The United Nations deleted a Twitter message blaming meat for global warming, after condemnation led by the Australian Government.
Australian Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said the UN should stick to promoting peace and prosperity rather than campaigning against the meat industry.
He accused the UN of pursuing political agendas, and said, “Urging people to eat less meat based on an ideological agenda is nothing short of hypocritical and disgraceful.”
The anti-meat message was on the UN’s Twitter account, but has since been deleted by the UN.
However, the inter-governmental organisation of 193 countries told the BeefCentral.com Australian beef industry news service that the tweet was not withdrawn because it contained misinformation, but because it did not come from a UN source.
On Saturday, July 25, the UN had posted the message to its Twitter account.
It said, “The meat industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the world’s biggest oil companies. Meat production contributes to the depletion of water resources and drives deforestation.”
The tweet message went on to invite the UN Twitter’s 12.7 million followers to add their pledge to 750,000 others on the UN’s Act Now website (UN Campaign for Individual Action) which suggests ten simple actions to combat global warming, which include eating more plant-based meals.
The following Thursday, the UN removed the tweet without explanation.
However, it left a Spanish language version in place, until Saturday, August 1.
A range of international scientists had challenged the UN on Twitter, describing the tweet as misinformation and challenging the organisation to produce evidence to support its statement, or to remove its tweet.
Beef Central asked the UN if it could indicate why it removed the tweet, and whether it accepted the claim in its tweet amounted to misinformation.
A UN spokesperson responded: “The material in the tweet was deleted because it did not come from a UN source.
“This does not mean we regard it as misinformation, we simply take care to use UN sources for the information in our tweets, and that did not happen with this tweet, so it was withdrawn.”
Australian agriculture minister David Littleproud said, “I make no apology for defending Australia’s meat producers against unfair and irresponsible attacks from the UN, and I am pleased that they have deleted their out-of-touch tweet.”
“Encouraging people not to eat meat is the action of an activist group, not a responsible international body the UN is meant to be,” Minister Littleproud said.
“Meat continues to be an essential food item for people around the world regardless of income level, and we will need to produce even more meat if we have any hope of creating a food-secure future, not less,” said Minister Littleproud.
“It was also irresponsible to compare emissions from meat production to those created by the oil industry, exposing a fundamental misunderstanding and a deliberate misrepresentation of the science.
“The fact that the UN’s anti-meat Twitter campaign lasted just days demonstrates how out-of-touch the international body was found to be on this issue.”
The tweet also angered the Cattle Council of Australia, which described the claim as an “absurd simplification”, and “misleading”.
It said the message ignored the basic point that oil extraction releases carbon storages laid down millions of years ago, while livestock emissions are part of a biogenic cycle.
Emissions expert Dr Frank Mitloehner of the University of California Davis said, “To throw blame on animal agriculture for the planet’s climate crisis, while essentially giving Big Oil a pass is reckless.
“It not only ignores science, but distracts from real solutions.
“This stunt is part of a UN campaign, no less. One that calls for individual action on climate change, but intentionally ignores the true impact of Big Oil on the climate. This type of careless rhetoric puts us at risk of leaving a warmer planet behind.
“You can’t put toothpaste back into the tube,” he warned, saying that for more than a decade, he has been working to reverse the inaccurate narrative on livestock’s role in global warming.
He said, “Between 1965 and 2017, just 20 fossil fuel companies were responsible for 35% of all global emissions, according to the Climate Accountability Institute.
“The cumulative total for the top emitter, Saudi Aramco, is more than six times the annual emissions of modern-day China.
The top 100 fossil fuel companies emit more than 70% of global greenhouse gases, said Mitloehner, citing the Carbon Disclosure Project.
In comparison, livestock is responsible for 14.5% of the gases, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which is a UN agency.
He said a global organisation focused on humanity issues asking the world to reduce their meat consumption is perplexing because, in some parts of the world, animal-sourced foods are crucial for nutrition.
According to Mitloehner, the villainising of livestock began in 2006.
“That was the year the toothpaste was squeezed out of the tube”, when the FAO report, entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow, claimed meat production was responsible for more gases than transportation.
“This claim was successfully debunked, but the damage had already been done.
“And for some, livestock became public enemy,” said the University of California Davis expert.
“We need to correct this narrative and refocus the attention where it belongs, on fossil fuel production.
“Animal agriculture can and will become a leading example of a climate change solution.
The UN deleting the tweet comes as it warns of the dangers of misinformation hampering our ability to make progress on global issues. Now it is accused of spreading misinformation.
The UN plays a major role in climate change mitigation, especially through its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which assesses the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
The IPCC was created to provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies, and provides key inputs into international climate change negotiations.