“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?” Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
No fewer than five Fox News or Fox Business personalities told versions of the scare story on the air starting Friday morning. For example, Fox News host Jesse Watters said Saturday that “Americans are going to have to cut their red meat consumption by 90% in order to reduce emissions to hit Biden’s target. That means you’re only allowed to eat four pounds of red meat a year. That adds up to a burger a month. That’s it.”
In a particularly odd moment on Twitter on Sunday, two Republican governors, Greg Abbott of Texas and Brad Little of Idaho, tweeted their opposition to the Biden red meat policy that doesn’t exist — and cited a Fox News graphic that listed the supposed elements of the nonexistent policy.
Here’s the truth.
Facts First: Biden has not proposed any limit on Americans’ red meat consumption. In fact, he has not proposed any limit on Americans’ consumption of any food. The false claim about Biden trying to restrict people to four pounds of red meat per year appears to have originated with a deceptive Thursday article by the British tabloid The Daily Mail. The article baselessly connected Biden’s climate proposals to an academic paper from 2020 that is not about Biden and says nothing about the government imposing dietary limits.
The paper, by scholars at the University of Michigan and Tulane University, estimates how greenhouse gas emissions would be affected if Americans hypothetically decided to change their diets in various ways, such as cutting their consumption of beef to four pounds per year. The paper does not suggest a mandatory four-pound beef limit — and, more importantly for the purposes of this fact check, the paper is just not related to Biden’s plans.
The paper was published before Biden had won the Democratic presidential nomination. The paper does not even mention Biden’s name. And Biden has never publicly mentioned the paper.
So…frankly, you can stop reading here if you just wanted to know if it’s true that Biden is trying to take away your sacred right to a rib eye. That claim is complete nonsense.
But if you’re interested in how right-wing media figures and elected officials turned a little-known academic analysis into a scary presidential plot to limit Americans’ hard-earned cookout freedoms, read on.
The Daily Mail’s distortion
The sorry saga began on Thursday, when Biden pledged at a virtual climate summit that the US will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52%, compared to 2005 levels, by 2030. Biden and the White House briefly outlined a variety of measures that would help, from improving vehicle efficiency to retrofitting buildings to “farmers deploying cutting-edge tools” to make American soil “the next frontier in carbon innovation.”
There was nothing in either Biden’s summit speeches or in policy papers released by the White House about mandating changes to Americans’ diets. But The Daily Mail ran a headline that said “Biden’s climate plan could limit you to eat just one burger a MONTH.” The article went on to say that although Biden hasn’t yet released the details of his plans, “Americans may have to cut their red meat consumption by a whopping 90 percent and cut their consumption of other animal based foods in half.”
Where did The Daily Mail get those numbers? It cited the academic paper we told you about above. But, again, that paper wasn’t about Biden and wasn’t about mandatory restrictions.
The paper found that if Americans made a 50% cut to their consumption of animal-based foods and a 90% cut to their consumption of beef in particular — in other words, if they went down to four pounds of beef per year, or 0.18 oz per day — there would be a 51% reduction in diet-related US greenhouse gas emissions between 2016 and 2030.
To state the obvious: an academic finding that greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced if Americans hypothetically ate 90% less beef does not mean the president is going to force Americans to eat 90% less beef. There’s just no link between the paper’s hypotheticals and Biden’s actual policies.
“Our goal is simply to illuminate through research the potential impacts that various behavioral changes can make on greenhouse gas emissions,” Diego Rose, a study co-author who is a professor and director of nutrition at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said in a Sunday email. “It is up to individuals to then choose their own behaviors that can address the drastic environmental situation in which we find ourselves. And it is up to society, all of us collectively, to incentivize those behaviors.”
Rose said, “I think the right-wing media is fear-mongering about our scientific studies as a way to score ‘red meat’ points with their base.”
Fox adopts the nonsense
The issues with the Daily Mail piece would have been obvious to anyone who took a minute to look up the academic paper (which was written by Rose and the University of Michigan’s Martin C. Heller and Gregory A. Keoleian). But the morning after the article was published, Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt echoed the article’s claims.
Other Fox hosts followed.
Fox Business host Larry Kudlow, the former Trump administration senior economic official, claimed later on Friday that the study found Americans would have to stop eating not only meat to hit Biden’s emissions targets but also stop eating “poultry and fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, and animal-based fats.”
Fox News host John Roberts claimed the study said you have to “say goodbye to your burgers if you want to sign up to the Biden climate agenda.” (On Monday, after the initial publication of this fact check, Roberts acknowledged on air that his show had “incorrectly implied” that the hypothetical diet changes described in the academic paper are “part of Biden’s plan for dealing with climate change.” Roberts said, “That is not the case.”)
On the weekend, the deception migrated to big-following figures on Twitter. In addition to Boebert, false claims about Biden and red meat were made or amplified by Donald Trump Jr., Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn, radio host Todd Starnes, commentator David J. Harris Jr., and various others on the right.
The White House declined to comment on Sunday. But when we tweeted a debunking of the false claims, White House rapid response director Mike Gwin responded with a photo of Biden smiling while working the grill at a 2019 steak fry in Iowa.
As vice president, Biden made occasional jaunts to burger restaurants with President Barack Obama; Biden liked to order a cheeseburger. Biden is also a longtime customer of the Charcoal Pit burger joint in his home city of Wilmington, Delaware.
When Obama turned up at the Charcoal Pit in 2014, the Washington Post reported he said to customers, “Biden told me the burgers are pretty good.”
This article has been updated to include John Roberts’ Monday acknowledgment that his show on Fox News had inaccurately described Biden’s plans.