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"Haarlem Station" by Can Pac Swire is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Agriculture

Is It Time To Start Banning Ads For Meat Products?

Meat production, particularly beef, has an outsized impact on the environment. The marketing playbook used by the meat industry is a lot like the one deployed by the tobacco and alcohol industries in the last decades to hide meat’s detrimental effects.

Amsterdam and The Hague had already banned advertisements for the aviation and fossil fuel industries. Now ads for meat are getting scrutinized, with a city in the Netherlands becoming the first municipality around the globe to ban most meat ads from public spaces.

It’s becoming clear that a global transition towards a more plant-based diet will help reduce the ecological footprint of food systems, improve human health, and help alleviate harm and death to animals in the livestock industry. And, as a result, meat’s impact has taken center stage.

Not everyone is happy about it.

Meat has been regarded across the decades as a measure of development and a sign of prosperity in many western societies. It’s been advertised to positively reinforce cultural social norms, with ads supporting and driving constant expectations of escalating meat consumption — all for a product known to be one of the most significant pollution sources on the planet.

The advertising industry’s power and influence in the meat industry has made it a prominent actor in the political realm, with the ability to alter policies and regulations about meat consumption– up until now.

The Netherlands’ Experiment with Banning Ads for Meat

Billions of dollars are spent each year on food and beverage advertising in order to sway people’s food choices. In an effort to reduce the consumption of meat and the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions it produces, the Dutch city of Haarlem will become the world’s first municipality to ban advertisements for meat in public spaces like buses, shelters, and screens.

The ban will go into effect beginning in 2024. The delay is due to existing contracts with companies that sell the meat product ads.

“Meat is very harmful to the environment. We cannot tell people that there is a climate crisis and encourage them to buy products that are part of it,” Ziggy Klazes, a councillor from GroenLinks who drafted the motion, told the Trouw newspaper. The proposal was also supported by MPs from the Christian Democratic Challenge party.

About 95% of people in the Netherlands eat meat, but more than half do not eat it every day, according to Statistics Netherlands. The UK Climate Change Committee suggests that a reduction in consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy of at least 20% per person by 2030 is required to deliver the UK’s target of net zero carbon emissions. The current average is 75.8 kg in the Netherlands, which is the EU’s biggest meat exporter.

Certain elements of the ban continue to be worked out; for example, the Haarlem city government hasn’t decided whether sustainably produced meat will be included.

The backlash from the meat industry was swift. Meat industry opposition is grounded in free speech arguments, saying that authorities are going too far in telling people what’s best for them. The meat sector created the catchphrase “Nederland Vleesland,” or “Netherlands food country” to encourage the consumption of meat.

  • The right-wing BVNL party called it an “unacceptable violation of entrepreneurial freedom” and said it “would be fatal for pig farmers.”
  • “Banning commercials from politically born motives is almost dictatorial,” Haarlem BVNL councillor Joey Rademaker said.
  • Herman Bröring, a law professor from the University of Groningen, said the ban could infringe on freedom of expression and lead to lawsuits from wholesalers.

Klazes said in an interview to Haarlem105 radio that she had not known the city would be the world’s first to enforce such a policy when she proposed it. “We are not about what people are baking and roasting in their own kitchen; if people wanted to continue eating meat, fine,” the Councillor expressed in response to backlash. “Of course, there are a lot of people who find the decision outrageous and patronizing, but there are also a lot of people who think it’s fine. It is a signal – if it is picked up nationally, that would only be very nice.”

The Stats behind Banning Ads for Meat

The general public today has a solid understanding of the links between diet and health. However, the impact of food choices on sustainability isn’t quite as well known and accepted, so framing meat reduction policies in terms of their impact on health as well as impact on the environment can serve to increase public acceptability for changes, including meat reduction. Obstacles preventing behavioral change regarding meat consumption include the strength of consumption habits.

The total emissions from global livestock represent 14.5% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions. Cattle are the animal species responsible for the most emissions, representing about 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions. Lamb has the next highest environmental footprint, but these emissions are 50% less than beef.

A Greenpeace report shows that from 2016-2021 the European Union spent €252.4 million to promote European meat and dairy products – far more than they spent on promoting fruits and vegetables.

“Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” The slogan resonated with US consumers, starting in 1992. Myths often adopted by big meat brands and their advertisers play to known consumer desires: to feel accepted, successful, loved, respected, and, ultimately, to feel good. These, advertising implies, can be achieved as a result of meat consumption.

Slowly but surely meat consumption is decreasing, and the meat industry is becoming skittish about finding ways to reverse the trend. Demand for red meat and poultry is likely to remain strong in the US and abroad, according to Food Business News, but the publication notes that red meat, notably beef, faces headwinds at retail that cannot be ignored.

Final Thoughts about Banning Ads for Meat

Worldwide, about one billion people are currently vegetarians or vegans, and about a third of Europe’s population self-identifies as semi-vegetarians or flexitarians. In a 2018 poll from Ipsos Mori – spanning 28 countries – 5% of respondents identified as vegetarian, 3% as vegan, and a further 3% as a pescatarian.

Public acceptability would definitely affect the likelihood of even wider policy bans on ads for meat. Informing consumers could become a forward-thinking marketing campaign employed by the meat industry to nudge consumers to purchase certain products so that specialization and special occasions become the focus.

For active consumers who are already eating sustainably, variables including meatless eating advice as well as social support reinforce meat-less decisions. Continuous accessibility and improvement of meat alternatives is also imperative to foster more people’s transition to alternative meat items while assuring their intake of essential nutrients.

Advertisements frequently draw upon celebrity endorsements to promote products. With their ability to change the opinions of a critical mass, opinion leaders can play a predominant role in influencing future dietary styles, according to recent research. Opinion leadership in food choices is associated with a higher interest in meat-reduced dietary styles and with more positive attitudes towards innovative food ideas. Moreover, opinion leaders can be associated with politicized food decisions, indicating that their food choices align with their social interests, coalescing interest groups such as youth, environmentalists, and renewable energy advocates.

 
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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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