Dispatches from World Nutrition Forum in Cape Town

‘Taxing meat is wrong, dangerously wrong’

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

Policymakers globally have been weighing up the benefits of taxing meat, much in the same way as sugar, carbon emissions and tobacco. However, a Zurich based scientist and entrepreneur believes such a levy on meat would be disastrous.

Peer Ederer, director of the Global Food & Agribusiness Network, and founder of ‘africa enablers’, a consultancy focusing on creating sustainable and cost effective energy and infrastructure focused initiatives in Africa, was speaking at Biomin’s World Nutrition Forum (WNF) in Cape Town last week.

His talk reflected a report he recently compiled that analyses the future of the meat industry and debunks claims that meat should be public enemy No 1.

“Meat has been part of human diets for thousands of years. It has been shown, biologically, that meat is a very important food, especially for the vulnerable, the old and the young and people who do not have enough food in terms of quantity. They need the rich nutrients that meat provides in order to have a healthy life," ​he told FeedNavigator.

A reduction of the global meat industry would make the nutrition crisis of those groups worse, not better, he said. 

"The scenario incorporating deliberate and severe reduction of global red meat consumption is not economically viable, despite first appearances. New economics and new people fitting such economics would first need to be created. The 20th century has shown several times that attempts at large scale socio-economic engineering to change societies, people and economics leads to tragic outcomes. On the other hand the scenario of business as usual will destroy the last great pristine biodiversity habitats of Earth.

"Historically the most successful method to solve a resource crisis has been deployment of technology. Such technologies exist and get better by the day. What is missing is the social, political and ethical mandate to make full use of the these technologies."

- Reporting from the Frontiers of Science. Part 1: How to Feed the World in 2050 (2018) Four Technology and Innovation Scenarios​.

In his report, Ederer argues that while becoming vegan or vegetarian may be an affordable lifestyle choice for the most affluent 10% of the global population, it contributes little or nothing to the improvement of the already current nutritional crisis of children below five, sub-Saharan Africans or South Asians, let alone the future burden.

Those population groups critically depend on the protein delivered by the livestock sector, and would be disproportionately hurt by a global reduction of the meat industry, he said. The argument that a reduction of global meat production is necessary, or even only helpful, towards feeding 10 billion people within sustainable resource limits is therefore not correct, added the scientist.

Innovation

He believes the potential impact of technological advances in both crop and animal production would make it possible to provide sufficient and nutritious food to 10 billion people in the world while significantly reducing the footprint of agriculture in terms of land utilization, water consumption and environmental burden.

These technologies should be capable of overcoming the socio-economic hurdles that keep agricultural productivity depressed in African and Asian regions, he stressed.

“It is a really the interplay of a lot of different technologies. If an African piece of land only produces one ton per hectare and a European or American field produces 9 or 10 tons per hectare, then there is no a single lever that makes all the difference. It is the highly productive seeds, it is the fertilizer application, it is the soil preparation, or it is the harvesting methods.

“There are a lot of different technologies that need to interplay with each other to be able to use land more productively. These technologies are, in principal, available. We need to find ways of deploying them.”

However, he said a fact often overlooked or not being talked about enough, is the lack of financial technologies. “Deployment of [ag] technologies requires high investment. Investments only work if you have a good and solid financial intermediationindustry behind.In many places where we have low productivity agriculture, we are actually missing the supply of financial technologies to [support] these kind of activities.”

Climate change, cancer link to meat

In terms of the climate change and cancer arguments undermining meat production, he claims that the scientific evidence for either cattle contributing to global warming, or processed red meat causing cancer, is still much underdeveloped and contradictory. Much evidence to the contrary exists as well, said Ederer.

“Without more dedicated research, it is premature to make claims that cattle are a risk to the global climate, and that processed meat is a risk to human health,” ​he concluded.

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