European Livestock Voice

Background

European Livestock Voice (ELV) is an EU-wide campaign launched in 2019 by 11 livestock industry groups, including COPA-COGECA, the largest organisation representing European farmers. [1], [2], [3], [4]

ELV runs an “information hub” titled “Meat the Facts” that aims “to restore balance and factual information on both the impact and the contribution of the European livestock sector.” [5]

As of 2021, ELV’s campaign “Meat the Facts” has 11 partners and supporters from the livestock, fur, leather and animal medicines sectors, including the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation and the European Federation of Foie Gras. [5]

In March 2021, ELV and Italian initiative Carni Sostenibili, a joint project by three Italian meat industry groups Associazione Nazionale Industria e Commercio Carni e Bestiame, Associazione Industriali delle Carni e dei Salumi (ASSICA), and Unaitalia sought to show that meat “can be sustainable, both for health and the environment”. It launched a series of videos in seven languages, expressing EU livestock farmers’ concerns that the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy is “based on erroneous preconceptions” and “does not really take into consideration [the sector’s] farming traditions and the huge progress already achieved.” [6], [2]

Stance on Climate Change

In 2019, European Livestock Voice stated in an opinion piece published on the news site Euractiv: “Both climate change and animal welfare are complex societal and ethical issues, but in the hands of some interest groups this complexity is reduced to simplistic but very catchy slogans. […] While emissions or other impacts of livestock should neither be, nor are they being ignored, there are significant flaws in today’s public debate over livestock […]. [I]f our ultimate goal is a reduction in greenhouse gasses, and we otherwise accept the premise of people eating food, it is commonly acknowledged that the by far most effective way to do so is to replace fossil fuel energy sources with green alternatives.” [7]

The campaign has acknowledged that observing “climate change through a critical livestock perspective is perfectly legitimate” but that the debate around the climate impact of animal products “has come to a point where values are promoted as facts, and myths or prejudices about livestock are readily fuelled by interest groups.” [7]

Studies have found that reducing meat consumption is crucial to lowering the food system’s greenhouse gas emissions and that “[i]f socioeconomic changes towards [meat-heavy] Western consumption patterns continue, the environmental pressures of the food system are likely to intensify, and humanity might soon approach the planetary boundaries for global freshwater use, change in land use, and ocean acidification.” [8]

Key Narratives

ELV promotes a number of narratives to justify the meat industry’s business model. Find out more about how the meat industry is climate-washing its activities in our investigation. And you can read counter-arguments and criticisms of these narratives in our factsheet.

‘Animal agriculture isn’t a serious driver of climate change’

‘Animal agriculture’s climate impact is disputed’

In an opinion piece on ELV’s Meat the Facts website, Jerzy Wierzbicki, Chairman of COPA-COGECA, states that it is a “very misleading idea that science is univocal in matters of the environment or health when it comes to livestock.” The statement was made in response to a Greenpeace report that argues “how we produce and consume food in Europe is inextricably linked” to crises such as climate change, species extinction, and global health emergencies. [9], [10]

‘Grazing supports biodiversity’

In September 2019, European Livestock Voice put up posters in Brussels metro stations to “challenge some thinking around livestock production in Europe.” According to the initiative, one of the posters “focuses on the link between biodiversity and livestock, as livestock production is often blamed for negative impacts on biodiversity, while its contribution to the bioeconomy or circular economy is often overlooked.” [11]

The same month, the initiative released a YouTube video that claimed an “EU without livestock would lose […] essential habitats and biodiversity.” It has also shared a research paper on its website by Plantlife, a British conservation charity, claiming that “[l]ivestock grazing has a crucial role to play in addressing a dramatic decline in biodiversity-rich wildflower meadows” and “that totally abandoning land to nature will do more environmental harm than good.” [12], [13], [14],[15]

The US-based environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, however, states: “The ecological costs of livestock grazing exceed that of any other western land use.” A 2020 study by researchers from the University of Alberta warned that scaling up livestock grazing to meet future food demand could threaten the biodiversity of herbivores and pollinators worldwide. The idea of using cattle grazing to capture carbon in the soil has also been criticised by environmental scientists from the University of Oxford for offsetting only 20-60 percent of the total emissions, concluding that “grass-fed cattle remain net contributors to warming.” [16], [17], [18]

‘European meat is environmentally friendly’

According to a spokesperson for ELV, the European livestock sector produces “meat in an efficient and climate-friendly way,” outperforming all other world regions except Russia and Eastern Europe. [19]

However, sustainability groups GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) suggest that “the large gains in ‘efficiency’ realised by industrial farming in the twentieth century will be hard to repeat without major ecological, social and health impacts.” The organisations describe the efficiency of intensive livestock production as “a myth.” [20]

‘Livestock convert inedible material into food for human consumption’

According to European Livestock Voice, grasslands “provide a significant role in fodder used to feed the livestock, converting grass into highly nutritious food” and that the “recycling or some say ‘upcycling’ of biomass from resources such as grass, straw and bran that are inedible for people is an important process.” [21], [22]

A 2018 Science study estimates that the production of animal-based foods requires 83 percent of the world’s farmland yet provides only 37 percent of global protein and 18 percent of global calories. According to a 2019 study by environmental scientists from Harvard University, transitioning to a more plant-based food production system in the UK has the potential to free up large areas of land currently used for grazing and animal feed production while improving the country’s carbon footprint and still meeting the population’s nutrition requirements. [23], [24]

‘Plant-based diets do not solve the problem of climate change’

‘Dietary change is a misguided climate strategy’

In March 2021, European Livestock Voice stated in a press release: “As the UN Food Systems Summit approaches, we notice a push for synthetic, lab-grown meat from different opinion leaders outside of the farming community. […] To say that a diet free of ‘real meat’ and a Europe without livestock are answers to the challenges posed by climate change is inaccurate and could prove catastrophic for our nutrition, our territories, our environment, diversity and our culture.” [25]

ELV states on the Meat The Facts website: “From a climate change perspective, a world without livestock would likely not be as some may expect […]. A study in the US on this issue by animal scientists Mary Beth Hall and Robin R. White considered that the total removal of livestock in the US would represent only a drop of about 2.6 percent of total US emissions when considering the main side consequence of livestock abandonment.” [26]

ELV backed up this statement by quoting a 2017 study by researchers at the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at Virginia Tech and the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center. The study has been criticised as misleading by environmental, nutrition, and epidemiology researchers for failing to take into account the impacts of land no longer being needed for animal feed crops, and for the “uncritical use of nutritional values and optimization algorithms” as well as a “highly unrealistic and narrow scenario design.” [27], [28], [29], [30]

‘Less meat is wasted than fruit and vegetables’

ELV argues on the Meat The Facts website: “One simple way to reduce emissions – something that is often forgotten in public debates – is simply to limit and reduce food waste. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 40-50% of fruit and vegetables are wasted at source, while for meat/dairy the FAO estimates losses at 20%.” [31]

Studies have found “plant-based diets are also more climate friendly when they are wasted,” however. Researchers from the University of Michigan showed that “fruits and vegetables which comprise 33 percent of food waste [in the U.S.], account for only 8 percent of carbon dioxide emissions,” while animal products “account for 33 percent of food waste by mass and 74 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.” [32]

‘Meat is needed for a healthy diet and to feed the world’

‘Meat is needed to feed the world’s growing population’

In 2019, European Livestock Voice argued in an opinion article published on Euractiv that “[r]eplacing animal products with plant-based alternatives is not the universal solution to climate change” because such a transition fails to address “ethical considerations, for example food supply and security, also for developing countries.” [7]

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), a sustainable development organisation, feeding 10 billion people by 2050 without transitioning to a more plant-based global diet would necessitate the destruction of the world’s remaining forests and “agriculture alone would produce almost twice the emissions allowable from all human activities.” [33], [34]

‘Eating meat is the consumer’s choice’

On campaign posters, ELV states: “We won’t tell you what to eat, drink or wear, but it’s good to hear the two sides of the story about livestock. Because when you make a choice, you also choose all of the consequences.” [35]

‘Meat is an exceptional source of nutrients’

According to ELV, meat is “an excellent source of several vitamins, minerals, and essential micronutrients that can easily be absorbed by the body,” “meat has been a central component of our diet for millions of years,” and “processed meat products can be safely consumed as a part of healthy and balanced diets.”[26]

Nutrition associations worldwide, including the British Nutrition Foundation, approve of meat-free diets. According to the American Dietetic Association, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” [36], [37]

‘Innovations in animal agriculture will tackle climate change’

‘Emissions intensity reduction is a climate solution’

In the initiative’s FAQ section, European Livestock Voice notes that “[t]here are indeed a number of ways through improved animal management to reduce emissions from livestock according to the FAO.” It cites a report from the FAO which “estimates that partially reducing the emission intensity gap within existing production systems through improved management could cut emissions by about 30%.” [31],[38]

Sustainability non-profits GRAIN and IATP argue that “arguments for emissions intensity reduction in the absence of targets to reduce the livestock sector’s total emissions are dangerous,” arguing “that the large gains in ‘efficiency’ realised by industrial farming in the twentieth century will be hard to repeat without major ecological, social and health impacts.” [20]

‘New grazing techniques can sequester carbon’

European Livestock Voice quotes an article authored by the President of the US-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Jerry Bohn, and published the industry outlet Beef Magazine, stating that “pasture and rangeland, through proper management, can actually reduce the amount of carbon and more than offset the short-lived methane emissions of our cattle.” [39], [40]

Matthew Hayek, environmental scientist at New York University, argues the claim that methane can be climate neutral is a case of “creative accounting.” [41]

‘Livestock management innovations will cut emissions’

European Livestock Voice states that “[t]hanks to new precision agriculture and advanced agronomic practices the European livestock sector will continue to be able to provide more sustainable and affordable animal-sourced food products.” [31]

The organisation regards improved animal feed, health, and husbandry as well as advanced monitoring techniques as opportunities to reduce the sector’s emissions and asserts that “livestock excels in green energy sources like biogas and biofuels.” [31], [7]

Precision agriculture has also been promoted by agrichemical industries as a solution to climate change, despite questions about the efficacy of the techniques as a climate strategy.

Funding

European Livestock Voice is a campaign part-run by COPA-COGECA. Information about the funding of the campaign by its 11 partners is not publicly available. [4]

The annual cost of COPA’s lobbying activities disclosed on the EU transparency register was between €1,500,000 – €1,749,999 in 2019. COGECA’s lobbying costs were listed as between €1,500,000 – €1,749,999 in 2019. Neither organisation received funding from EU institutions during the last financial year. [42], [43]

Lobbying

In March 2021, European Livestock Voice launched a series of videos about environmental, health, and economic aspects of livestock production in seven languages co-produced with Italian meat promotion campaign Carni Sostenibili, highlighting EU livestock farmers’ concerns over the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy, which aims to build a more environmentally friendly food system. [44], [2]

In December 2019, the campaign organised a protest, bursting balloons “carrying common myths or misinformation [about the livestock sector] in front of the European Commission building,” according to a press release about the event. [45]

In November 2019, the campaign sent a letter to members of the European Parliament, asking for MEPs’ support for an initiative of MEP Balázs Hidvéghi, a member of the Hungarian right-wing populist political party Fidesz and the European People’s Party (EPP), to create a European Parliament “Intergroup” on “Livestock and Livestock products,” which would aim “to restore a fact-based discussion on the EU model of production.” The same month, ELV hosted a debate about the environmental impact of meat featuring Deputy Director General at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Michael Scannell and communications strategist Florence Ranson, founder of EU affairs and communications consultant firm REDComms and former Director of Communications & Public Affairs at the European food industry umbrella organisation FoodDrinkEurope. [46], [47], [48], [2]

In September 2019, MEPs and livestock farmers Alexander Bernhuber (EPP, Austria) and Jérémy Decerle (Renew Europe, France) supported the launch of the campaign by hosting a 90-minute presentation in the European Parliament. The campaign was further supported by MEP Mazaly Aguilar (European Conservatives and Reformists Group, Spain) in 2019. [2], [49], [45]

Affiliations

The founding members of European Livestock Voice are: [3]

  • AnimalHealthEurope, which represents European manufacturers of animal medicines, vaccines and other animal health products
  • Avec, which represents the European poultry meat sector
  • Clitravi, which represents the interests of the European meat processing industry
  • COTANCE, which represents the interests of the European leather industry
  • COPA-COGECA, which represents European farmers and European agri-cooperatives
  • European Forum of Farm Animal Breeders (EFFAB), which represents animal breeding and reproduction organisations in Europe
  • Euro Foie Gras, which represents the European foie gras industry
  • FEFAC, which represents the European compound feed and premix industry
  • FEFANA, which represents specialty feed ingredient businesses in Europe 
  • FUR EUROPE, which represents Europe’s fur sector
  • UECBV, a European livestock and meat trading union

As of 2021, ELV’s “Meat the Facts” campaign recommends the following 23 national-level member organisations and initiatives based in Austria, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, France, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands and the UK: [5]

  • Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), UK
  • AgrarMarkt Austria (AMA), Austria
  • BMPA – British Meat Processors Association, UK
  • Carne Rossa, Italy
  • Carne y Salud, Spain
  • Carni Sostenibili, Italy
  • Cellule d’Information Agriculture, Belgium
  • Die deutsche Geflügelwirtschaft, Germany
  • farmantibiotics.org, UK
  • Fleischexperten.de, Germany
  • Initiative Tierwohl, Germany
  • la-viande, France
  • LAND.SCHAFFT.WERTE., Germany
  • Love Pork, UK
  • Meat & Dairy Facts, Ireland
  • Meat the Facts, Portugal
  • Proviande, Switzerland
  • Somos Ganadería, Spain
  • Ruokatieto, Finland
  • Schweinefakten, Germany
  • Simply Beef & Lamb, UK
  • Vlees.nl, Netherlands
  • Vlees.bl, Belgium

Resources

  1. European livestock industry hits back at rising tide against meat sector,” Food Ingredients First, September 26, 2019. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/96oWM 
  2. CAMPAIGN UPDATES,” Meat the Facts. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/Ixfdp 
  3. Katrin Berkemeier. “European Livestock Voice: Interest group wants to educate,” Elite, October 02, 2019. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/ofHE9 
  4. CAMPAIGNS,” COPA-COGECA. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/odWb3 
  5. Home Page,” Meat the Facts. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/XXoaT 
  6. Who We Are,” Carni Sostenibili. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/blJ3b 
  7. “‘Climate Change’ and ‘Animal Welfare’ cannot be reduced to simple slogans,EURACTIV, September 26, 2019. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/xGP9J 
  8. Marco Springmann, Michael Clark, Daniel Mason-D’Croz et al. “Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits,” Nature, October 10, 2018. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/dCJgx 
  9. OPINION PIECE – WHAT GREENPEACE’S LATEST REPORT WON’T TELL YOU ABOUT THE EU PROMOTION POLICY,” Meat the Facts. April 23, 2021. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/YRdP6 
  10. Marketing Meat,” Greenpeace. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/ZJDz4 
  11. WE’RE IN BRUSSELS METRO STATIONS!,” Meat the Facts, October 10, 2019. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/d2aFq 
  12. Meat the facts first!,” Youtube video uploaded by European Livestock Voice, September 23, 2019. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.
  13.  “LIVESTOCK GRAZING IS VITAL ‘INTERFERENCE’ TO BOOST BIODIVERSITY, NEW PLANTLIFE STUDY FINDS,” Meat the Facts. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/ez5RW 
  14. Main Site,” Plantlife. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/br6PR 
  15. Ben Barnett. “Livestock grazing is vital ‘interference’ to boost biodiversity, new Plantlife study finds,” The Yorkshire Post. July 5, 2019.  Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/afcyr 
  16. Grazing,” Center for Biological Diversity. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/DAcFu 
  17. Alessandro Filazzola et al. The effects of livestock grazing on biodiversity are multi-trophic: a meta-analysis,” Ecology Letters, May 5, 2020. Archived July 13, 2021.
  18. Sally-Anne Stewart. FOOD IN THE ANTHROPOCENE,” Oxford Martin School, May 2019. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/ojXqS 
  19. #MeatTheFacts, Birthe Steenberg: “When you make a choice, you also choose all the consequences,” YouTube video uploaded by Carni Sostenibili, July 1, 2020. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.
  20. GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). Emissions impossible: How big meat and dairy are heating up the planet,” GRAIN, July 18, 2018. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/v0grw 
  21. OPINION PIECE BY EUROPEAN LIVESTOCK VOICE,” Meat the Facts, March 5, 2021. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/HB1mM 
  22. DOES USING LAND FOR ANIMAL FEED COMPETE WITH LAND FOR HUMAN FOOD ?,” Meat the Facts. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/7GyD7  
  23. J. Poore and T. Nemecek. “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers,” Science, June 1  2018. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/O6jDB 
  24. Helen Harwatt and Matthew N. Hayek. “Eating Away at Climate Change with Negative Emissions,” Harvard Law School, April 11, 2019. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/8aWUr 
  25. OPINION: THE EUROPEAN LIVESTOCK SECTOR’S VIEWS ON THE RECENT PUSH FOR SYNTHETIC MEAT,” Meat the Facts, March 8, 2021. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/9l5IL 
  26. THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVESTOCK,” Meat the Facts. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/prdK9 
  27. Robin R. White and Mary Beth Hall. “Nutritional and greenhouse gas impacts of removing animals from US agriculture,” PNAS, November 13, 2017. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/e85rQ 
  28. Koenraad Van Meerbeek and Jens-Christian Svenning. “Causing confusion in the debate about the transition toward a more plant-based diet,” NCBI, February 12, 2018. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/Bbst2 
  29. Isaac Emery.“Without animals, US farmers would reduce feed crop production,” NCBI, February 12, 2018.  Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/0ExCF#selection-585.0-585.11 
  30. Marco Springmann, Michael Clark and Walter Willett. “Feedlot diet for Americans that results from a misspecified optimization algorithm,” NCBI, February 12, 2018. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/CKhd9 
  31. Environment,” Meat the Facts. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/wLgLf 
  32.  Bingli Chai. “Which Diet Has the Least Environmental Impact on Our Planet? A Systematic Review of Vegan, Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diets,” Research Gate. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/GAqJt 
  33. Tim Searchinger et al. “CREATING A SUSTAINABLE FOOD FUTURE,” World Resource InstituteArchived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/awSZe  
  34. Damian Carrington. “Beef-eating ‘must fall drastically’ as world population grows,” The Guardian, December 5, 2018. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/Ltffu 
  35. UECBV launched the European Livestock Voice campaign,” Fleischwirtschaft, October 01, 2019. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/F5GVi 
  36. Plant-based diets,” British Nutrition Foundation. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/Afaf1 
  37.  Winston J Craig, Ann Reed Mangels and American Dietetic Association. “Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets,” PubMed. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/JLA9T 
  38. Key facts and findings”, FAO.  Archived July 14, 2021.
  39. PRESS ARTICLES,” Meat the Facts. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/Dozdl 
  40. Jerry Bohn. “Beef is, and always will be sustainable,” Beef Magazine, February 24, 2021. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/TMqj5 
  41. Jenny Splitter. “Can You Trust a Pro-Beef Professor? It’s Complicated,” Undark, March 2, 2021. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/e4RpW 
  42. European farmers,” EU Transparency Register. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/wcEs1  
  43. European agri-cooperatives,” EU Transparency Register. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/ql7NK 
  44. Video Launch Event – 9 Paradoxes of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy,” YouTube video uploaded by European Livestock Voice, March 26, 2021. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.
  45. (Press Release). “European Livestock Voice,” Fefac. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/J0rKc 
  46. To: Members of the European Parliament,” Meat the Facts, November, 12, 2019.  Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/PmeBi 
  47. Balázs HIDVÉGHI,” European Parliament. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/G9qjn 
  48. DECLARATION OF SUPPORT,” Meat News. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/JFXcK 
  49. European Livestock voice initiative,” ENAJ. Archived July 14, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/ldLBI 

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