A sausage sandwich (file image)
The United Nations has highlighted the environmental impact of global meat consumption. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS

No, the UN hasn’t said meat intake should only be a mouthful a day

Max Opray April 21, 2022
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

The United Nations aims to reduce red meat intake to 14 grams a day per person.

OUR VERDICT

False. The 14-gram recommendation is from an independent report by an advocacy group. It has not been endorsed by the UN.

One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts has accused the United Nations (UN) of planning to limit people’s red meat intake to the equivalent of a single mouthful a day.

But the claim is false. The UN has not proposed to cut each person’s daily consumption to only 14 grams, as suggested by the senator. Rather, the figure comes from a recommendation for a sustainable and healthy diet from an independent report produced by an advocacy group. The UN has not endorsed the figure.

The claim is included in posts from Senator Roberts on Facebook, Twitter and his own website relating to a Senate estimates committee hearing on April 5 featuring representatives of meat industry body Meat and Livestock Australia.

In the posts, the senator claims the meat industry wants to “take red meat off the table of everyday Australians”, adding: “This is implementing the political goals of the United Nations to reduce red meat consumption to 14g – one mouthful – a day.”

Senator Roberts’ office did not respond when contacted by AAP FactCheck about the basis of his claim.

However, the figure can be traced to a 2019 report from advocacy group EAT, co-published with medical journal The Lancet, offering recommendations for a sustainable and healthy diet. It includes a target red meat intake of 14 grams per day for a healthy diet out of a possible range of between zero and 28 grams per day.

The report said that it did not set out to “prescribe an exact diet”, instead outlining options to “optimise human health” that should be “locally adapted to reflect the culture, geography and demography of the population and individuals”.

Anna Lartey of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was among the report’s 35 commissioners and co-authors, who also included researchers from various universities, think tanks and non-government organisations. The UN also hosted one of dozens of launch events for the report in 2019.

Nevertheless, the report notes its findings “are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect recommendations or policies of their employing organisations”.

There is no evidence of the UN officially endorsing or adopting the report’s targets, although the UN’s 2019 global environmental outlook refers to the EAT-Lancet recommendations as forming possible global guidelines on the composition of healthy and sustainable diets. However, the EAT report was yet to be released at the time and the same outlook does not refer to any specific targets for meat consumption.

Elsewhere, the FAO – along with the World Health Organization – has advocated for reduced red meat consumption and “shifting social norms away from meat-based diets” in order to create more environmentally sustainable food systems (pages 20-21) without attaching any dietary recommendations to the suggestion.

The UN has also highlighted the environmental impact of global meat consumption. A 2019 report by the FAO noted that livestock were a “significant contributor to climate change”, with the sector representing 14.5 per cent of global carbon emissions – the majority of which came from cattle.

The 14-gram figure has been wrongly linked to the UN since at least mid-2021 after Gunhild Stordalen, the founder and executive chair of EAT, was appointed to a “leading role” at the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit.

When contacted, a spokeswoman for the United Nations told AAP FactCheck in an email that “the UN is not aware” of the 14-gram target cited by Senator Roberts.

Michalis Hadjikakou, a sustainable food systems expert at Deakin University, told AAP FactCheck in a phone interview it was wrong to say the UN had endorsed the proposed target.

Speaking of the study’s authors, he said: “The UN is a different organisation. It was a commission, by the EAT foundation and the Lancet, it did bring together a large number of scientists, but you can’t say it was endorsed by the UN”.

He also said senator Roberts was misrepresenting how dietary recommendations work by characterising the EAT-Lancet report as calling for a “small mouthful a day” of red meat.

Dr Hadjikakou said that while specifying consumption as a per-day quantity made sense for a report, in practice it would just mean eating red meat less frequently.

“It’s easier to think about it as that you might not eat red meat every day, but you eat it once or twice a week,” he said.

The 14-gram target has been previously misattributed to the UN by Nationals senator Matt Canavan, who tweeted an image in October 2021 of a largely meatless T-bone steak to illustrate the purported target.

The Verdict

The United Nations does not have any stated plan to cut red meat intake to 14 grams a day per person.

While UN bodies have advocated for reduced meat intake to make diets more environmentally sustainable, the 14-gram target is from an independent 2019 report. There is no evidence that the UN has officially endorsed or adopted this target.

False ÔÇô The claim is inaccurate.

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