Producers share beef with Weather Network

Anger erupted when weather service ran a story urging viewers to eat less beef in order to save the environment

Lemonade may have been produced from lemons after a difference of opinion between beef producers and The Weather Network squeezed perceptions of cattle and the environment.

That’s Bob Lowe’s assessment. The vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said the brief furor, created when The Weather Network suggested that people eat less beef, has given the beef industry a chance to explain its role in environmental protection.

On July 19, The Weather Network posted a video quoting data from a World Resources Institute report and said if Canadians ate 1.5 fewer burgers per week they could help the environment. It cited greenhouse gas emissions from cattle, plus their slower growth compared to pigs and chickens, as reasons to reduce beef intake, “plus there’s a lot of beef alternative options out there today.”

Those in the beef industry reacted swiftly via social media, criticizing The Weather Network for the video.

“Very disappointed with @weathernetwork,” tweeted Jayden Nail. “Canadian beef production is an essential part of the Canadian economy and is the livelihood of many Canadians. Bye bye Weather Network.”

Tweeted Bruce Mitschke: “Why would the Weather Network wade into this??? Blows me away that they think they are now experts in beef production. Why wouldn’t you get the complete story on the otherwise unproductive land that produces Beef. Get the big picture, would you!!!”

The matter prompted a meeting July 22 between CCA officials and those at The Weather Network.

“I understand they have said that they are never going to advise people on what to eat, ever again,” said Lowe.

In a statement provided to The Western Producer, The Weather Network said it doesn’t plan more active food advice.

“We, The Weather Network, will not actively advise people on their food consumption choices. 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.”

It said the report that prompted the video “discusses a possible strategy of reducing beef consumption as one of many methods to help assist with achieving food sustainability for the future.”

Lowe said he did not attend the meeting between the CCA and the network, but a briefing on the meeting indicated it was amicable.

“I don’t think there was anything malicious in it.… They thought that they were not doing anything wrong. The sarcastic side of me says maybe they should have researched things a little bit better, but maybe they didn’t want to,” Lowe said.

“We agreed that we would supply them with some sound science-based facts through the CRSB (Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef).”

The CRSB is an industry group mandated to produce beef that is environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable. Among its goals is a reduction in the greenhouse gas footprint of Canadian beef per unit of product, as well as enhancement of biodiversity and riparian health.

An estimated 2.4 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas comes from beef production.

Lowe said he heard about the video from another CCA board member who is a more avid Twitter follower. That was followed by complaints from others in the industry.

“I read all the tweets and things and producers were pretty upset, and with good reason.”

Lowe said the CCA is equipped to discuss the industry’s impact on the environment, having been part of a life cycle analysis to identify strengths and weaknesses.

“We’re quite prepared to correct the weaknesses as the science comes along to do it. We’ve kind of taken the bull by the horns ahead of a whole lot of organizations that keep trying to condemn us,” he said.

“Thank goodness there was people with foresight enough to create the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef because now we’ve got all this science and we can counteract virtually anything that comes down the pike.”

Not all feedback on social media was critical of The Weather Network’s video. Camille Labchuk, executive director for Animal Justice, was among supporters.

“Unbelievable. The @weathernetwork accurately points out that eating beef is destroying our climate, then gets bullied by the meat industry into backtracking,” she tweeted.

Others suggested a weather service might be outside its realm when providing food advice.

Sylvain Charlebois, the Dalhousie professor who regularly speaks on food issues, tweeted that “for @weathernetwork to advise Canadians to eat less #beef is not consistent with the network’s mandate.”

However, as Lowe later pointed out, the incident has opened up discussion.

“We get a lot of chance to talk about the good things and it doesn’t cost us anything. So every cloud has a silver lining.”

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