The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.
It’s all too easy in our current state of hyperpartisanship to criticize aspects of how the media covers a story.
But journalists are supposed to attempt to remain objective, and a recent post that has garnered significant clicks departed (again) from that convention.
The article on PlantBasedNews.org was supposedly a “both-sides-have-a-point” analysis of the arguments, pro and con, regarding the meat industry’s contribution to climate change. In the wake of the latest UN report warning of pending disasters on a much-accelerated timeline — unless humanity finds the ways and the will to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — such reporting is appropriate.
But the headline on the story instantly betrays the writer’s bias: “Meat Boss Says Cutting Out Meat Is Not the Answer to Climate Crisis. His opinion flies in the face of recent research.”
Meat Boss? Really?
In the old days of printed publications, crafting short, punchy headlines was critical. There’s only so much space on a sheet of paper.
But an online story? Absolutely doesn’t matter, and as it turns out, the “boss” in this particular article was one Jago Pearson. Who’s he, you ask? According to the story, he’s a “representative” of Finnebrogue Sausage Manufacturers, a processed meat company based in Northern Ireland.
Possibly he’s the boss of that company, but if so, the article’s author never bothered to share his title.
That’s just bad journalism.
As to the substance of the story, there was the expected call for the world to go vegan as of yesterday, and as expected, not a single sentence about how in the world that could be accomplished without triggering global economic wreckage, as well as potential nutritional disasters.
A message worth stating
That said, what Mr. Pearson had to say was surprisingly nuanced, which, as noted above, was decidedly not evident from the way the story was headlined.
“We’ve seen meat eaters having one or two days off, and move to vegetarian or vegan alternatives,” Pearson told Britain’s Sky News. “It’s by no means the best option. If you look at maize, if you look at soy, they have huge environmental impacts as well.”
Preachin’ to the choir, Jago.
He went on to suggest that the meat industry “needs to do more” to mitigate the impact of intensive production systems, as well as research “alternative protein sources” — including insects — as a way to broaden the world’s nutritional options for protein.
Before anyone launches into a rant, Pearson added a recommendation that not only mirrors what many in industry are already working on, but also serves as better messaging on the subject of industry’s role in mitigating climate change.
“The idea [that] we say to consumers … they should stop eating meat altogether would be the wrong approach,” he added. “The right approach would be to offer consumer choice[s] and to continue to improve our means of sustainable farming.”
Of course, global soy production has ramped up significantly over the past couple decades, and much of that increase is sold to producers as livestock feed. Veganistas love to demand that all that soy needs to be diverted to dinner tables, rather than feed bunks. However, at the same time, they decry the loss of rainforest acreage in the tropics, both for the environmental consequences, as well as the impact on wildlife habitat.
But if soybeans were processed into tofu, veggie burgers and soy dogs, that wouldn’t solve the problem of the relentless conversion of tropical forests into farmland — not to mention all the coconuts, palm oil, and tropical fruits and nuts veggies blithely consume without a second thought as to their impact on the world’s rainforests.
That’s not to suggest we shouldn’t be concerned about the global loss of rainforests and green space. It’s an existential challenge not to be ignored.
But as Pearson argued, the solution to that, and related eco-problems, won’t be solved by some simplistic fantasy that imagines billions of people sitting down each night to a dinner of processed soy and salad greens.
That’s not only implausible, it’s unappetizing.