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Conservatives beef with Biden over false red meat claims

Misinformation falsely linking President Joe Biden to a call to dramatically limit red meat consumption in America has sparked conservative outrage. A British tabloid, the Daily Mail, claimed Biden’s climate plans could limit Americans to one hamburger a month. Amna Nawaz digs into how the misinformation spread and speaks to Martin Heller, a researcher whose study was quoted to make the claim.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With all the facts, fiction and disinformation flying around these days, it can be hard to decipher the truth, depending on where you get your information.

    Amna Nawaz breaks down how recent lies about President Biden wanting to end the eating of red meat reveal concerning realities about our political climate.

  • Larry Kudlow:

    No burgers on July 4. No steaks on the barbie. I'm sure Middle America is just going to love that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The false story started last week, a day after the U.K. tabloid The Daily Mail published an article that claimed President Biden's could limit Americans to one hamburger a month.

    Former Trump White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow blasted Biden's climate goals as anti-beef. Kudlow and The Daily Mail article both cited a University of Michigan.

  • Larry Kudlow:

    Speaking of stupid, there's a study coming out of the University of Michigan which says that, to meet the Biden Green New Deal targets, America has to — get this — America has to stop eating meat, stop eating poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, and animal-based fats.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But that's not what the study said. It actually found that reducing red meat intake could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was never tied to Biden's climate plans.

  • Man:

    They want to control your transportation. They want to control your food.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But the article and Kudlow's outrage set off a right-wing media frenzy. The misinformation spread to online news sites and people's Facebook feeds.

    Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott and lawmakers even posted about it, falsely claiming Biden wanted to severely limit red meat. Amid criticism, FOX News issued a clarification about their reporting.

  • John Roberts:

    The data was accurate, but a graphic and the script incorrectly implied that it was part of Biden's plan for dealing with climate change. That is not the case.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The beef whopper shows how misinformation can quickly spread and take hold in the current political climate.

  • Tucker Carlson:

    Canceling Dr. Seuss isn't stupid. It's intentional.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's similar to the conservative uproar over the false stories of Dr. Seuss being — quote, unquote — "canceled" when the books' publisher simply said it would stop printing several Seuss books with racist depictions.

    Now, to discuss what that study actually said about our diets and greenhouse gas emissions, I'm joined by Martin Heller. He's one of the authors of the study and is a senior research specialist at the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan.

    Dr. Heller, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thank you for making the time.

    I have to ask, when you saw this story spreading, when you saw that it was linked to your study, what was your initial reaction?

  • Martin Heller:

    Disbelief. Befuddlement. Yes.

    It's a long ways from our intention with the study. We certainly were not aiming to look at policy recommendations with this particular study.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And was your intention with the study? Let's separate fact from fiction here. What did your study actually say?

  • Martin Heller:

    Sure.

    Well, really, we were just looking to demonstrate the opportunity there is in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions from making shifts in our diet. So, we looked at a number of hypothetical scenarios. What if we reduced our animal-based food consumption by 50 percent in the U.S.? What would that mean for our greenhouse gas emissions?

    And we did an additional scenario, if — what if we reduced our beef consumption to 90 percent? Took that even farther. And what we found was that reducing our animal-based food consumption by 50 percent can lower our greenhouse gas emissions from our diet, from producing that food by 36 percent. If we take beef down to that very low level of 90 percent lower than our current consumption, it would cut our emissions from food production in half.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, you were essentially evaluating different scenarios of what could possibly happen.

    But, to be clear, did any part of your study say that Americans should stop eating red meat?

  • Martin Heller:

    Not at all, no.

    Again, we're presenting the opportunity. And, yes, it was not intended to be a recommendation. These are fairly extreme scenarios, I would say, you know, largely to demonstrate those opportunities.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, let me ask you to explain the science a little bit here.

    In terms of the link between greenhouse gas emissions and our diet, specifically Americans' diets around red meat, what should we know about that? What is the environmental footprint of our current meat consumption?

  • Martin Heller:

    Producing animals contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in a few ways.

    One big part is growing the feed that is required for those animals. And animals like cattle, like beef cattle, require a lot of feed to offer a unit of food that we can then consume. Those ruminant animals, like beef cattle, have an additional impact, in that their biology, the biology that allows them to get nutrients from roughages like grass, as a byproduct, produces methane.

    And we know methane to be a very potent greenhouse gas. So that is a mainly contributor to the emissions associated with animal-based food.

    Just to put it in perspective a little bit, red meat, so beef, pork and lamb, represents 9 percent of our calories in the average U.S. diet. It represents 47 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with our diet. That's those three. And beef is 40 percent of the emissions associated with our diet.

    So, beef is a big contributor here in the U.S., where we consume such large quantities of it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dr. Heller, let me ask you, because you grew up on a livestock farm, we should point out, what do you make of the way this whole conversation has unfolded, the life it's taken on right now?

  • Martin Heller:

    Yes, I think it's an important conversation for us to be having.

    I find it a bit unfortunate that the conversation gets pushed to such extremes, because, as we're demonstrating here, there are real opportunities, in relatively moderate changes in our diets, in contributing to this climate crisis that we're currently a part of, and contributing to the solution to that climate crisis.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Dr. Martin Heller of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan.

    Thanks so much for your time.

  • Martin Heller:

    Thank you.

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