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Canadians' tax dollars are a potent support for beef marketers, who have faced a downward trend in domestic per capita beef consumption since at least 2008. According to the 2021-22 annual report of industry marketing program Canada Beef, "had there been no Canadian check-off funded domestic marketing activities, domestic beef demand would have been 9.1% lower than it actually was." Why are we spending millions to subsidize creation of demand for this emissions-intensive food in new markets abroad, when most dietary recommendations and climate science suggests that those of us with other protein options should actively reduce our consumption of it? 

IMAGES: 1. Canadian beef cattle feedlot courtesy of Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media | 2. Subsidizing beef demand creation helps cook our climate / Bing AI


IF YOU READ STORIES ON FOOD OR ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, you know that industrially-produced meat contributes to the climate crisis. It creates the majority of food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.[1]

Beef production is the biggest driver of deforestation globally[2] and contributes heavily to the loss of plant and animal biodiversity.[3] Beef creates at least 10 times as much emissions per unit of protein as most plant-based alternatives.[4]

How does meat produce so much greenhouse gas? Animal agriculture, especially mass-scale industrial production of beef, creates unsustainable amounts of GHGs because: (1) those animals eat huge amounts of feed, which needs to be grown somewhere. That takes land, which requires deforestation or the use of already-deforested land that could otherwise be rewilded or used for less-resource-intensive human-ready plant food. (2) ruminants like cattle belch methane, while the plentiful manure of all livestock animals puts the powerful GHGs methane and nitrous oxide into our atmosphere.


You may also have heard that the constant international expansion of animal agriculture is “to meet global food demand”[5] and that “global demand for meat is growing.”[6] That makes it sound as if the real problem is over-population and/or some inevitable human craving for daily servings of chicken, pork, or beef, which global agribusiness is simply attempting to satisfy.

That meat — and especially beef — is the main driver of Latin American deforestation was reported in a substantive news article from Reuters this past month,[7] which was reprinted widely, including in The Globe and Mail. Like so many articles, this one implied that pasturing cattle and growing soy for livestock feed are all for the sake of meeting growing demand.

We're Stoking Meat Demand: Why?

The truth is, however, that demand for heavy meat consumption is partly — maybe largely — created by the mega-producers that dominate the international meat sector. One dramatic example is the U.S. industry program Beef Checkoff, which is overseen by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the USDA. Beef Checkoff’s aim is to "increase the demand for beef at home and abroad." That's right on their Youtube video entitled The Beef Checkoff: 35 Years of Driving Demand for Beef.

I'm not suggesting that demand is entirely constructed. Human beings have long enjoyed eating meat. But we don't come into the world specifically craving animals as sustenance. We arrive craving calorie-dense proteins, fats, and sugars, along with nutrients for health and cellular balance. Meat ticks some of those boxes. However, our tendency to describe dinner in one word — "Chicken!" or "Beef!" — is a product of social messages and aggressive meat-marketing.

Which brings us to our tax dollars. In the process of my research, I came across an April 2022 news release from Canada Beef, the industry group which promotes this high-emissions food.[8] It stated that Canadian beef marketers had gotten $3.6 million from the federal government to promote its beef and veal internationally. That includes "new" export markets, which means they're busy convincing people around the world, who have been perfectly fine without replicating Canadian levels of meat consumption — which typically far exceed the recommended dietary allowance of protein for most adults (0.8 grams daily of plant or animal proteins per kg of body weight).

The Problem May Not Be Demand, But Supply

Bottom line, economically, is that so-called "growing global demand" should be called "growing global supply." In industrial economies, manufacturers get the hang of turning out zillions of widgets, in this case, meaty ones. So the insidious next step is to persuade customers to buy more than they need, and more than they ever thought they wanted.

That's especially true when beef producers are nervous. And they are right to be nervous, because the environmental science is not on their side and because annual per capita beef consumption in Canada has been trending downward since at least 2008.[9] So the industry is busy these days looking under every global rock for new markets. And Canadian citizens are paying for that mission, whether we know it or not. The subsidy cited above, in which $3.6 million of your tax dollars helped beef makers push their product overseas, may not even be unique. I'll let you know when I identify more examples.

Just so you’re aware, the money came from our federal Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food, under its AgriMarketing Program.[10] Bad as more beef production is for climate, our Ministry of Agriculture feels its mandate includes enabling the industry to "seize new export opportunities," "boost beef and veal exports globally," and "grow beef sales in important international markets" while supporting beef sales at home.[11]

So How Should We Proceed?

Every government needs to juggle competing interests and contradictory priorities. But let’s ask what’s more important — propping up a sunset industry like industrial beef production, or saving this planet from the ravages of climate change? Couldn’t that money be redirected toward helping farmers scale down herds and adopt more climate-compatible practices, and for the entire food sector to promote more plant-forward eating for all of us? I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, because the issue of meat consumption is too often viewed as adversarial and dichotomous as if everyone needs to be either an enthusiastic meat-eater or a vegan. There is a middle ground. My decades of research suggest that, for environment and health, there is no need for everyone to become vegetarian or vegan. It’s a question of amounts. We need to decrease the number of livestock animals on the planet and the amount of meat on our plates.  If you eat animal-source foods, do so sparingly, a few times a week or less, and you’ll likely be part of the solution.            


[1] “Meat Accounts For Nearly 60% Of All Greenhouse Gases From Food Production, Study Finds.” O. Millman, The Guardian, Sept. 13, 2021.  

[2] “Cutting Down Forests: What Are The Drivers Of Deforestation?: H. Ritchie. Our World In Data [blog], Feb. 23, 2021. 

[3] “Biodiversity Conservation: The Key is Reducing Meat Consumption.” B. Machovina, B., K. J. Feeley, and W. J. Ripple. Science of The Total Environment, 536 (419-431), 2015.

[4] “Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts Through Producers and Consumers.” J. Poore and T. Nemecek. Science 360, 987-992 (2018). DOI:10.1126/science.aaq0216

[5] “In South America's Remote Chaco, Deforestation Uproots Natural Rhythms.” A. Marcarian. Reuters, May 15, 2023.

[6] “Meat and Dairy Production.” H. Ritchie, P. Rosada, and M. Roser. Our World In Data [blog], 2019.

[7] “In South America's Remote Chaco, Deforestation Uproots Natural Rhythms.” A. Marcarian. Reuters, May 15, 2023.

[8] “Canadian Agricultural Partnership Program Funding to Support Global Marketing of Canadian Beef and Veal.” News release Apr. 25, 2022. 

[9] “Per Capita Meat Consumption in Canada From 1998 to 2021, By Type.” Statista

[10] “Canadian Agricultural Partnership Program Funding to Support Global Marketing of Canadian Beef and Veal.” News Release Apr. 25, 2022.

[11] “Driving Economic Browth by Advancing Canada's Global Reputation for Top-Quality Beef.” News release April 25, 2022 – Calgary, Alberta – Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 


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