There is strong evidence, and little debate, that first-world diets need to shift away from meat and … [+] toward plants, scientists say in a new study. (Photo by Rita Franca/NurPhoto via Getty Images)NurPhoto via Getty Images
Scientists agree that developed nations need to eat less meat and shift to a plant-based diet, according to a new study in the journal Sustainability, but newspapers cover the issue as an open debate.
Newspaper coverage of dietary change is reminiscent of widely criticised coverage of climate change earlier in this century, the study says, which presented the human causes of global warming as debatable long after scientists had reached consensus.
“There is clear scientific evidence that diets in high-income countries need to shift away from animal-based foods and towards plant-based foods not only to reduce GHGs (greenhouse gases) to address climate change but also to reduce resource use (e.g., land, water) and pollution,” write the scientists from Maryland’s Towson University and the University of Wisconsin, “but many newspaper journalists are presenting ‘both sides’ and, therefore, covering the issue as an open debate.”
A decade ago, media were often criticized for simplistic “he said-she said” reporting, also known as “false balance reporting,” that misled the public about the reality and urgency of climate change. In a separate study this year, Northwestern University researchers recently called it “bothsidesism.”
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In reporters’ efforts to get the other side, they often turned to representatives of industries vested in greenhouse-gas pollution. They may have given those industries an opportunity to fool the journalists and their readers and to delay the response to climate change.
“Media coverage of climate change commonly used a ‘both sides’ approach for many years, despite clear scientific evidence that human-caused climate change was happening,” the new study recalls, “and the climate deniers quoted in the media often had financial ties to industries that were trying to avoid efforts to address climate change.”
This is happening again in coverage of the needed shift from animal-based foods, the authors say.
“Journalists regularly quote representatives of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, who highlight efficiency improvements in beef production and the benefits of responsible grazing a …