Having Your Meat and Eating It, Too

» December 7th, 2012

The cowardice and corruption of environmental organizations really is enough to make you hate environmentalism. The latest capitulation to corporate power came from Jason Clay, of the World Wildlife Fund. An expert on the environmental impacts of global agriculture, Clay knows as well as anyone on the face of the earth the pervasive detrimental consequences of beef production on global ecosystems. Much like Bill McKibben’s group, 350.org, however, Clay refuses to say exactly what needs to be said about the global consumption of beef: it must end. In fact, Clay and the WWF are worse than silent on the matter. They’ve actually climbed into bed with, sit down for this, the industrial producers of beef.  Somehow, they think this is the way to achieve genuine reform.

The initiative hosting this sordid lovefest is the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, a conglomeration of environmental groups and corporations whose focus is to promote the responsible production and consumption of beef. Despite the fact that an overwhelming amount of evidence shows that there’s no such thing as producing beef sustainably for 7 billion people, Clay and the WWF have done more than get in bed with the likes of Cargill, McDonalds, Merck, and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association. They’ve now accepted funding from these entities in order to promote more pasture-raised beef—as in over $13 million.  Even if pasture-based beef production was sustainable (it’s not), does anyone in the environmental movement really think that these organizations are ever, in any way, going to give up on the consolidation of animals to enhance production? There’s not a chance.

In many ways what we’re seeing here is an all too familiar story. Whenever an interest group seeks to have it both ways in terms of railing against eating animals while promoting the consumption of animals, they open themselves up to corporate dominance. There’s always this hope that the powers that be—The Cargills of the world—will roll over and do what the reformers want. But they never do. Personally speaking, I learned this lesson the hard way. When I wrote my last book Just Food I believed that corporations had something valuable to bring to the table in terms of environmental compromise. Through bitter experiences, I’ve learned that they are concerned about one thing and one thing alone: the bottom line. It is, in part, for this reason that I say it over and over again: you can’t beat the devil at his own game. If you in any way promote the consumption of animals you are automatically empowering the industrial producers. I believe this axiom as much as I believe anything.

Let’s dig in our heels. There’s room for only one kind of environmental reform: the most radical kind imaginable. The fact that Jason Clay and the WWF thinks it can reform beef production and consumption by working with those who profit most from such activity should never blind the rest of us to the glaring reality that the only way our diets will ever make an environmental difference is if we remove animals from it. Completely. No compromises.


18 Responses to Having Your Meat and Eating It, Too

  1. Sailesh Rao says:

    I LOVE this post, thank you!! It reminds me of the Dallas Principles where the LGBT community finally put its foot down and said, “Full LGBT equality now. No Delay. No Excuses.” http://www.equalitygiving.org/Dallas-Principles

  2. Barbara Beierl says:

    Over and over again, I read some generalization or other that “we must dig in our heels” and do something!!!!! These statements do not help! We have to organize to CRITICAL MASS people who will give a plan, point by point, what we should do and these harness the social forces with which to implement. I’m personally almost at my wit’s end. I’m trained in the humanities, not the social sciences. I don’t know what works, what is possible, so i can only waste my energy and get upset. I WANT TO DO SOMETHING CONCRETE AND SUBSTANTIAL! Barbara

    • John T. Maher says:

      Maybe the first step is to define who is meant by “we” as even in the comment section of this blog there are many different points of view. The second may be to discard the humanities as offering anything but an anthropocentric understanding the world, including terms such as the “natural” and “meat” and “pasture”.

    • carolyn z says:

      Hi Barbara, I hear your frustration. But you don’t need to be trained in the social sciences to fight for animals, nor do we need other people to lead the way for us. If you are a writer, writer for animals. If you are a singer, sing for animals. If you are a statistician, create statistics that show animals’ plight. If you are an historian, write about the history of animals’ plight. If you are an athlete, embody yourself as a vegan athlete and tell everyone about it. If you are a social worker, help animals in domestic violence situations. If you work with homeless people, try to create awareness around vegan food at shelters. There are so many things to be done. That is overwhelming, but it is also really amazing– people across every realm can fight for animals and we need all of them to be creative and skillful and jump into it. There are no need for heroes… just people– individuals in a collective– holding themselves accountable for freedom.

      • Bea Elliott says:

        Thank you carolyn z – Feeling defeated lately, I found your words uplifting and empowering. Perhaps along with all those other activities individuals can do to help animals is providing inspiration to other activists as well? Now renewed and re-motivated… I think so!

  3. Mary Finelli says:

    Yes, thank you, great post. Such groups are psuedo-environmentalists and, as Miriam noted, the supposed-to-be animal protection organizations that sell animals out in this way are even worse.

    Barbara, what we need to do is call these groups on it whenever/wherever we see it (i.e., complaining to them directly, letters to the editor, calling in on talk shows, submitting articles about it, explaining it to individuals, etc.) and promote veganism to the max.

  4. Ron says:

    It is interesting to know that virtually every major social and political change in the world – from the ending of slavery in the West, to women’s rights to the idea of democracy itself, was seen as “radical” at the time and must be resisted. Which means that labeling something as extreme without any real argument against it and which is essentially an appeal to emotion, doesn’t mean very much. And that is because what is seen as extreme is only relative to the status quo, which itself can be extreme, but yet is made to seem “normal and natural” – such as the institutionalized killing and eating animals without any need.

  5. Mary Finelli says:

    Here’s a related article:


  6. Karen Harris says:

    Thank you for your recent post. I have been so disheartened by the seemingly increased acceptance of “sustainable meat” and “compassionate meat” by so many animal advocate groups. Of late, I have been rereading two of Gary Francione’s books, Animal as Persons and The Animal Rights Debate. It seems that your philosophy now is very close to his. Would you agree? Also, as a resident of Austin, wondering what sorts of activities you are involved in to promote your beliefs beyond your valuable blog. I live there tool

    • James says:

      Thanks for posting a comment. Other than modeling a vegan lifestyle, and eating virtually every morning at Casa de Luz, the entirety of my activist work takes place where I am right now: behind a computer screen. I’ll also do some radio interviews. I used to attend a lot of veg meetings as a speaker but eventually decided that, important as these events can be, my time was better spent writing. Thanks for asking!

  7. Abigail says:


  8. John T. Maher says:

    I would add this is a classic turf war where each side is using the other in order to define its boundaries and mission. WWF desires to preserve their idea of the “wilderness” and therefore is inherently in favor of confining Ag animals in CAFOs despite their rhetoric about “pasture”. In other words commodity fetshism embellished with a WWF sticker of approval. What is meant as “pasture” is a human defined term meaning habitat cleared for all purposes except Ag grazing. The boundary of what WWF considers wilderness is where pasture begins. In essence, WWF is saying we will take Big Ag money in order for BigAg to claim the manque of greenwashing their beef cattle operations by not encroaching further upon wilderness. As Jameson wrote: quantitative abundance alongside qualitative loss.

    The very concept of “sustainable beef” is a myth and perhaps will be the basis of a future consumer fraud suit. It certainly should be contested terrain by vegans and environmentalists. The sustainable beef council is a sham trade promotion organization not an eco friendly means of having your beef and eating it too — or having wilderness and destroying it too.

  9. CQ says:

    GoodSearching the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, I found this piece by carbon-capturing expert Marc Gunther: http://e360.yale.edu/feature/should_environmentalists_just_say_no_to_eating_beef/2599

    The only quote in it that I could stomach was this from Greenpeace USA’s Amy Larkin: “If you want to make serious, dramatic change, you have to be brutally honest,” she says. “Who wants to tell the truth to the hand that feeds you? At some point, you have to be free to say ‘not good enough’ and walk away from the table. That’s hard under any circumstance, but harder if a company is giving you money.”

    Happily, though, three of the four comments below the article were palatable, including one from Center for Biological Diversity executive director Kieran Suckling.

    Based on Suckling’s forthright statements, I wonder if CBD would ever consider forming a roundtable with ethical vegan/abolitionist animal rights organizations around the globe. It’s a shame to think that such an idea might be averse to environmentalists who support a right to habitat and a right to life for free-living animals of all — especially endangered — species.

  10. Catherine says:

    Thank you for this alert. How can we make our objections known to WWF? I have been a member forever and could threaten to cancel my membership, for instance. Wouldn’t an online petition have some effect?

    • Karen Harris says:

      You should check out the WWF’s other positions as well.
      To the best of my knowledge they have come out in favor of elephant cullling in Kruger National Park in South Africa, the Canadian Harp Seal Hunt, animal testing, and “sustainable consumptive use of animal resources” such as trophy hunting. The list goes on.

  11. I apologize if this comment is not entirely on topic, but I believe that it is related. I received an action alert today from the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) about what they are calling the “Secret Farm Bill.” According to them, Big Ag is trying to push through a mega-farm subsidies bill by attaching it to “Fiscal Cliff” legislation.

    You can read about it at this link:


    If you want to participate in the EWG Action about this issue, go to the left-hand sidebar on the page (above), click the “Take Action” link, and then scroll down the page of action alerts until you come to “Say ‘No’ to a Secret Farm Bill.”

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