The Irish EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has deleted a tweet that encouraged people to cut down on red meat following backlash from farmers.
The agency tweeted the words: “Ready to be healthier, wealthier, and more fabulous? Cut down red meat intake.” It went on to point out that we throw away 10 percent of the meat we buy, and it also advised trying out Meat Free Mondays and veggie lunches. The post included a meme featuring a happy-looking Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones, alongside the words: “The planet when you reduce your meat intake.”
According to reports, the tweet was deleted after protests from the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA). The group said it caused anger among farmers, “who feel it goes beyond the remit of the EPA and is not consistent with Government dietary guidelines.”
The EPA responds
Following a complaint from the IFA, the EPA released a statement explaining its reasoning behind the tweet. It said it had a responsibility to offer advice that “may help to protect and sustain our environment and lower carbon emissions”.
“We regularly share sustainable options on social media platforms that some people might like to explore and, from time to time, this includes advice on food and food waste,” the organization added.
It went on to say that its intention was to offer “helpful advice,” rather than to “cause any confusion.” The EPA said it made the decision to remove the tweet to “avoid any unnecessary attention on what is a complex area.” The group added that it’s “engaging with agricultural groups on this and we are confident that the engagement will bring clarity for all.”
The environmental cost of meat
Despite the backlash, the EPA is right to say that cutting down on meat is beneficial for the planet. While the environmental conversation tends to focus on fossil fuels, there is no doubt that animal agriculture is one of – if not the most – environmentally destructive industries there is.
Farming animals is responsible for at least 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (though some estimates put this figure much higher). A major issue is methane, which is around 80 times more warming than carbon in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Farmed cattle around a third of human-caused methane.
But emissions themselves are just the start of the problem. Arguably a more concerning issue is land use, which livestock farming is a leading cause of. Around 26 percent of the world’s ice-free land is used for grazing animals, while 33 percent of cropland is used as feed for farmed animals.
Animal agriculture is therefore driving deforestation, and has been responsible for around 91 percent of Amazon destruction. It’s also a significant contributor to biodiversity loss, with ecosystems and habitats being destroyed to make way for farmed animals.
Experts from bodies like the UN and University of Oxford have stated that shifts towards more plant heavy diets are essential to mitigate these issues. A major study published in 2018, for example, found that western countries would need to reduce beef consumption by 90 percent if we are to avoid climate collapse.
Support for the EPA
A number of people and groups have voiced their support for the EPA’s words. The Irish Wildlife Trust wrote that we need “open debate on how we can adapt and survive the biodiversity and climate crisis, not the shutting down of scientifically based arguments.”
Green Party councillor Eva Dowling slammed “appalling bullying tactics from IFA.”
“These stunts don’t help farmers and won’t help the planet,” she added. “All aspects of our climate footprint need to be addressed, including diet. Well done @EPAIreland on sharing this crucial information in the first place.”