Essay by Eric Worrall
“No one wanted to go to the next step of saying … we need to mitigate it [Agriculture] – including … reducing production levels …”
‘The anti-livestock people are a pest’: how UN food body played down role of farming in climate change
Ex-officials at the Food and Agriculture Organization say its leadership censored and undermined them when they highlighted how livestock methane is a major greenhouse gas
The night before publication, Henning Steinfeld was halfway across the world dealing with panicked politicians and an outbreak of avian flu. His report, and how it would be received, was frankly the last thing on his mind.
With a small group of officials, Steinfield, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s livestock policy branch, had been working for months on a report analysing the link between the six major species of livestock and climate change, which they all knew could be explosive. “I was very frustrated by the fact that the livestock-environment issue hadn’t resonated even though people accepted in private that it was a big issue – for climate change, and also water and biodiversity,” he said. “But no one was interested in getting into it because I think they were afraid of what it could mean.”
Another FAO official, “Michel Criollo” (not his real name), remembered: “No one wanted to go to the next step of saying agriculture is a problem for the planet and we need to mitigate it – including by potentially reducing production levels or changing things in less profitable ways.”
Between 2012 and 2019, “the lobbyists obviously managed to influence things”, Holstein said. “They had a strong impact on the way things were done at the FAO and there was a lot of censorship. It was always an uphill struggle getting the documents you produced past the office for corporate communications and one had to fend off a good deal of editorial vandalism. You had to accept relatively small steps forward in changing the narrative on livestock.”
According to the WHO, 828 million people go hungry every night. Some of these unfortunates end up with lifelong health complications or even starve to death.
What kind of monster would recommend reducing food production in a world where so many people are hungry?
Deliberately reducing food production and availability, driving up prices in the name of climate action, would be an act of unspeakable cruelty.