November 29, 2021

Animal Activists Upset Over COP26 Menu

Animal Activists Upset Over COP26 Menu

By: Sydney Sheffield 

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) was held in Glasgow, Scotland. For two weeks, world leaders met to discuss how to confront climate change. One surprising aspect of the event making headlines is the menu. 

The event had local and seasonal offerings and took a “plant-forward approach”, with 40% of the menu being plant-based options. The menus also feature a carbon footprint graphic of each item so attendees can be informed of the impact of their choices. While COP26 is taking steps to transition away from animal-based food options, the pace at which it is doing so is not adequate for certain animal activist groups. 

Joel Scott-Halkes, a spokesperson for the animal and climate justice movement Animal Rebellion, stated “The utterly reckless inclusion of meat, seafood and dairy on the COP26 catering menu is a damning indictment of the UK government’s utter failure to grasp the root cause of the climate crisis. It’s like serving cigarettes at a lung cancer conference. As long as such illogical decisions are being made, the climate emergency will never be resolved.”  

When examining the menu, there are several examples of the plant-based options resulting in a similar carbon footprint as the animal-based options. For example, when examining the breakfast menu, a bacon Scottish morning roll has a carbon footprint of 0.4 kg CO2e, a low score indicated by the graphic. Likewise, the plant-based mushroom toast also has a 0.4 kg CO2e rate. COP26 indicates that in the United Kingdom, the average meal contains a carbon footprint of 1.7 kg CO2e, and the goal provided by the Swedish World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), is to keep each meal under 0.5 kg CO2e. Both the animal and plant breakfast options are suitable according to WWF standards. 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack supported the animal agriculture industry while speaking at COP26. “I do not think we have to reduce the amount of meat or livestock produced in the US. And a significant percentage is exported,” Vilsack said. “It’s not a question of eating more or less or producing more or less. The question is making production more sustainable.”

Vilsack added that “If we are going to feed 9 billion people, you need meat protein. We will need plant, animal, and fish protein.” Similarly, diet diversity is important for human nutrition. There is a discrepancy between the nutritional components of animal and plant proteins. Simply substituting plant protein for animal protein is not metabolically equivalent. Likewise, a study in the Journal of Nutrition found that current plant-based dietary patterns are hindering the nutritional benefits of transitioning from animal to plant-based proteins. 

“The climate crisis threatens to disrupt food systems around the globe, exacerbate food insecurity, and negatively impact farmers’ livelihoods,” Vilsack continued. “We must invest in innovative, science-based solutions to help agriculture mitigate and adapt to climate change.”