It’s no secret that the meat industry is trying hard to improve its image. As research continues to demonstrate the impact of meat and milk on greenhouse gas emissions, lobbyists for the livestock industry have been working overtime to develop a counter-offensive.
Past tactics include cherry-picked research and a “Master of Beef Advocacy” program aimed at training pro-beef influencers. Now, another strategy is surfacing: the Protein Pact, an industry-funded campaign to market meat and dairy protein as necessary for “the people, animals and climate of tomorrow.”
But what is the Protein Pact really, and who’s behind it? Here’s what we know:
1. Officially launched in July 2021, the Protein Pact consists mostly of U.S. based livestock industry firms. One such group, the National Pork Producers Council, challenged California’s Prop 12 before the Supreme Court, and lost. Recently, the council’s president made headlines when he said that on his farm, he wouldn’t comply with even the modest welfare requirements of the California law.
The premise of the pact — industry promises to work on the various problems of animal agriculture, like emissions, welfare and labor issues, and consumers don’t have to worry about curbing their meat intake, as climate researchers recommend.
2. You can find them at climate conferences. The Protein Pact sponsored a pavilion at the U.N.’s COP27 global climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt and an Economist magazine event on sustainability.
3. The pact is working with the controversial PR firm Red Flag Consulting. This group is known for its efforts to interfere with climate policy action in the EU.
4. The pact’s PR firm pays social media influencers and dietitians. Recently the Washington Post uncovered a soda industry campaign to pay dietitian influencers for messaging the safety of aspartame. Red Flag is using the same strategy, only on behalf of the meat and dairy lobbies.
Said Red Flag Consulting’s Nina Dater at a summit for the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, the firm works with like-minded messengers that include “social media influencers” and “dietitians” with an eye towards reaching “journalists, thought leaders and policy makers.”
5. It might work because Americans are obsessed with protein. Hundreds of thousands of Google users search “how to get enough protein” each month even as most Americans eat roughly twice the daily recommended total. It’s no surprise then that “protein” is front and center in the name and messaging.
6. The group is funding academic research. Industry-funded research has already been used as a tactic by pact partners. U.C. Davis’s CLEAR center, is funded in part by pact partner IFeeder and has been the subject of multiple investigative news stories, including one published in the New York Times, about its misleading communication efforts.
7. They tout “science-based targets” yet promote misinformation. Despite the emphasis on “science-based targets,” pact members routinely undermine climate science. Jeff Simmons, President and CEO of pact-partner Elanco, has consistently downplayed meat’s role in climate change in public forums.
Even though meat production accounts for 57 percent of food-related greenhouse gas emissions, and is a leading driver of deforestation, research from Purdue University suggests the public’s understanding of the environmental impact of meat is at an all-time low. In other words, the Protein Pact may claim it’s for “the climate of tomorrow,” but it’s looking like a rather grim tomorrow if this particular meat and dairy lobby strategy succeeds.
Reporting and support for this story contributed by Grace Hussain.
Jenny is the Managing Editor of Sentient Media and an award-winning food and climate journalist. Her previous reporting has been published by The Guardian, Vox, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Undark and Popular Mechanics, among others. You can send story ideas and tips to [email protected].