A study conducted by researchers at the
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health
shows the nation's top newspapers have largely overlooked
the food system as one of the more
important contributors to global climate change.
The two-year study, available online in advance of
publication in Public Health Nutrition,
analyzed coverage by 16 of the nation's largest-circulation
newspapers. According to the study, the
contribution to greenhouse gas emissions from food
production and agriculture was mentioned in only
2.4 percent of climate change articles. In contrast, the
United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change reported in 2007 that 31 percent of
greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture
and forestry (with much of the latter representing
deforestation for food production).
The study also found that 0.5 percent of climate
change articles made any mention of the
greenhouse gas emissions from livestock and meat
production. In 2006, the Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations reported that livestock
production alone accounted for nearly 18
percent of world anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, a
greater contribution than from
transportation. Top impacts of the food system on climate
include cattle emissions of methane (a
highly potent greenhouse gas) and loss of trapped carbon
from soil and plants following land clearing
for crops or pasture.
"Greater public awareness could lead to consumer
demand for food with lower greenhouse gas
emissions. Greater awareness could also spur action from
policy-makers and the food and agriculture
sectors toward reducing food- and agriculture-related
emissions," said Roni Neff, research director
for the Johns Hopkins
Center for a Livable Future and principal investigator
of the study. "The more
we know about climate change news coverage, the more
effectively we can help to ensure the
important facts regarding the food systems' contribution
receive the attention they deserve."
For the study, Neff and colleagues analyzed climate
change coverage in 16 leading U.S.
newspapers, based on circulation, between September 2005
and January 2008. Newspapers were
selected over other media because of their influence and
broad readership. The combined daily
circulation of the reviewed newspapers exceeded 10.5
million, with an expected readership of more
than 20 million.
In conducting the research, Neff's team compared all
articles in the 16 selected newspapers
that mentioned "climate change" or "global warming" in the
headline or first paragraph against the
subset that also mentioned "food," "farm" or "agriculture"
anywhere in the text. The team found
4,582 "climate change" articles. Of these, 109 connected
climate change to the contributions of food
systems. Only 20 (0.4 percent) devoted three or more
paragraphs to food and climate change, while
45 spent less than a paragraph on the subject, often with a
single word mention, such as including
"agriculture" in a list of relevant industries. The
contributions of the meat or dairy industries were
mentioned in 22 articles (0.5 percent).
Coverage varied widely by newspaper, ranging from a
maximum of 22 articles over the study
period (The New York Times) to a minimum of 0 (The Dallas
Morning News, The New York Post).
Coverage increased slightly across time.
Neff and her colleagues attribute the lack of news
coverage to the origins of the climate
change field, relative lack of quantifiable information on
the food system contributions, the framing
of food-related issues as an individual rather than a
social concern, and initial lack of advocate
interest. In addition, the U.S. food industry has not been
involved in the climate change discussion
until recently, while other climate-affecting industries
have taken oppositional stances that led to
media interest in tensions between them and advocates.
Additional authors of the study are Iris L. Chan and
Katherine Clegg Smith. The research was
supported by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable