Earlier this month, reports indicates that Haarlem in the Netherlands had become the first city in the world to ban advertisements for meat and meat products in public spaces such as buses. The city says it passed the ban, which will take effect in 2024, to reduce meat consumption and fight climate change.
The ban made new around the worldwith some media suggesting this world premiere could or should herald similar bans in other countries.
Councilor Ziggy Klazes, the local council member who drafted the ban, acknowledged severe opposition. “Of course, there are a lot of people who find the decision outrageous and condescending, but there are also a lot of people who think it’s okay,” Klazes said in remarks. reported by The Guardian. “It’s a signal – if it gets picked up nationally, that would only be great. There are many bands… who think it’s a good idea and want to try it.”
While the Haarlem ban could announce similar bans, it is not because it should. It’s a bad idea.
The ban is problematic for reasons other than its attack on free speech, starting with the premise that meat makes some sort of outsized contribution to climate change, a claim that has been disputed. As NBC News editorial explained last year, “only about 15-18% of carbon emissions come from livestock. And that number includes all the livestock on the planet as well as the entire process of raising, slaughtering, transporting and consuming meat, including the carbon you make yourself by eating and digesting it. …. Notably, only part of this process involves real animals. The rest is transport and the processes that also produce carbon when growing and consuming vegetables, wheat and virtually everything we eat.”
Same if eating meat contributes to climate change and that was sort of a good reason to ban eating or marketing meat – it’s not – bans still ignore the fact that not all meat has the same carbon footprint. For instance, this producer in Manitoba says it has been carbon neutral since 2019. Others, including large U.S. producers, could join this producer if they choose. A white paper published last year by UC-Davis researchers outlined steps U.S. beef and dairy producers could take to become carbon neutral by 2050.
If the ban itself is questionable, the claim that this is the first such ban may be questionable as well. In 2017, Australian ad censors reverse course and banned an ad depicting a host of divine figures (including Zeus, Jesus and L. Ron Hubbard) eating lamb after Hindu protesters complained about the ad’s depiction of Ganesha, a Hindu (and vegetarian) god received “less favorable treatment” in publicity from other religious figures.
Some governments have gone beyond banning the marketing of meat and have simply banned the meat itself. For example, some cities in the Indian state of Gujarat last year banned the “preparation and display of non-vegetarian foods in public”, based on allegations that meat displays were causing “traffic jams…and negatively impacting people, especially children”.
Calls to ban fast food marketing – still heavy on meat-centric foods – as here and herehave been around for years and have even become law in places like Australia. In the United States, advertisements for meat or any other food are protected by the First Amendment. But even that didn’t stop Missouri lawmakers in 2018 from prohibition the use of the word “meat” to appear on any food not made from the flesh of animals.
Although I oppose any government ban on meat advertising, I am a strong supporter of end government backed meat advertising. In the United States, the USDA beef checkoff program, as I explained in a column last year is a mandatory and unnecessary marketing program that forces farmers and ranchers to participate. I noted the “archaic, obligatory, collectivist… expensive, unnecessary and unconstitutional“The marketing system forces American farmers and ranchers to spend an estimated $750 million each year on government-sanctioned marketing that may not benefit them (and which many farmers oppose) while increased costs for consumers.
Governments should not be involved in the promotion or restriction of meat or any particular diet, including the marketing of such diets, nor should they be involved in the promotion or restriction of any religion, hairstyle or consensual adult relationship. Haarlem’s meat advertising ban, although its proponents claim it is well-intentioned, is – as its author suggested – both “outrageous and condescending”.