Is meat the new cigarettes? If you ask Haarlem, the answer may be ‘yes’.
Haarlem, a city of 160,000 people near Amsterdam, is set to ban advertisements for most meat because of its impacts on climate change. The rule will be enforced from 2024 and was proposed by the green political party GroenLinks and then gained further support — but the meat sector has said it goes against free speech rules in the country.
The move was actually approved by the city council back in November but it went unnoticed until the government said it had officially notified ad agencies. Ziggy Klazes, councilor for the GroenLinks, told local media that the city shouldn’t be making money by renting its public space to products that accelerate man-made global warming.
“Meat is very harmful to the environment. We cannot tell people that there is a climate crisis and encourage them to buy products that are part of it,” Klazes told the Trouw newspaper from the Netherlands. “It will be the first city in the Netherlands –and in fact Europe and indeed the world — to ban ‘bad’ meat ads in public places.”
The ban will target all “cheap meat from intensive farming,” Klazes said, and that includes ads from fast food chains. However, the city hasn’t decided whether to prohibit ads from organic meat, which the council believes can have a reduced environmental impact. Meat adverts won’t be allowed on buses, shelters, and screens in public spaces across the city.
The reaction from the meat industry was swift. A spokesman from the Central Organization for the Meat Sector said authorities were going “too far in telling people what’s best for them.” The right-wing BVNL party said the ban was an “unacceptable violation of entrepreneurial freedom” and said it “would be fatal” for pig farmers.
However, there are some parallels that suggest that the move isn’t all that strange.
A difficult time for the meat sector
Amsterdam and the Hague have already prohibited ads for diesel cars, fossil fuels, and air travel due to their impact on global warming. Now, Haarlem wants to add meat to that list. The ban comes at a sensitive time for the Netherlands. Farmers have been protesting for months at plans to cut nitrogen emissions to meet climate targets.
The government has said it wants to reduce the country’s herd of about four million cows by a third, shutting down farms. Farmers reacted by blocking roads, setting fires, and holding tractor rallies to protest. Agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity, and is a big user of fresh water.
The UN estimates that livestock is responsible for about 14% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions — almost half the impact of all agriculture. A study last year found that the production of meat and dairy product released about twice as much emissions as plant-based food. Beef demand is expected to grow by 88% between 2010 and 2050, which would make reducing emissions a tricky task.
Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that we need to change what we eat and how we farm in order to meet global climate targets and avoid further global warming. The Paris Agreement signed in 2015 hopes to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, or ideally 1.5. However, studies have warned we are still far from meeting that target and we’re on a trajectory for much greater warming.