The Agriculture Department’s newly published “climate-smart agriculture and forestry” outline says almost nothing about how Biden aims to curb methane emissions from livestock operations. But environmentalists argue that any effort to shrink the farm industry’s climate footprint is half-baked if it relies on voluntary efforts and doesn’t address America’s system of meat production.
“USDA is setting itself up to fail on its climate and environmental justice goals,” says Chloe Waterman, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth U.S., a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.
The administration’s embrace of climate-change activism has heightened expectations of much more interventionist policies. Biden’s footsie-playing with the Green New Deal during the presidential campaign added to the anticipation. Thus far, however, the White House and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have done little to nothing on meat production or consumption. Vilsack is promoting additives that reduce methane output from cattle — cow farts and belches — and new methods of recycling feces for energy production.
That’s a lot of bun and no patty, gripes one environmental activist:
Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental group, argues that such methods only have marginal benefits for the environment.
“There’s simply too much meat and dairy being produced right now for any of those small tweaks to get the emissions reductions that we need,” she said. “There are so many policies, from dietary guidelines to what school meals are reimbursed, to agricultural loans and government purchases, that are currently promoting overproduction of meat — and all of that needs to change.”
Even Biden’s climate-chang czar seems very reluctant to tell people to eat less meat. In an interview last week with the BBC, John Kerry explicitly rejected that idea, which didn’t endear him to climate-change allies. The New Republic claimed that “John Kerry doesn’t know how cows work”:
“Isn’t the simple, slightly brutal truth that you’re going to have to tell Americans to eat less meat?” asked Marr.
“Not necessarily,” replied Kerry, “because there’s a lot of research being done now that will change … the way meat is produced. Cattle are herded and fed. There’s research being done that actually reduces the amount of methane.”
What exactly Kerry was referring to remains unclear, since he quickly pivoted to other talking points and meat didn’t come up again. It should have. Climate policy does need to address meat production and its outsize ecological hoofprint. And insofar as Kerry was trying to talk about solutions like so-called regenerative agriculture or adjusting livestock feed, it’s important for people to understand just how dubious these so-called solutions currently are.
This isn’t just about climate activism; it’s also about class warfare and social engineering. Despite the claim that these are “dubious,” TNR later in the report notes that the feed additives show an 80% reduction in methane emissions. The rest of these solutions probably need more time and study, but they’re hardly “dubious.” The real problem for these advocates is that meat consumption offends them, as this passage makes clear (emphasis mine):
To return to Marr’s question, the brutal truth is that Americans do need to eat far less meat. How much less is an open question: EAT-Lancet recommendations of limiting beef to 14 grams a day and cutting down on other meats could be a starting point, or you could argue for cutting 99 percent of current consumption (since upward of 99 percent of meat in America is factory-farmed) and getting the remaining 1 percent exclusively from regenerative sources, or you could consider ethical claims about animals’ rights and cut out meat entirely.
In any case, it’s a conversation we need to have, and it’s time for the climate movement to talk about this honestly and grapple with the implications.
I have friends and family members who choose not to eat meat for ethical and/or religious reasons, and I completely respect that. I would not force them to eat meat, but they would also not force me to stop eating meat. This is just another form of top-down elitist tyranny posing as environmentalism. Even a politician as elitist and absurd as John “Private Jetting To Curb Emissions” Kerry understands how this looks and sounds to ordinary Americans.
For those who don’t get the cultural reference, here’s the original Wendy’s commercial starring Clara Peller. And get off my damn lawn, you whippersnappers.