Top UN official sounds alarm over industry’s influence at crucial gathering 

A coalition of meat industry associations has pushed for the upcoming UN food systems summit to boost global meat consumption and promote intensive livestock farming despite its environmental footprint, Unearthed can reveal.

Read the full investigation here.

A bit of context: the UN’s first ever food systems summit is taking place this Thursday, 23 September, 2021, in New York. It is meant to produce a roadmap towards achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals (which include ‘responsible consumption and production,’ ‘protect and restore ecosystems’ and ‘take urgent action on climate change’). 

The findings have prompted the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, to warn that powerful agribusiness interests could “dominate the discussion”, leading to disappointing outcomes. 

In a draft position paper prepared in June for the summit, a group of industry associations including the the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association called for the UN to support increased meat consumption worldwide, arguing that “advances in intensive livestock systems” would “contribute to the preservation of planetary resources.” The associations wrote the paper in their capacity as key members of the summit’s ‘sustainable livestock’ cluster, a working group set up to recommend policies for the summit. 

The document runs counter to calls by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for a reduction in meat consumption, particularly in wealthy nations like Canada, to tackle climate change. The IPCC warned that a failure to switch to more sustainable land use could harm efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The UN food systems summit will make recommendations that are expected to shape government policies on food and agriculture around the world, and inform upcoming global agreements on climate change and biodiversity.

The draft paper, which promoted industry schemes and efficiencies rather than reductions in meat-eating in developed countries, went on to say: “Innovative methods in livestock can also address climate change both in mitigation and adaptation […] Livestock will provide solutions also for the challenges of today.” 

Michael Fakhri, UN special rapporteur on the right to food and independent adviser to the summit, told Unearthed: “What appears to have happened in its livestock strand is a microcosm of the tension at the heart of the food systems summit. Here was an opportunity to have a frank and difficult and public conversation about power dynamics in the food system, but the summit has failed to create a space to actually interrogate what the root causes of its problems are. I fear the outcomes will disappoint.”

He added: “Food systems today are not sustainable, it’s not conscionable, and when you involve agribusinesses that have money and power in the determining of its future, they will inevitably dominate the discussion.” 

Commenting on the findings, Shane Moffatt, head of food and nature campaign at Greenpeace Canada, said:

“This summit should be the moment when world leaders finally listen to the science and put humanity on a path to less meat, more justice and a safer climate. Instead, it looks like the meat lobby has been allowed to hijack a key part of the process and turn it into a soapbox for industry propaganda. The science is crystal clear: we can’t tackle the climate crisis without cutting the amount of meat we eat in wealthy nations like Canada.

Factory farming has become the elephant in the room when it comes to reforming agriculture in Canada. Our newly elected federal government will need to show real courage to stand up to this powerful lobby that is holding back urgent climate action. The solutions we need involve more small farmers, more equitable access to the land and more ecological farming, not more money for big agribusiness.”


Read the full story on Unearthed.

For additional information, please contact: 

 Dina Ni, Communication officer, Greenpeace Canada

+1 (416) 820-2148,  [email protected]