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Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Are regenerative meat and low-carbon beef the ‘clean coal’ of the food industry?

With consumers becoming more aware of the environmental impact of their food choices, particularly those related to animal agriculture, terms such as ‘regenerative meat’ and  ‘low-carbon beef’ have gained prominence in recent months as meat producers try to make their offerings appear more sustainable. Consumers are then faced with a crucial question: how does the consumption of ‘regenerative meat’ and ‘low-carbon beef’ compare with plant-based foods in terms of combating the climate crisis? 

‘Regenerative meat’ is still a relatively new term that is vaguely defined while ‘low-carbon beef’ has a clearer definition. The former broadly refers to animal proteins produced by farmers practising regenerative agriculture. Regenerative farming methods are believed to mitigate climate change by diversifying crops in order to restore soil health and maximise carbon capture. To be classified as  ‘regenerative meat’, production usually has to meet specific criteria in two other areas, namely animal welfare and social fairness towards workers. On the other hand, in the US, beef raised in a way that emits 10% less greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) than the industry baseline can receive certification as ‘low carbon’ by a private company called Low Carbon Beef. 

These new methods of meat production have stirred up a heated debate. Supporters consider them opening up possibilities for a more sustainable and just food system, while opposition groups say that meat producers are simply greenwashing and misleading consumers into thinking that meat can be produced sustainably. ‘Regenerative meat’ and ‘low-carbon beef’ are the ‘clean coal’ of the food industry, providing false justifications for the overconsumption of meat and dairy.There are currently no regulations or labelling systems in place to ensure that such meat is a sustainable source of protein. Moreover, ‘regenerative meat’ and ‘low-carbon beef’ carry high price tags which only the better-off can afford, much like meat that is labelled as ‘organic’ or ‘antibiotic-free’.

Time and again, climate scientists and experts have reiterated that cutting down on meat is one of the most impactful ways that individuals can help to mitigate the climate emergency. The United Nations has repeatedly urged for a global switch to a plant-centric diet. Dr Hannah Ritchie, Head of Research at Our World in Data, writes that “less meat is nearly always better than sustainable meat, to reduce your carbon footprint” since plant-based protein sources generally have a lower environmental footprint than the lowest-impact meat products, despite widely differing farming practices.

What can you do?

You can find out more about the climate emissions of various protein-rich foods at Our World in Data. Rather than paying premium prices for products that claim to be ‘sustainable’. you can slash your food-related emissions by up to 50% simply by embracing a plant-centric diet. Take the Diet Change Not Climate Change pledge now and commit to a climate-friendly diet.

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