More than 100 campaign groups have penned a letter to the Food and Agriculture Organization demanding it retract a report they say downplays the impact of reducing meat and dairy consumption on overall food emissions.

In the letter, seen by Just Food, groups including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Changing Markets Foundation, Compassion in World Farming and Rainforest Action Network, urged the UN body to conduct “a comprehensive investigation” into how “serious errors and systemic biases were allowed” in its Pathways Towards Lower Emissions report.

The report, published to coincide with the COP28 environmental summit in December, was based largely on two papers co-authored by academics Dr Paul Behrens and Dr Matthew Hayek. It claimed that shifting to diets lower in meat and dairy had limited potential to reduce emissions.

But Behrens and Hayek later wrote to the FAO complaining that the report “seriously distorts” their research and “systematically underestimates” the emissions reduction potential of diets lower in animal products. They have called for it to be retracted and reissued using different sources and methods.

The letter sent to the FAO by the campaign groups reiterates their concerns and points out what it sees as errors in the report author’s methodology, including double counting meat emissions to 2050, mixing baseline years, and including emissions from plant-based foods that are unrelated to substituting meat and dairy.

The letter, addressed to Dr. Qu Dongyu, director-general of the Rome-based FAO, said: “We support Behrens and Hayek’s call for the report to be retracted, methodological errors rectified and for the FAO to use more appropriate and up-to-date studies that look into the emissions reduction potential of dietary shift.”

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It added: “The numerous errors in the Pathways report have the cumulative effect of erroneously downplaying the emissions mitigation potential of dietary change towards lower consumption of animal products.”

The letter said: “It is extremely concerning that such basic failures of analysis made it into a published FAO report without being flagged during the peer-review process – indicating the need for a comprehensive investigation of how these serious errors and systemic biases were allowed, and an overhaul of the FAO’s internal review processes to ensure improved methodological rigour in future reports.”

Additionally, the letter recommends that the FAO’s 2050 Roadmap should be delayed until the organisation has adopted “more robust, inclusive and transparent processes”.

Just Food has asked the FAO for its response to the concerns raised about its report.