A U.S. government-led sustainable farming initiative has been criticised for its association with a prominent meat industry group that questions the extent to which climate change is man-made.
The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) is a “knowledge partner” of the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C), an initiative launched by the United States and United Arab Emirates at the Glasgow climate summit last year to fund research into technologies to tackle the climate crisis.
But NAMI claims the degree to which human activities lead to climate change is “unknown” on its website. The umbrella group, which represents many of the largest meat companies in the United States, has also previously pushed back against measures to address climate change.
AIM4C faced a backlash from civil society groups upon its official launch at the COP26 Glasgow climate conference last year, and stands accused of promoting industry-favored “techno-fixes” over meaningful action to reform agriculture ahead of the coming COP27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
AIM4C will have a presence at the summit and is expected to hold a reception, run events in the U.S. pavilion, and drum up more funds and support for its “climate-smart” technology drive.
Scientists say major changes in food production and farming are needed if the world is to meet climate goals, including cuts in meat and dairy consumption. (The meat industry has vigorously disputed these findings.)
Chloe Waterman, a senior programme manager at Friends of the Earth, said AIM4C’s credibility was undermined by links to groups that had denied climate science and worked to obstruct climate action.
“Meat industry trade groups use the same playbook as Big Oil to spew climate disinformation and obstruct even basic climate policies, like requiring livestock emissions reporting,” she said. “Their membership in AIM4C indicates a total lack of standards within the initiative and undermines its legitimacy as a body purporting to tackle climate change.”
‘Outright’ Climate Science Denial
On a webpage entitled “Climate Change and Animal Agriculture: The Facts,” NAMI acknowledges that there is “growing public and governmental concern that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions should be curtailed”. However it contends the “degree” to which “human activity on Earth lead(s) to climate change” is “unknown”.
Elsewhere, NAMI states that while greenhouse gases and climate change “are important considerations for our industry and society at large”, with “so much uncertainty” surrounding these topics, “it’s important that we apply facts when we can”.
NAMI’s take flies in the face of the scientific consensus on climate. Last year the world’s leading scientific body on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), described the link between human activity and climate change as “unequivocal”, an upgrade from previous assessments of “extremely likely.”
A further report published by the IPCC this spring found that the impacts of human-caused emissions were undeniable, concluding “human induced climate change (…) has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability”.
NAMI told DeSmog that its claim came from an “old document.” (However NAMI did not share plans to remove the webpage and at the time of publication, the factsheet was still live.)
NAMI directed DeSmog to a recent pledge by the group’s members to put in place science-based targets to reduce emissions by 2030 in line with the 1.5ºC goal set out in the Paris Agreement, the 2015 international climate treaty that committed countries to keep the global average temperature rise to below 2°C warming and to strive for 1.5°C.
NAMI is not the only trade group linked to AIM4C to question climate science.
The American Farm Bureau Federation has a seat on the boards of the Animal Agriculture Alliance and US Farmers and Ranchers in Action, which are both listed as AIM4C “knowledge partners”. The AFBF is one of the most powerful U.S. lobby groups, and has worked for decades to block major climate measures.
In 2019, the AFBF questioned the man-made nature of global warming, stating that: “Environmental organizations and some scientists contend that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities (anthropogenic GHGs) are the principal cause for an increase in average global temperatures”.
“They’re challenging climate change outright here,” said Jennifer Jacquet, an associate professor in environmental studies at New York University. “And that’s really terrifying that in 2019 and [on NAMI’s website] in 2022 they are still taking this position.
“In this day and age, you almost won’t see a trade association for oil do that because it’s so socially unacceptable at this point. But here agriculture is just taking a page out of the playbook and doing it in the old fashioned way,” she said.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which leads the AIM4C coalition, stated: “Each participant adds value, and AIM for Climate draws on all knowledge, experiences, and cultures, and embraces inclusive excellence.
“AIM for Climate recognizes the wide range of participants necessary to achieve the AIM for Climate goal.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation, Animal Agriculture Alliance and US Farmers and Ranchers in Action were contacted for comment.