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Lobbying from the meat and dairy sector has helped weaken and delay crucial climate policies in the EU, a new report shows.

Six key climate policies in the EU have been the target of intense lobbying by the meat and dairy industry, which receives 82% of the region’s public subsidies and has “largely succeeded” in weakening and stalling such legislation since 2020.

Livestock companies and associations have been using fossil fuel industry tactics to derail policies that aim to slash their impact on climate change and ensure food security in the bloc, according to a new report by InfluenceMap, which assessed how 10 companies and five industry groups engaged with climate-change-related legislation in the EU.

These policies span the Farm to Fork Strategy, the Sustainable Food Systems Framework, the Industrial Emissions Directive Review, the Review of EU Promotion of Farm Products, the EU School Milk Scheme, and the Methane Strategy. The pushback has been spearheaded by groups like Copa-Cogeca and European Livestock Voice, as well as meat and dairy giants like Cargill, Arla, Lactalis and Vion.

The analysis shows that CPG companies like Unilever, Nestlé and Danone have been engaging more positively on the EU policies, in contrast with producer companies. “Meat and dairy producers and the industry associations representing them appear to be borrowing tactics and narratives from the fossil fuel playbook in order to hold back policies to tackle its GHG emissions,” said Venetia Roxburgh, EU program lead at InfluenceMap.

“Following obstructive behaviour from the industry, and the infiltration of industry narratives in the EU Parliament and EU Commission, policies that are fundamental to reducing GHG emissions in line with scientific advice have been significantly weakened or have stalled.”

Meat and dairy driving fossil-fuel-like narratives

The animal agriculture industry has largely relied on two narratives to influence policymakers in the EU. These misleading arguments – and their sub-narratives – featured in consultation responses, public statements, and social media produced by the meat and dairy sector, plus in communication between these entities and EU agricultural commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski.

The first narrative mentioned in the report distances livestock as a driver of climate change. This involves spotlighting positive agricultural impacts, downplaying emissions, emphasising efficiency gains, and denying a need to transition diets. But meat and dairy production account for up to 20% of global emissions, and meat alone is responsible for twice as many emissions as plant-based foods, which is why a transition has been recommended by experts and bodies like the UNEP.

The second argument has to do with the importance of livestock, its benefits for society and health, its affordability, and its potential for food security. This, however, is highly misguided – animal agriculture provides only 35% of calories and 65% of proteins in the EU, but contributes to 84% of its food emissions.

But these efforts have appeared convincing to the European People’s Party and its approach to next week’s election, with the conservative party mirroring these narratives by opposing key policies and efforts to reduce emissions from animal agriculture.

European Livestock Voice and its member organisations the European Livestock and Meat Trades Union (UECBV) and Copa-Cogeca have been emphasising the importance of livestock consumption for human health across multiple channels. Dutch meat producer Vion, for example, has called meat “an essential food”. German meat manufacturer Tönnies Group, meanwhile, has played down the impact of methane emissions, suggesting that its products “maintain natural cycles” and that methane emissions are part of a “continuous cycle”.

The report likens these narratives to the tactics employed by the fossil fuel industry, which has been found to follow strategies promoting positive sentiments among key stakeholders and emphasising the social acceptance of gas as a societal need. Both industries are dangerously downplaying the impact of their practices on climate change, despite being the source of nearly all greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, none of the meat or dairy producers analysed in the report are aligned with the IPCC’s science-based recommendations on policy engagement, with meat companies even more misaligned than dairy. Consumer-focused companies like Unilever and Nestlé, on the other hand, appear to be more actively supportive of such policies. “Without science-based policies tackling the sector, it does not seem likely that European agricultural GHG emissions will reduce in line with 1.5°C,” said Roxburgh.

Industry associations lead the charge against EU climate policies

The research found that industry associations were much more engaged on land use policies than their member companies, particularly those that reckoned with a transition to plant-based diets and a scaling up of carbon sequestration.

Copa-Cogeca, which has been in bed with the EPP to push back against the EU’s Nature Restoration Law and Sustainable Use Regulation (with the aim of halving pesticide use), was “five times more engaged” than its member companies. The group has previously been accused of promoting industrial agriculture over smallholder farmers. The UECBV, meanwhile, was “around three times more engaged” than their members.

These associations are the primary mechanism through which meat and dairy companies have been influencing climate policies in the EU. “This trend could indicate that companies are relying on their industry associations to engage on their behalf, rather than carrying out their own active advocacy,” the report said.

Each of the five associations – which also included the European Dairy Association (EDA) and FoodDrinkEurope – was opposed to the Review of EU Promotion of Farm Products, which seeks to enhance the sector’s contribution to sustainable production with a shift away from red meat and towards a more plant-based diet.

All groups were unsupportive of the Farm to Fork Strategy too. The EDA and Copa-Cogeca, in fact, were either unsupportive or opposed to all six policies. All this lobbying has meant that the Sustainable Food Systems Framework – which advocated for a transition to plant-based diets – has been stalled, as have the aforementioned farm products review and the EU School Milk Scheme, which supported the supply of plant-based milk in schools.

Meanwhile, the Industrial Emissions Directive and Farm to Fork Strategy have been “severely weakened” by industry advocacy, while the Methane Strategy is the only policy analysed that hasn’t been weakened. “These lobbyists are focused on sowing doubt, when farmers should be sowing crops,” said British climate campaigner Chris Packham, who called the coalition groups “self-serving advocates”.

“Farmers are struggling with extreme levels of rainfall and flooding which will soon be reflected in the costs at our supermarket tills,” he added. “As our fields remain waterlogged, these industry associations are flooding the meeting rooms of policymakers and the public narrative with misinformation.”

Packham called the longer-term climate and economic costs “catastrophic”, unless government policies are influenced by science instead of “an industry with vested interests”. “The issues of livestock emissions and a need to transition to a more plant-based food system requires the farming industry to work boldly and quickly alongside government and scientists to strengthen climate policies, not weaken them,” he said.

Original source: https://www.greenqueen.com

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