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The World Bank wants to price meat out of our diets

A noted proponent of the World Bank report. Credit: Getty

May 12, 2024 - 8:00am

Are we moving towards a beef-free world? That certainly appears to be the direction in which the World Bank wants to go. A report published this week claims that food production generates almost a third of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions — more than heat and electricity. The Bank’s strategy is ambitious: to halve agricultural emissions by 2030, and reduce them to Net Zero by 2050.

Wealthy countries are urged to remove subsidy schemes such as the European Union’s Common Agriculture Policy, where over 70% of the budget subsidises livestock, and a third of all agricultural subsidy schemes support red meat and dairy production. These should be “repurposed”, the Bank argues, to instead support low-emission foods, such as poultry or fruits and vegetables. And more should be done to change consumption patterns using techniques such as “choice architecture strategies” — or nudging — or “education and communication campaigns” the World Bank advises.

However, industrial action by farmers across Europe, Latin America and Asia has returned food security to the news agenda after decades of complacency. These protests resonate strongly with the wider public. The “No Farmers, No Food” campaign, formed only this year, claims four times as many supporters as the National Farming Union has paying members. And while not all of the farmers are protesting environmental decrees, many of them are. In Wales, the Senedd has proposed the nation cuts livestock by 10.8%.

Critics may wonder if the Bank’s rhetoric is a little overheated. The authors’ sense of urgency seems almost frenzied — note the bizarre capitalisation of: “Positive Feedback Loops between Agrifood Activities and the Climate Have Created a Vicious Circle that Precludes Adaptation Alone as a Solution to the Crisis.”

Nor is a warming planet necessarily bad for our food supply. As the world warms, life flourishes. Even Nasa has acknowledged that we’re experiencing a “global greening”. As generations of children were taught at school, the cycle is virtuous: livestock fertilise and improve the quality of the land. While ruminants release methane through belching, this is a very short-lived greenhouse gas, at around 12 years. And for its part, the UK’s agricultural sector comprises only a small proportion of global carbon dioxide emissions, so shutting it down makes little difference to the climate, particularly as global meat consumption is expected to continue to rise.

Until recently, the World Bank encouraged poor countries to become richer through economic development. But today, having adopted Malthusian constraints — the World Bank writes of the planet’s “operating limits” — it encourages them to stay poor. The Bank’s report is keen that “low-emitting developing countries have the chance to go straight to green technologies, leading the way toward a new development model and healthier planet”. The burgeoning NGO sector, which purportedly exists to promote the interests of the “Global South”, sees no problem with this.

However, the biggest challenge facing the climate radicals at the World Bank is that we place such a high value on meat. Meat consumption rose during the pandemic lockdowns, as the roast became the centrepiece of family time. While inflation has seen red meat sales fall, recent polling by trade group AHDB strongly suggests consumers will return.

“Much of the world still suffers from undernutrition and exists on a very restricted range of foods,” the former director of Scientific Alliance, Martin Livermore, reminds us in a report for the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Recent years have seen venture capital fund alternative proteins, ranging from ersatz plant-based facsimiles of meat products to insect-derivatives to bioreactor-generated cells, the latter compared to “eating tumours”. These have all faced problems: either consumer indifference or regulatory obstacles. Or in the case of lab-grown meat, basic economics: an in-vitro meatball costs $50 to produce.

Livestock are better value than anyone realised and the public, it seems, will not accept substitutes.

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R Wright
R Wright
8 days ago

I will not eat the bugs.
I will eat red meat.
I will own my possessions.
I will be happy.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 days ago
Reply to  R Wright

You will also be a lot healthier.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
7 days ago
Reply to  R Wright

You will be behind bars.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 days ago

Andrew, so glad you are writing for Unherd, always enjoyed your articles elsewhere.

Interesting you pick out the Malthusianism on display here, it hadn’t occurred to me but the whole green movement seems predicated on these ideas. As before, they are wrong – in the same way as Rev Malthus, they make the same mistakes of using today’s numbers, ideas and technology to predict the future. In the 18th century, new farming techniques, sanitation and food storage technology had yet to be invented, and today green groups, governments and indeed the World Bank are getting carried away with apocalyptic pronouncements without learning any of the lessons from nearly 250 years ago.

We are a problem solving species, not animals who sit around unchanging until the environment can’t support them anymore

Look forward to seeing more articles here from you

Robbie K
Robbie K
8 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

It’s a shame the author doesn’t understand the basic fundementals of the subject he is writing about however, the whole piece is a prime example of the ignorance or lack of education regarding climate change. Same goes for your comment and the upticks really.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

If you want to persuade people of something you need to produce some evidence. Pompous ex-cathedra announcements don’t really cut it, I’m afraid.

Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
8 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Perhaps you could enlighten us in our ignorance Robbie??

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
7 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

“Prime”? I’d hazard a guess the author has a better grasp of the subject than you dare to imagine.

That’s something to have a prime beef about.

Robbie K
Robbie K
7 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

A curious claim. Primary level education is ahead of the author and much of the readership here. Of course there is the possibility he has understood the concepts and issues but decides to write clickbait garbage instead for a particular audience.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
7 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Shut up already, Greta.

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
7 days ago
Reply to  Studio Largo

Ha!

Robbie K
Robbie K
7 days ago
Reply to  Studio Largo

Get’s a thumbs up from me ;o)

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
7 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

As curious claims go, looks like you’ve cornered the market. Seems, according to your own stated view, that you’re spending lots of time engaging with folk whose educational attainment has yet to reach primary school level.
One might think that says more about you than those you’re seeking to disparage.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Please enlighten us? Interestingly despite having posted twice as a response to me, you’ve not said anything of substance and simply tried to belittle me, the author and anyone else who reads Unherd (excluding yourself I assume?)

I am not a climate change denier, I think it is a serious problem but so have many other things in the past – as a species we’ve got through them and thrived, ready to face the next major problem. As far as I know, Andrew Orlowski is not a climate change denier either, he’s just a successful technology and science journalist writing about very complex subjects over the years.

So please, again, how is it that humanity can’t overcome the problems we face and why are we all too stupid to understand? Are we all doomed? Pray tell

Robbie K
Robbie K
7 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The theme of Orlowski’s piece is to portray climate change as a positive force for agriculture – he talks of a warming flourish and global greening. This is the language of climate change denial.
As I speculated elsewhere, he either writes this through pure ignorance and lack of understanding and education, or as clickbait.
As for overcoming the problem, we’re nowhere near that because of economic protectionism and short-termism, the current trend leads to mass migration, conflict and localised catastrophic events.

Red Reynard
Red Reynard
7 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

That’s potentially an interesting opening, Robbie, and then you fail to help us ‘understand ‘. So, come on… help us.
I’ll start you off;
Are we in an interglacial period, heading for a Glacial Termination Event?
Does the Milankovitch (?) Cycle indicate a natural warming phase?
If one/both of the above apply, should we try to halt a natural process or adapt to the changes as best we can?
Okay – you’re up. . .

Robbie K
Robbie K
7 days ago
Reply to  Red Reynard

You are merely demonstrating your lack of education in the matter Red. Once you understand the role of captured energy caused by the greenhouse effect then perhaps you will see the subject in a different light.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
7 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

In any case, unless they’re being fed on coal or diesel, every molecule of CO2 or CH4 emitted by livestock has come from digesting green plants, that originally captured it from CO2 in the atmosphere. This is the carbon cycle, that we all learnt about in school (except for those on Klimastreik). So comparing emissions from farm animals with those from burning fossil fuels is completely asinine.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
8 days ago

The meat-free options at the supermarket are full of additives (flavour ‘enhancers’, emulsifiers, texture ‘enhancers’ etc etc) and generally taste like over-flavoured plastic. Why wouldn’t you want the real thing instead ? Processed food like this is far worse for you than small amounts of meat and plenty of fresh fruit and veg.

We still throw 30% of our food away. That is a far easier ‘win’ to reduce your emissions footprint together with some recycling and reduced car use.

Peter B
Peter B
8 days ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Add in another 10% (absolute minimum) food wasted for over-eating (on average) in Western countries.

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
7 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Yes! Rationing for everyone! Wonderful!

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 days ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Yes. Unfortunately for the busybodies there is a rapidly growing volume of evidence emerging that meat is essential for both physical and mental health.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
7 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

That will fall under the heading of mal-information faster than a cat can wink its eye. That means something can be true but still must be suppressed for the good of the people as determined by a bureaucratic agency working in alliance with other bureaucratic agencies.

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
7 days ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Living naturally and organically went out window. the same people who preached veganism and fear of BPAs will tell you it’s ok to pump kids full of untested pharmaceuticals and cross sex hormones that explicitly undo the natural workings of the body. So… No they don’t care about fake meat.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
7 days ago
Reply to  Nathan Sapio

Vegans don’t live as long as people who eat meat. You can look it up.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
8 days ago

The term “the World Bank” might almost be a synonym for faceless elitism. Who are these people? Do they enjoy sumptuous steaks on a regular basis?

What’s lacking here is accountability for the consequences of their actions.

They need to be grilled.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
8 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Grilled? I’d perfer roasted, but barbecued also works…

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

‘Who are these people’.

Imagine an army of Mark Carney clones …

Robbie K
Robbie K
8 days ago

Nor is a warming planet necessarily bad for our food supply. As the world warms, life flourishes.

Ahh right, apart from the floods, storms, fires and droughts. A stunningly naive claim.
Nothing wrong with beef being a treat rather than an every day item, that is easily achievable and beneficial.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Make a list of all the ag products that have dropped in production and yield over the last 20 years. Hint. It will be very short.

Robbie K
Robbie K
8 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

You can read more about that in these links Jim.
Climate change may affect the production of maize (corn) and wheat as early as 2030 under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario, according to a new NASA study published in the journal, Nature Food. Maize crop yields are projected to decline 24%.
https://climate.nasa.gov/news/3124/global-climate-change-impact-on-crops-expected-within-10-years-nasa-study-finds/
https://www.epa.gov/climateimpacts/climate-change-impacts-agriculture-and-food-supply

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

That’s the great thing about being an alarmist. There’s never any accountability for being wrong. We have literally been warned about declining yields for 35 years. Deadlines come. Deadlines go. Yet the data, the real data, shows continuous improvement in yields across the board.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Yawn. Show me the data for 20 years, 10 years.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Meanwhile, I ask you to show me crop data over a 20 year period. There’s always up and downs for crops from year to year. Has olive production dropped in the last 20 years, the last 10 years?

Robbie K
Robbie K
8 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

You still haven’t grasped this is a future problem? Deary me.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

You fail grasp that they have been telling us it’s a future problem for 35 years. 30 years ago they were telling us it would be a problem in 10 years or 20 years. These deadlines pass without any accountability for failed predictions.

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
8 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Perhaps you should read the IPCC AR6 WG1 report (the “science”) where it concludes there has been no increase in floods, storms, storm intensity, droughts, rains or fires outside of normal statistical variance.

So the claim is not “stunningly naive”, your comment however is.

Robbie K
Robbie K
8 days ago

The summary of that report doesn’t share your positive outlook.
Climate change has reduced food security and affected water security, hindering efforts to meet Sustainable
Development Goals (high confidence). Although overall agricultural productivity has increased, climate change has
slowed this growth over the past 50 years globally (medium confidence), with related negative impacts mainly in mid-
and low latitude regions but positive impacts in some high latitude regions (high confidence). Ocean warming and
ocean acidification have adversely affected food production from fisheries and shellfish aquaculture in some oceanic
regions (high confidence). Roughly half of the world’s population currently experience severe water scarcity for at least
part of the year due to a combination of climatic and non-climatic drivers (medium confidence).
https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/syr/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_SYR_SPM.pdf

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

You mean the Summary for Policy Makers, the overtly political document produced by communication people that often directly contradicts what is actually in the report itself.

Robbie K
Robbie K
8 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Maybe one day you will let go of your biasses and see what is so obvious in reports such as this, but no I doubt it, you’ll pick out a paragraph and try and reinterpret the whole document. head/brickwall

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 days ago

Yawn. More chatter from the chattering classes. Does anyone even take this stuff seriously anymore?

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
7 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The Professional Managerial Class unfortunately…

Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
8 days ago

Follow the money!
I am so suspicious that somewhere in all this are people expecting to make a fortune.
And what is that bit about stopping the poorer nations from benefitting from improvement?
And, finally, on what level or remit is any of this in the purview of the World Bank?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 days ago

As a former failed paleo dieter, I’ve gone occasional wild venison only and am doing great. I see it as mitigation for running my beloved diesel car. Daily meat isn’t necessary to be healthy, particularly after middle age.Some of the toughest people (sherpas, gladiators) operated on a mainly plant-based diet.

mr Bee
mr Bee
7 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Gladiators ate a poor diet because they were slaves!!
As you get older you need more protein to preserve muscle. Meat is by far the best form of bioavailable protein.
Eat as much meat as you can afford.

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
8 days ago

There’s a copy of the WB report online – apparently a Not for Citation version for their conference.
Orlowski has hit the highlights but here is a bit of copy and paste.
“Agrifood is a bigger contributor to climate change than many think. It generates almost a third of GHG emissions, averaging around 16 gigatons annually. This is about one-sixth more than all of the world’s heat and electricity emissions”
“Three-quarters of agrifood emissions come from developing countries, including two thirds from middle-income countries. Mitigation action has to happen in these countries as well as in high-income countries to make a difference. It is also necessary to take a food systems approach, including emissions from relevant value chains and land use change as well as those from the farm, because more than half of agrifood emissions come from those sources.”  
“The payoffs for investing in cutting agrifood emissions are estimated to be much bigger than the costs. Annual investments will need to increase by an estimated 18 times, to $260 billion a year, to halve current agrifood emissions by 2030 and put the world on track for net zero emissions by 2050. Previous estimates show that the benefits in health, economic, and environmental terms could be as much as $4.3 trillion in 2030, a 16-to-1 return on investment costs.”
Some of the cost can be paid for by shifting money away from wasteful subsidies, but substantial additional resources are needed to cover the rest. The costs are estimated at less than half the amount the world spends every year on agricultural subsidies, many of them wasteful and harmful for the environment.”
The whiff of the Doughnut Economic model – ie; Wealth Redistribution – seems to be overpowering bovine methane.
High Income Countries (HIC – assume Anglosphere and EU) eat the wrong food subsidized by government. Middle and Low income (MIC/LIC) countries (everyone else) eat more of the right food but inefficient production is emissions intensive.
So the HICs need to eat more of the right food (by making the wrong food unaffordable for all but the wealthy), redirect the subsidies and “substantial additional resources” to the RoW so they can grow more of the right food in an emissions-friendly way.
Piece of non-GMO gluten-free cake.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 days ago
Reply to  Walter Lantz

Thanks for the info.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
8 days ago

How do accountants understand farming? They look at spreadsheets. Only industrial farming can be captured on spreadsheets. Hence the conclusion must be that industrial farming causes problems. Well balanced farms that allow a good mix of crops and animals tend to be carbon neutral and produce high quality (not quantity) food. The problem is: they do not use agro chemicals ; so they are bad for the industry and money, and the farmers need to have an extremely good understanding of the dynamics of land-crop-animal.
It is the consumers’ choice: eat real faming produce or the ‘industrial-chemical’ stuff. Of course, as the ‘industrial-chemical stuff’ is being subsidised, the consumer does not has a real free choice….

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
7 days ago

Where are the greens – should whole herds be culled for human concerns? Why isn’t the flourishing of these animal populations a good in and of itself?

Where are the atheists – should we sacrifice ask these animals to change the weather? Will that be a thing again? Where is the enlightened, reasoned, humanistic future I was promised?

Martin M
Martin M
7 days ago

I am conflicted on this one. On one hand, I think the World Bank should keep its nose out of our food choices. On the other, I would be happy to see the end of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy.

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
7 days ago

Humans literally evolved to eat cooked meat. It’s generally credited with homo sapiens’ larger brain than previous humans. But sure, why not ignore biology. Eat the World Bank. They’ve been so wonderful for developing, and financially struggling nations!

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
7 days ago

It does beg the question what would happen if we replaced beef with globalist. I mean, their numbers would dwindle rapidly, having the happy side-effect of eradicating a lot of three-letter institutions. Carbon emissions would plummet, as the market for private jets would implode.
But the health benefits for consumers? I’m not sure about the quality of the meat…

Gordon Hughes
Gordon Hughes
7 days ago

I worked for the World Bank for many years – and (co-)wrote many reports of this kind. The article is written by someone who doesn’t understand the rather baroque way in which World Bank reports emerge. You need to read the disclaimers. This is *not* a statement of the WB’s official position – if it even has one. It is the product of a small group within the WB and quite probably the rest of the organisation has no knowledge or interest in what they have produced.
One should remember that most international organisations have very little money under their direct control. In the case of the WB that money is rarely used for this kind of work because it is not directly relevant to the WB’s main lending business. Hence, it is very common that there are small groups of, in effect, lobbyists within the organisation which are funded by external money via what are called Trust Funds. In this case the Trust Fund is FoodSystems 2030. This is probably a bunch of bureaucrats in a few countries who want to use the WB to say things that their governments would completely disown. It is no different from the UK or US governments paying small groups of academics to produce equally contentious and often silly research.
What this report reflects is the reality that there are lots of climate activists or analysts, mainly from rich countries, who believe that agriculture is a major source of carbon emissions that “should” be addressed. This is yet another “luxury” belief. Yet more widely within the WB – and even more within its clients – there is practically zero willingness to do very much – in large part because it is very hard to reduce poverty and improve living standards without improving agricultural productivity and incomes. Hence, most of the report is the usual WB waffle – greater efficiency, do things which reduce costs and emissions, blah, blah, blah.
Look at how the organisation does, not what small groups within say. For example, the WB is going to do nothing serious if either or both India and China are opposed. This stuff is just hot air!

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
6 days ago
Reply to  Gordon Hughes

Thanks for your detailed response, Gordon. It clarifies a lot.

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
7 days ago

One of the things that genuinely puzzles me is this obsession with meat production and farming more generally.
It definitely feels like a power grab. Control the food. Control the people.
And if methane is the problem. Then can someone please explain how a whole planet of gigantic lizards flourished? They must have given off huge quantities of methane. And they were around for some 160+million years.
Were they worrying about global warming?
What they should have been worrying about is that asteroid wizzing through space.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
6 days ago

In all fairness we would have fared so well during the dinosaur times. I’m not fully read up, but I believe that dinosaurs and other animals got so big due to the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere being largely made up of carbon dioxide rather than oxygen. But yeah, I agree with the general thrust of your comment.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
7 days ago

Worldbank is as useful as Versailles in 1789. Close all restaurants in Washington DC and see how these parasites will live by their own rule book.