A meat industry association has demanded the Weather Network remove a video from its website that urges Canadians to consume less red meat, the latest front in the farmers’ fight against negative publicity for animal products amid a consumer push toward plant-based protein alternatives.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association met with the network’s executives Monday night to address concerns about the video’s message, primarily claims that cows require more resources than other, smaller animals and produce 20 times more greenhouse gas (GHG) than certain plants.
The Weather Network-produced video, which suggests people should cut back by about 1.5 burgers a week, highlights a recent report from the World Resources Institute, the United Nations and other partners on how the world can prepare to feed a 10-billion population by 2050.
The video “doesn’t reflect the true story,” Jill Harvie, public and stakeholder engagement manager with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), said in an interview.
The group disputes the video’s suggestion that cutting back on meat consumption could help save the planet, saying beef production in Canada makes a positive contribution to the environment through maintaining grassland and sequestering carbon.
The Canadian beef industry’s GHG emissions are among the lowest in the world, she added.
“We’d hoped that the video would come down and would be essentially replaced with something that was more reflective of the Canadian context.”
Estimates that suggest beef production is only a small contributor to emissions tend to leave out the impact of cutting down forests and other land use, according to the WRI website. The site does say that the emission intensity of Canada’s beef production is lower than in much of South America, Africa and Asia, according to 2013 figures.
The two parties agreed to engage in sharing information, Ms. Harvie said, adding the network appeared open to future collaboration.
However, the video remained posted on the website as of Tuesday. It did not appear to have any changes made to it.
The Weather Network, which is owned by Pelmorex Corp., declined an interview request and did not answer questions over e-mail, but sent a prepared statement that said it “will not actively advise people on their food consumption choices.”
It also appeared to acknowledge the video may have missed the mark.
“The purpose of this article was merely to focus on sustainability and upon further review, we determined that our video and post did not reflect our intention,” the network’s statement read.
The video’s narrative plays into a continuing push by policy makers and plant-protein producers to sell consumers on the environmental and health benefits of swapping steaks for soybeans.
Cattle producers earlier this year took on plant-based protein giant and stock-market darling Beyond Meat Inc., which makes the popular Beyond Meat burgers that have been added to restaurant menus across Canada in recent months.
The Quebec Cattle Producers Federation filed a complaint with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency saying the California-based company’s advertising is misleading and contravenes Canadian rules, arguing it shouldn’t be allowed to use the word “meat” for its vegan products.
Meanwhile, the animal products industry is also facing pressure from health officials amid new dietary trends.
In January, Health Canada unveiled a new food guide – the first overhaul in a decade – and encouraged plant-based food consumption over meat and dairy products. It suggests people choose proteins that come from plants, such as beans, more often, and to make water their drink of choice – to the chagrin of the politically active dairy industry.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer jumped in to defend the dietary importance of milk earlier this month at the annual meeting of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, promising the farmers that, if elected prime minister, he would “review” the food guide.
In the wake of the new guidelines, the animal products industry is fighting hard to defend its turf.
In the lead up to the food guide’s release, meat and dairy lobby groups attempted to sell the public on the merits of the food they produce. A Dairy Farmers of Canada spokeswoman said “it would be a disservice to the Canadian population” to eliminate the food guide’s milk and alternative products category, while the Canadian Meat Council said proposed recommendations won’t help consumers because they’re too general.
The Turkey Farmers of Canada launched a national five-year, $25-million marketing campaign in May – its first since 2004. The campaign had been in the works for about two years, when the association noted turkey sales had plateaued.
But the release of the new food guide has protein producers competing even more aggressively for their share of Canadians’ plates.
The CCA’s Ms. Harvie, meanwhile, recognizes that beef producers needs to keep Canadians abreast of what’s happening in the industry and on its farms as the sociopolitical winds shift away from meat.
“It is really important to share the story behind our food, and more and more we’re going to have to do that.”