How a false claim about beef and Biden's climate plan spread

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On Sunday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted out a Fox News graphic about President Biden proposing a reduction in red meat consumption. “Not gonna happen in Texas!” proclaimed the Republican, who serves nearly 30 million constituents.

Abbott was retweeted by fellow Republican Gov. Brad Little, who said, “Idahoans also have beef with this agenda and for dinner!” The two governors followed in a line of conservative politicians, pundits and news outlets who spent days proudly stating their opposition to a provision of Biden’s climate plan that doesn’t exist.

The false narrative stems from coverage of Biden announcing his new climate goals last week in honor of Earth Day, including cutting U.S. carbon emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030 over 2005 levels. The plan drew immediate Republican condemnation, but the beef-specific narrative stems from a Thursday article in the Daily Mail, a conservative British tabloid. The lengthy headline reads, “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.”

The piece cites a University of Michigan study that analyzes what different changes in the U.S. diet could mean for greenhouse gas emissions. This was translated into the Fox News graphic shared by Abbott and others, which stated that the Biden proposal would cut 90 percent of red meat from Americans’ diet, allowing them a maximum of 4 pounds per year and one burger a month.

A primary issue in using the paper to condemn the Biden climate plan is that it was published in January 2020, when Biden was involved in a tight Democratic primary and a year away from being sworn in as president. His climate plan does not have any provisions regulating citizens’ ability to consume meat.

US President Joe Biden speaks during climate change virtual summit from the East Room of the White House campus April 22, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
President Biden during the virtual summit on climate change on April 22. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Gregory A. Keoleian and Martin Heller, two of the study's authors, told Yahoo News that "to our knowledge, there is no connection between our study and Joe Biden's Climate plan."

"This appears to be an association made erroneously by the Daily Mail that has been picked up widely," they continued. "Our study merely identifies opportunities for emissions reductions that are possible from changes in our diet. By no means does it suggest that these changes in diet would be required to meet climate goals."

The Daily Mail’s detachment from reality did not stop the false narrative from spreading. On Friday, former Trump adviser Larry Kudlow elevated the claims on his Fox Business show.

“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 and fish, seafood, eggs, dairy and animal-based fats,” Kudlow said, “OK, got that? No burger on July 4. No steaks on the barbecue. I’m sure Middle America is just going to love that.”

“Can you grill those brussels sprouts? So get ready. You can throw back a plant-based beer with your grilled brussels sprouts and wave your American flag,” Kudlow continued, seemingly unclear about the fact that beer already comes from plants. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer took a shot at the narrative Sunday evening, tweeting, “Excited to be watching the Oscars with an ice cold plant-based beer. Thanks Joe Biden.”

It was full steam ahead at that point. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., tweeted Friday morning, “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?”

On Saturday, Donald Trump. Jr., the oldest son of the former president, retweeted the Fox News graphic and said, “I’m pretty sure I ate 4 pounds of red meat yesterday. That’s going to be a hard NO from me.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia congresswoman who has promoted conspiracies and has repeatedly used racist and xenophobic language, attempted to knock Biden by referring to him as the McDonald’s character the Hamburglar and tweeting an image of him eating a burger with the caption “No burgers for thee, but just for me.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is seen on the House steps during the vote on the $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act, on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

This is not the first time that conservatives have ginned up a false narrative about meat consumption to negatively portray Democratic climate policies. In 2019, after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., rolled out her Green New Deal proposal, she was accused of wanting to take away Americans’ burgers. At a press conference opposing the Green New Deal, Republican legislators ate burgers and drank milkshakes.

Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump White House official, addressed the concern at that year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, saying, “They want to rebuild your home, they want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved.”

Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Image Bank/Getty Images


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