EU funding of meat and dairy promotions ‘irresponsible’ – Greenpeace

Spending ‘at odds’ with climate as 78% of Ireland’s funded ads targeted agriculture

European Union spending of hundreds of millions of euro on promoting agricultural products is "at odds with warnings from scientists on the disastrous impact industrial animal farming has on nature, the climate and our health" and is an irresponsible use of taxpayers' money, according to Greenpeace Europe.

The European Commission spent 32 per cent of its €777 million five-year farm product promotion budget on advertising campaigns for meat and dairy that ran between 2016 and 2020, a Greenpeace report published on Thursday found.

In Ireland, 78 per cent of funded promotions were targeted at meat and dairy consumption over a four-year period up to 2019 – the highest proportion of European Union countries analysed by Greenpeace.

Its EU agriculture and forest campaigner Sini Eräjää said: “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.


“Farming and eating industrial meat and dairy puts us at risk of new pandemics, wrecks the climate and destroys nature – it’s irresponsible for the EU to continue promoting this with taxpayers’ money.”

The research found the commission spent €146 million on campaigns for fruit and vegetables over the five years – 19 per cent of advertising spend.

Leaked versions of the EU’s flagship Farm to Fork strategy and the Beating Cancer Plan suggested the commission intended to stop funding promotion of red and processed meat, which are particularly harmful, Ms Eräjää said. The final versions of both strategies contained more vague wording on promoting healthier diets, she said.

The commission is reviewing its policy on the promotion of EU farm products, with a new proposal expected in early 2022. Last month it opened public consultation on promotion policy.

Greenpeace is calling on the EU to end public funding for the promotion of meat and dairy products and recommending it be used to support ecological, small-scale farmers in Europe, and to help conventional farmers to transition to ecological methods.

‘Skewed’ numbers

The numbers for Ireland “are even more skewed” in favour of meat and dairy products, Ms Eräjää said, as “78 per cent of the EU spending on projects run by Irish organisations was used to promote exclusively meat and dairy in the period 2016-2019 – country-level information isn’t yet available for 2020”.

This was “certainly not in line with encouraging consumption that’s better for the environment and public health”.

Ireland received €13.4 million in total EU funding, €10.5 million of which was to support meat and dairy promotion projects – just €1.4 million was spent targeting consumption of fruits and vegetables. Of nine countries subjected to deeper analysis, Spain and Ireland were found to have spent nothing on promoting organic products.

While there are some differences between countries, the overall picture remains the same, the report concluded, much more funding is being used to exclusively promote meat and dairy products than is used to promote fruits and vegetables.

Objectives in the approved funding applications of several meat and dairy promotional campaigns funded by the EU “explicitly state they aim to reverse declines in, or maintain the growth of, meat and dairy consumption in Europe – even if this reduction is much needed according to health and environmental research”.

More than 70 per cent of EU farmland is used to raise livestock or produce animal feed. “Two-thirds of EU farm subsidies currently end up supporting the production of animal products, directly and indirectly, including by supporting feed production,” the report said.

Europeans consume about twice as much meat as the global average, and about three times as much dairy. “To protect public health and nature, and to tackle the climate emergency, scientists are recommending a reduction of European meat and dairy consumption by at least 70 per cent by 2030,” Greenpeace said.

The report featured examples of promotions including a “proud of beef campaign”, with €3.6 million of EU funding, which promoted the idea of becoming a “beefatarian”, supposedly to promote “balanced, healthy diets”.

“The campaign fails to make any reference to the widely-recognised health risks or environmental damage associated with red and processed meat,” the report said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times