International Meat Secretariat

Background

The International Meat Secretariat (IMS), also known as as L’Office International de la Viande (OIV) and Oficina Permanente Intl. de la Carne (OPIC), is a global nonprofit organisation representing the meat industry.

Founded in 1974 and headquartered in Paris, the IMS works to “promote the sustainable supply of safe, healthy, high-quality and nutritious animal protein, including beef, pig meat and sheep meat,” according to its website.

The IMS organises the World Meat Congress, an international meat industry conference that takes place every two years.

It engages with international bodies including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Codex Alimentarius, an international food standards-setting body established by the FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) to “shape public policy and regulatory standards impacting the agri-food chain.”

As a member of the FAO’s Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership, it was involved in shaping the FAO’s Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM) methodology of estimating global animal agriculture emissions alongside other industry groups and environmental organizations.

In 2020, the IMS signed an open letter urging authorities to refute “misinformation that tries to manufacture a link between livestock and the spread of Covid-19.” Other signatories of the letter included:

Stance on Climate Change

At the Outlook 2020 conference organised by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), Secretary General of the International Meat Secretariat Hsin Huang stated: “We have all heard in the media for quite a long time now, it’s a recurring theme, that somehow the livestock sector and eating meat is detrimental to the environment. That it is a serious negative in terms of the climate change discussions. And my thesis to you […] is that we can actually as an industry, the livestock and meat industry, be the heroes in this discussion.”

At the meeting, Huang also stated: “[The livestock sector] cannot continue business as we have done in the past because if we are not proactive in helping to convince the public and policymakers in particular, who have an impact on our activities, if we are not successful in convincing them of the benefits that we bring to the table, then we will be relegated to has-beens.”

Discussing  the Paris Agreement in a 2016 interview with Geographical, the magazine of the British Royal Geographical Society, Huang stated that the animal agriculture sector needs to “show that we are making tremendous efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions” and that “the FAO estimates that by improving techniques in the developing world we can cut [livestock sector] emissions by 30 percent.”

Key Narratives

The IMS 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’

‘Criticism of animal agriculture’s climate impact is often unscientific’

Sustainability was prominent on the planned agenda of the World Meat Congress, hosted by the IMS and postponed from 2020 to 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the topic, the IMS said: “The meat industry has been relentlessly attacked for its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, resource use, and animal welfare. But this view is often based on poor, selective evidence and data that does not consider the range of impacts and tradeoffs that constitute a sustainable future for the livestock and meat industries. In short, the reality across the globe is much more nuanced.”

‘Grazing supports biodiversity’

According to the IMS, “pastures add to the landscape and the biodiversity of our planet.” At the UNECE’s 2019 “Meat Quality for a Sustainable future” conference, the IMS claimed that “grazing livestock on permanent grassland with diverse species benefits biodiversity.”

However, 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. 

‘Meat produced in some countries isn’t damaging to the environment’

In 2016, Secretary General of the IMS Hsin Huang responded in an interview with Geographical, the magazine of the British Royal Geographical Society to the question of how the future meat demand in developing countries would be met, stating: “It makes sense to produce [meat] in countries that are already quite good at it, that have efficient techniques and lower emissions. There are lots of countries where you can produce it without having a negative impact on the environment – the countries that already have highly efficient and developed livestock sectors.”

A 2021 New York University (NYU) study showed that meat corporations based in countries that produce large amounts of meat could be a driving force for busting the climate goals of these countries. The emissions of meat producer Danish Crown, for example, would be responsible for 42 percent of Denmark’s emissions target under the Paris Agreement by 2030 on a business-as-usual pathway.

‘Grazing uses land unsuitable for other uses’ and ‘Livestock convert inedible material into food for human consumption’

At the UNECE’s 2019 “Meat Quality for a Sustainable future” conference, the IMS argued that animal agriculture “uses mainly land not suited for crops and for which there is no other productive use” and that 86 percent of animal feed such as grass, biomass, crop residues and by-products are not edible for humans, citing an FAO report.

At the ABARES 2020 Outlook conference, Huang stated in a presentation that “ruminants (on average globally) consume 0.6kg edible protein for every kg meat produced,” noting “we’re actually producing more from what we put in.”

Discussing  the Paris Agreement in a 2016 interview with Geographical, the magazine of the British Royal Geographical Society, Huang stated that “ruminant meat is in some respects one of the most benign meats going” because “ruminant livestock takes pasture – i.e. grasslands – that are not much good for other animals, and converts that into protein.”

A 2018 Science study, however, 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. A 2019 study by environmental scientists from Harvard University found that 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.

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

‘Calls for less meat consumption are unscientific and elitist’

At the ABARES Outlook 2020 conference, Huang referred to the EAT-Lancet report, which advocates for a reduction in global meat consumption for environmental reasons as an “elitist, biased, not scientifically well-founded study.”

When contacted by DeSmog for comment, the IMS replied that they were “far from alone” in voicing this type of criticism. However, none of the critics named by the IMS supported its claim that increased meat production is needed to feed the world’s growing population.

‘Less meat is wasted than fruit and vegetables’

At the ABARES Outlook 2020 conference, IMS’ Secretary General Hsin Huang stated: “The livestock sector does not get credit for reducing food waste. […] When you produce food for vegetarians, there is a lot of waste and that waste has to go somewhere. And as the livestock industry, we’re using that waste.”

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.”

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

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

The IMS claims that livestock provides “vital nutrients to a growing world population as part of a healthy, sustainable diet.”

A webpage for the 2022 World Meat Congress due to be hosted by the IMS states: “Many people in the world are malnourished, either lacking sufficient calories and nutrients, or consuming too many calories through poor diets. Meat and livestock products provide a highly efficient source of nutrition.”

A 2018 study published in Nature, however, found that reducing meat consumption is crucial to lowering the food system’s 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.” [41]

‘Meat is an exceptional source of nutrients’

In a presentation at a 2015 meat industry conference hosted by Agri Benchmark, a global agricultural organization, Huang stated that meat is a “nutrient dense – as opposed to energy-dense” food, providing “high quality protein, [the] right proportion of amino acids vs plant protein,” and an “ideal delivery package for essential micronutrients.”

A 2011 study by nutritional scientists surveying 13,000 participants concluded that “vegetarian diets are nutrient dense, consistent with dietary guidelines, and could be recommended for weight management without compromising diet quality.”

‘Innovations in animal agriculture will tackle climate change’

‘New grazing techniques can sequester carbon’

The IMS identifies grassland management as one of “three priority areas where improving practices should bring large environmental, economic and social benefits.”

At the ABARES Outlook 2020 conference, Huang stated that livestock were a “potentially significant participant in carbon sequestration.” He argued that “unlike other industries that are polluting, like transportation, which are only really extractive industries taking carbon out of the soil, putting it through our petrol engines and then spewing it up into the air, […] with livestock it is actually largely a circular path. [By] better management of our resources, […] we can actually capture some of that carbon and put it back in the soil, and therefore, help with climate change.”

‘Better land management can enhance biodiversity’

At the ABARES Outlook 2020 conference, Huang stated: “Sustainability is not just about carbon emissions, […] it’s also about improvements in biodiversity through better management of our lands.” The argument echoes that made by the pesticides industry for farmers to pursue “regenerative agriculture” strategies.

‘Technological innovations will cut emissions’

A webpage for the 2022 World Meat Congress, hosted by the IMS, states that “technology, innovation and good practice – grounded in sound science – have the potential for the industry to significantly contribute to feeding the world sustainably while addressing societal concerns.”

The IMS identifies manure management as one of “three priority areas where improving practices should bring large environmental, economic and social benefits.”

Lobbying

Alongside other industry groups, the IMS was involved in shaping the FAO’s Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM) methodology of estimating global animal agriculture emissions. The emissions estimate resulting from this method is widely cited by industry and politicians. 

In a 2013 report titled “Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock,” the FAO stated that “in some cases, the livestock sector has taken a leadership role in better identifying the environmental impacts of production and the potential mitigation options to reduce environmental impact” by identifying “[greenhouse gas] emission hotspots and reduction opportunities” and “enhancing efficiency across the supply chain.” The FAO supported these claims by pointing to initiatives from the International Dairy Federation (IDF) and the US Cattleman Association and citing a 2012 IMS report titled “Pigs and the environment: How the global pork business is reducing its impact.”

Affiliations

In 2012, the FAO announced it was partnering with the IMS and other industry groups and members, including the International Dairy Federation and the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC), to “establish a shared understanding of how to assess the environmental performance of the livestock sector” and “improve that performance, and create more sustainable forms of production that will continue to provide food and income.”

IMS is a partner of the FAO’s Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership, a multi-stakeholder initiative “committed to improving the environmental performance of livestock supply chains, whilst ensuring its economic and social viability.” The partnership has been “instrumental in the development of methods and assumptions underpinning GLEAM”.

According to a 2021 study by researchers from the New York University’s Department of Environmental Studies, the involvement of industry groups in the LEAP Partnership likely allows “some influence over how their emissions are accounted for, and subsequently how their environmental impact is understood by the public.”

Other LEAP partners include:

Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute and former executive vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), was a confirmed speaker at the World Meat Congress, hosted by the IMS in 2022.

The IMS is a partner of the FAO-led “Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock” (GASL), a multi-stakeholder partnership working to “enhance the contribution of the livestock sector to sustainable development” that includes the governments of Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Ireland, Kenya, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Rwanda, Switzerland, Uganda, and Uruguay.

The World Meat Congress 2022 hosted by IMS was sponsored by financial and insurance company ING, IT company CONNEXT, the Mexican Beef Exporters Association, the National Confederation of Livestock Organizations (CNOG), Mexican agricultural company SOOTEC, Mexican pork producer Granjas Carroll de México, software company CSB-SYSTEM, Mexican pork and beef producer Consorcio Dipcen, and Mexican multinational food corporation SuKarne.

In 2018, the US government-sponsored Pork Checkoff program sponsored the World Meat Congress, co-hosted by the IMS and the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF)

During the same year, the IMS co-organised a workshop titled “Sustainable meat production, a practical approach…” with the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO), OIE, and Bayer HealthCare Animal Health.

In 2015, IMS consultant Wilfrid Legg was the head of an expert panel advising the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

Members

According to the EU Transparency Register, members of the IMS include:

In 2020 and 2021, members of the IMS’s Board and Committees included representatives from:

  • Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), United Kingdom
  • All India Buffalo and Sheep Meat Exporters Association (AIMLEA), India
  • Asociación Rural del Paraguay, Paraguay
  • Assocarni, Italy
  • Associaçao Brasileira das Indústrias Exportadoras de Carnes (ABIEC), Brazil
  • Australian Pork Limited, Australia
  • Beef + lamb New Zealand, New Zealand
  • Bord Bia and Meat Industry Ireland, Ireland
  • Canada Pork International (CPI), Canada
  • Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), Canada
  • Centrale Organisatie voor de Vleessector (COV), The Netherlands
  • Centro de Consignatorios de Productos del País (CCPP), Argentina
  • China Meat Association (CMA), China
  • Danish Meat Research Institute, Denmark
  • Federación Empresarial de Carnes e Industrias Cárnicas (FECIC), Spain
  • GIRA, United Kingdom
  • Granjas Carroll de México, Mexico
  • Inaporc, France
  • Instituto de la Promoción de la Carne Vacuna Argentina (IPCVA), Argentina
  • Instituto Nacional des Carnes (INAC), Uruguaya
  • Interbev, France
  • Interbev Ovins, France
  • Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), Australia
  • Meat Board of Namibia, Namibia
  • National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), USA
  • North American Meat Institute (NAMI), USA
  • Ranch 4 International Ltd., Canada
  • Sociedad Rural Argentina (SRA), Argentina
  • UNICEB, Italy
  • United States Meat Export Federation (USMEF), USA
  • VanDrie Group, The Netherlands
  • Verband der Fleischwirtschaft (VDF), Germany

Related Profiles

Background The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) is an “arm’s length body” (ALB) of the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), classified as a&nb...
Background The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) is an industry group representing U.S. meat and poultry processing and packing companies, as well as their suppliers. [1] Headquartered in...
Background European Livestock Voice (ELV) is an EU-wide campaign “to bring back a balanced debate” on meat and dairy, launched in 2019 by 11 livestock industry groups, including COPA-COGECA, th...
Background The Animal Agriculture Alliance (AAA) is a US-based non-profit organisation that “brings together farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, animal feed companies, animal health companies, pr...