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Is Joe Biden planning to limit Americans to four pounds of red meat per year?

Old news, truthfully retold. US President Joe Biden has been accused of planning to force Americans to cut down on red meat in order to tackle the climate crisis

Every week in Fact/Fiction, The Big Issue examines spurious claims, questionable studies or debatable stories from the press to determine whether they are fact or fiction. This week we look at stories that have started beef on social media over whether US President Joe Biden is planning on limiting Americans to a beef burger per month to save the planet.

How it was told

Joe Biden’s presidency has, so far, given fact-checkers an easier ride than his predecessor did. But climate policies attributed to America’s 46th president in April left a bitter taste in the mouth for some.

Biden has, arguably, taken the climate crisis more seriously than Donald Trump in his White House tenure so far: reversing Trump’s decision to take the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement and planning to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

It was a speech on the latter policy on April 22 – to tie in with Earth Day – that led to a series of questionable stories and several right-wing political commentators posting pictures of their meat on social media.

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The Mail Online’s reporting of the story was the catalyst. Their headline read: “How Biden’s climate plan could limit you to eat just one burger a MONTH, cost $3.5K a year per person in taxes, force you to spend $55K on an electric car and ‘crush’ American jobs”.

That was not the only news outlet to concentrate on the red meat claim. The Sun also ran with the headline: “COST OF ECO-JOE Biden climate pledge could limit Americans to one burger a MONTH, hike taxes and force you to spend $55k on electric car”.

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Naturally there was plenty of coverage of the story in the US too. Fox News commentator Larry Kudlow also tore into the plans in “Kudlow: Biden’s Green New Deal means no meat for the 4th of July, have grilled Brussels sprouts instead”.

But is it true that Biden spoke of limiting red meat to four pounds a year or one burger a month?

Facts. Checked

It’s not true. Joe Biden has not spoken of any plans to limit red meat consumption and the speculation here could have a damaging effect on the climate crisis fight.

Biden’s speech was light on specific policies but mainly focused on jobs and the economy rather than diet. He said: “Those that do take action and make bold investments in their people and clean energy future will win the good jobs of tomorrow, and make their economies more resilient and more competitive.”

The Mail admitted that Biden did not make specific statements about meat and in fact was a little more honest about where those claims came from further down the page 

“While Biden hasn’t released details on what life could look like for Americans,” the author wrote, “experts and recent studies have laid out what would need to change by 2030 to reach the goal.”

The study cited in the article is the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, published in January 2020, that makes “simplified assumptions” on diet and climate change.

The report finds that carbon emissions would be around 646 million metric tonnes (MMT) of CO2 in 2030 without making any changes to diets but replacing 90 per cent of beef with plant-based alternatives could see annual emissions reduce by half in the same year. But the academics behind the report make no policy claims, nor has Biden spoken out on the issue of red meat.

But the Mail’s headline led to some commentators picking up the story as if the President had said he would limit Americans to one burger a month or four pounds of red meat per year.

That incited a furious reaction: Colorado Republican congresswoman – and restaurant owner – Lauren Boebart tweeted: “Joe Biden’s climate plan includes cutting 90% of red meat from our diets by 2030. They want to limit us to about four pounds a year. Why doesn’t Joe stay out of my kitchen?” Georgia counterpart Marjorie Taylor Greene called Biden “The Hamburglar” in a nod to the McDonald’s mascot.

Others joined in on social media with photos of large servings of meat. The tweet – reading: “So Biden says we can have four pounds of red meat per year… My official response today…” – quickly became a meme.

In the days that followed several fact-checkers debunked the story, including US fact-checker Snopes, while several news outlets also ran their own articles to stand against the claims. The Washington Post, Yahoo! and The Independent to name a few.

How we eat will most likely change in the future. But painting Biden as the burger-grabbing bogeyman at a time when unity and immediate action is required to beat the climate crisis could be extremely damaging. Based on what he said, this grilling was undeserved.

Worth repeating

The average American has 76 pounds of red meat per year available to eat, adjusted for food loss

That total included of 42.2 pounds of beef (USDA Economic Research Service, 2019)

The average carbon footprint of beef, excluding methane, is 36 kilograms of CO2eq per kilogram.

This is nearly four times the mean footprint of chicken. Or 10 to 100 times the footprint of most plant-based foods (Our World In Data, 2020)

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