example of sustainable production.[18] The initiative of Interporc, ‘Pork Lovers Tour’, originated from Spain is a bus that visited strategic places in the UK and Spain in particular, to raise awareness of pork white meat. The bus developed different activities for families, children and schools with workshop and cooking courses.[19] This project created more confusion than clarity as the company compared pork meat to chicken meat classifying it as a white meat. The colour of meat is determined by the amount of myoglobin in animal muscles, which is the protein that holds the oxygen in the muscle. Pork is classified as red meat because it contains more myoglobin than chicken or fish. However, when pork meat is cooked it becomes white and here is when consumers get confused. All livestock (pork, veal, lamb, beef) are red meat.[20]

The second project, Love Pork, was proposed by Landbrug & Fodevarer (Danish Agriculture and Food Council) and Svenskt Kott I Sverige AB. The campaign targeted the Danish and Swedish markets for pork as the sector was challenged by a declining consumption of pork especially among young consumers. The two organizations were concerned that young consumer tend to eat less meat in general and avoid pork in particular [21] which is not a surprise as young environmental activists are the firsts to change their diet to a plant-based.

The last project, Let’s Talk About Pork was initiated by many organizations such as Interporc, Agrupalto-Agrupamento de produtores agropecuarios, Aligrupo-Agrupamento de productores de suinos, bovinos, ovinos e caprinos, CRL and Interprofession nationale porcine. This is, without any doubts, the most controversial project among the three. The proposing organizations are worried that the decrease in pork meat consumption is related to “the defamatory messages which negatively associate pig production with sensitive issues related to the environment, food safety and animal welfare associate”.[22] In fact, the campaign targets people up to 35 years old, in Spain, Portugal and France, and it is based on true and false messages about the reality of the pork line.[23] In the website of the campaign, they argue that the impact on the planet of pork production is a myth and absolutely fake news as the emissions are very low. The emissions for pork products are lower than the ones for dairy products, as shown before in the Greenpeace report, but they still have a very high impact on the environment. [24]

Let’s talk about ‘What if people ate less meat’ 

The special report on climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assess that a plant-based diet is the major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change. According to the 100 experts who made the report, a change in our diet could free up, by 2025, million square kilometres of land and reduce global CO2 emissions by up to 8 billion tonnes per year. [25]

Greenpeace defines our society as ‘meat obsessed’ and argues that the livestock sector makes the planet sick. Therefore, they are calling to develop ‘meat consciousness’ and reduce the level of meat in our diets to have an impact on our planet. [26]

The European Union, among the EU Funded projects to green the economy from the Green Deal, is reskilling workers from coal industry regions, helping them to obtain a driving licence for small trucks and teaching them to handle new machines such as fork-lift trucks.[27] This idea could relate to the problem of meat production in Europe, as the same project could be applied to livestock production, giving farmers and workers the opportunity to work with plant-based products instead of animals, therefore, to reduce CO2 emissions.

The problem is clear, the influence behind the promotion of meat consumption as well, change is needed and we need to act now.


[1] Greenpeace. Farming for Failure. Greenpeace European Unit. September 2020

[2] EPA. Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator. United States. 15th October 2018. Online: https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator

[3] ibid

[4] Daniel Boffey. EU spending tens of millions of euros a year to promote meat eating. The Guardian. 14th February 2020. Online: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/14/eu-spending-tens-of-millions-of-euros-a-year-to-promote-meat-eating

[5] Peter Teffer. EU promotes meat, despite climate goals. European Data Journalism Network. 13th March 2019. Online: https://www.europeandatajournalism.eu/eng/News/Data-news/EU-promotes-meat-despite-climate-goals

[6] Ursula Von der Leyen. State of the Union 2020. Brussels (online). 16th September 2020.

[7] ibid

[8] Copa Cogeca. COPA: European Agricultural Union. Copa-Cogeca. Online: https://copa-cogeca.eu/CopaHistory.aspx

[9] James Crisp. Farming lobby to MEPs: We will quit EU if emissions capped. Euroactiv. 26th October 2015. Online: https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/farming-lobby-to-meps-we-will-quit-eu-if-emissions-capped/

[10] The Pig Site. EU livestock organizations lobby for stricter labelling of vegan meat products. The Pig Site. 9th October 2020. Online: https://www.thepigsite.com/news/2020/10/eu-livestock-organisations-lobby-for-stricter-labelling-of-vegan-meat-products

[11] Pekka Pesonen. Let’s not become surrealistic and let’s “call a steak a steak”. The Brussels Times. 20th October 2020. Online: https://www.brusselstimes.com/opinion/136632/lets-not-become-surrealistic-and-lets-call-a-steak-a-steak/

[12] Olga Kikou. It’s the Wurst-case scenario: Farming lobbies try to squash plant-based progress. The Brussels Time. 19th October 2020. Online:  https://www.brusselstimes.com/opinion/136156/its-the-wurst-case-scenario-farming-lobbies-try-to-squash-plant-based-progress/

[13] Oatly. The Oatly Way. The original Oatly. Online: https://www.oatly.com/int/the-oatly-way

[14] Gerardo Fortuna. MEPs save ‘veggie burger’ from denomination ban. Euractiv. 23rd October 2020.

[15] CHAFEA. Love Pork. European Commission. 2018. Online: https://ec.europa.eu/chafea/agri/en/campaigns/love-pork

[16] CHAFEA. LetsTalkAboutPork. European Commission. 2019. Online: https://ec.europa.eu/chafea/agri/en/campaigns/letstalkaboutpork

[17] CHAFEA. Pork Lovers Europe. European Commission. 2016. Online:  https://ec.europa.eu/chafea/agri/en/campaigns/pork-lovers-europe

[18] Lobby Facts. Organizacion Interprofesional Agroalimentar Porcino de Capa Blanca (Interporc). LobbyFacts.

[19] Alistair Driver. Brussels-funded pink pork bus touring our towns and cities. PigWorld. 13th October 2017. Online: http://www.pig-world.co.uk/news/brussels-funded-pink-pork-bus-touring-our-towns-and-cities.html

[20] USDA. Fresh Pork from Farm to Table. United States Department of Agriculture. 6th August 2013. Online: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/meat-preparation/fresh-pork-from-farm-to-table/CT_Index

[21] ibid

[22] The Portugal News. Brussels invests 7.5 ME in a campaing to encourage young people to eat pork. The Portugal News. 12th July 2020. Online: https://www.theportugalnews.com/news/brussels-invests-75-me-in-a-campaign-to-encourage-young-people-to-eat-pork/54820

[23] ibid

[24] ibid

[25] Quirin Schiermeier. Eat less meat: UN climate-change report calls for change to human diet. Nature. 8th August 2019. Online: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02409-7

[26] Greenpeace. Eating Less Meat, More Plants Helps the Environment. Greenpeace.  

[27] European Commission. EU funded projects green the economy. European Commission. January 2020.  

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