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24th Jul 2021

EU spent €252m on meat and dairy ads, despite green pledges

  • The EU executive has acknowledged that the new EU farm promotion policy "can align its strategic priorities more closely with climate" (Photo: Lukas Budimaier)

The European Commission has spent €252m of its farming advertising budget for 2016-2020 to promote meat and dairy products - raising concerns over the compatibility of EU agri-food promotion policy with the bloc's climate ambitions.

"This spending is at odds with warnings from scientists on the disastrous impact industrial animal farming has on nature, the climate and our health," and it is irresponsible to use taxpayers money for these activities, according to Greenpeace Europe.

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  • The €3.6m ‘Proud of beef’ campaign, for example, supports the idea of becoming a “beefatarian” to promote “balanced, healthy diets” (Photo: Greenpeace)

Brussels spent 32 percent of its five-year €776.7m budget for the promotion of meat and dairy, while 28 percent went to campaigns of mixed products, almost all of which included some meat or dairy products, a Greenpeace report published on Thursday (8 April) revealed.

By comparison, only 19 percent (€146.4m) of the funds went to the advertising of fruit and vegetables and nine percent (52.6m) to organic food projects.

"When all the science is telling us to cut meat and dairy for our health, and the planet's health, it's unacceptable that the EU spends a quarter of a billion euro to accelerate consumption," said Sini Eräjää from Greenpeace.

Europe has seen an increase of vegetarians and vegans in recent years amid concerns about the climate impact of the livestock industry, which accounts for about 14.5 percent of global CO2 emissions.

But Europeans still eat about twice as much meat as the global average and nearly three times as much dairy.

Reversing trends

Annual EU meat consumption per capita is set to decline from the current 68.7 kg to 67.6 kg by 2030.

However, the Greenpeace research shows how EU funding projects explicitly state that they aim to reverse trends of declines or slowdowns in meat and dairy consumption in the EU.

The €3.6m 'Proud of beef' project, for example, supports the idea of becoming a "beefatarian" to promote "balanced, healthy diets" - a campaign that led a cross-party parliamentary group of 34 MEPs to accuse the EU Commission of "hypocrisy" and "double standards" last year.

The project explicitly states it aims "to incite the consumers not to have a stereotyped idea about red meat and to enable them to be again confident about their consumption decision".

Meanwhile, a EU-wide poll found that the majority of Europeans (68 percent) would be prepared to reduce their meat consumption or were already not eating meat.

Greenpeace estimates that meat consumption in the bloc should drop by 71 percent in the next decade, under a 2015 Paris Agreement-compatible scenario.

Less meat promotion from 2022?

The annual budget allocated to agri-food promotional campaigns has increased drastically over the last years, from €111m in 2016 to €200.9m in 2020.

All products, but tobacco, are eligible to access EU funding.

However, eligible organisations need to be "deemed representative" of at least 50 percent of their sector - making it more difficult for the small producers to access this funding.

Leaked versions of the EU Farm to Fork strategy and Beating Cancer Plan, both released last year, showed that the EU Commission was willing to end EU-funded red and processed meat advertising.

But final versions fell short of setting out reduction targets or specific actions.

Brussels has launched a public consultation of its EU farm products promotion policy to feed its new proposal expected in early 2022.

"The commission will review in 2021 the EU promotion policy for agricultural products to enhance its contribution to sustainable production and consumption, and in line with the shift to a more plant-based diet, with less red and processed meat and more fruit and vegetables in the EU," a commission spokesperson told EUobserver.

In its evaluation report, the EU executive acknowledged that the new EU farm promotion policy "can align its strategic priorities more closely with climate, sustainability, health and development policy objectives as highlighted under the Green Deal".

The EU Commission will allocate €182.9 million to promote EU agri-food products in 2021 - of which €49m will go to the advertising of organic products, €19.1m to fruits and vegetables, and €18m to sustainable agriculture.

How much meat do EU institutions consume?

Although the pandemic has reduced the volumes of meat purchased for EU bureaucrats, experts previously said that plant-based diets would help reducing EU institutions' carbon footprint.

In 2019, the European Parliament purchased over 100 tonnes of white and red meat - although, since 2019, vegetables represent more than 56 percent of the food served in Brussels and Strasbourg.

Yet, the institution's food supplies were responsible for 1,926 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2019.

Meanwhile, data from the European Council also shows that veggie meals-related emissions in 2019 (nearly 36 tonnes of CO2 equivalent) were far lower than those containing beef, chicken, or fish (388 tonnes of CO2 equivalent).

The EU executive, for its part, told EUobserver that greenhouse gas emissions attributable to food consumption of the commission staff in 2019 had not been measured yet.

NGOs urge EU to tackle meat consumption 'problem'

"Food and agriculture are at the heart of the ecological crisis. This is one area where doing right by the planet means doing right by people in the most obvious way," said head of policy at NGO BirdLife, Ariel Brunner.

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