by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Climate change

May 25 2021

Biden’s USDA looks like it is doing plenty about climate change

I got a press release from the USDA last week: USDA Releases 90-Day Progress Report on Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today published the 90-Day Progress Report on Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry.

The report represents an important step toward in President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad and shift towards a whole-of-department approach to climate solutions. The Order, signed January 27, states that, “America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels.”

This report is the result of a presidential executive order in January requiring the USDA to say how it plans to promote climate-friendly agriculture.  It pretty much summarizes what the USDA has been doing and intends to do more of in the future.

Actually, the USDA has a lot to say about climate change.  It just wasn’t allowed to, at least publicly, during the previous administration.

For example, the USDA published Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry in May 2016.

The agency has web pages devoted to climate-change topics; each of these comes with additional pages on sub-heading topics.

It looks to me as though this agency is taking a lead role on climate change, at least in some ways.

But what about meat?  Politico notes that the Biden administration is keeping hands off that issue.

President Joe Biden is not going to ban red meat. In fact, his administration isn’t doing much to confront the flow of harmful greenhouse gases from the very big business of animal agriculture.

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.

May 3 2021

Industry policy influence of the week: meat and dairy vs. climate change

Thanks to Sinead Boylan in Australia for alerting me to this paper about the influence of the meat and dairy industries on climate change policy.  The authors are Environmental Science colleagues at NYU.

The Study: The climate responsibilities of industrial meat and dairy producers.  Oliver Lazarus & Sonali McDermid & Jennifer Jacquet.  Climatic Change (2021) 165:30.

Method: The authors examined the role of 35 of the world’s largest meat and dairy companies in actions related to preventing climate change. But in particular, it investigated “the transparency of emissions reporting, mitigation commitments, and influence on public opinion and politics of the 10 US meat and dairy companies.”

Its overall conclusion: “all 10 US companies have contributed to efforts to undermine climate-related policies.”

Through a questionnaire, it found (these are direct quotes):

  • All 10 US companies have contributed to research that minimizes the link between animal agriculture and climate change (Q11). Three companies—Tyson, Cargill, and Smithfield—have contributed directly to what Brulle (2014) called “climate change countermovement organizations” or organizations that have minimized the link between agriculture and climate change (Q13).
  • Four companies—Tyson, National Beef, Smithfield, and Hormel—have each made statements linking climate change regulation with potentially harming their profitability, either in an SEC form or in an annual report (Q17…).

Through researching OpenSecrets

  • Nine of the 10 companies have spent at least $600,000 on lobbying activities since 2000, with five of those companies spending over $14 million each…Tyson has spent the most on lobbying—$25 million—over the last two decades.
  • Cargill has spent $21.5 million; Smithfield Foods, $21 million; Dean Foods, $16 million; and Dairy Farmers of America, $14 million….
  • Combined, the companies have spent a total of $109 million on lobbying activities since 2000.
  • The other nine US-based companies [the tenth, Koch Foods, did not report] have spent a combined $26 million on political campaigns since 2000.
  • Dairy Farmers of America has spent the most, at $6.3 million since 2000. California Dairies has spent $5 million; Dean Foods, $4.3 million; Cargill, $4 million; and Tyson, $3.2 million.
  • Since 2000, Tyson has spent more on Republican candidates in every election cycle but one, and a similar pattern was observed for most of the companies examined here.
  • US meat and dairy companies act collectively…Together, six of these [trade] groups—the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Institute, the National Chicken Council, the International Dairy Foods Association, and the combined expenses of the American Farm Bureau Federation and its state groups—have spent nearly $200 million in lobbying since 2000, lobbying yearly on climate related issues like cap-and-trade, the Clean Air Act, and greenhouse gas regulations and reporting rules.
  • A recent sustainability report published by the US pork industry noted that “pork production contributes just 0.46% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere” (Pork Checkoff 2020).
  • In 2019, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association published a 21-part series, “Tough Questions About Beef Sustainability,” that, among other things, claims US beef production accounted for just 1.9% of total US emissions in 2014 (Beef Research 2019)

Their analysis also suggests: “the level of influence generally corresponded with emissions. Tyson, for example, is the largest emitter of the 10 US companies.  Tyson received the highest total influence score in response to our 20 questions at 15, tied with National Beef Packing Company, the fourth highest emitter.”

Overall: “In the case of the USA, our analysis provides evidence to suggest that the 10 largest meat and dairy companies have worked to frame the conversation, influence climate-related policies, and minimize the link between animal agriculture and climate change.”

Comment: This issue matters because animal agriculture is estimated to contribute 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions.  This, and industry behavior around this issue, is a reason why sustainability needs to be part of Dietary Guidelines, and “eat less meat” is good dietary advice for people in industrialized economies.

Apr 26 2021

Least credible food industry ad of the week: JBS and climate change

This ad appeared in yesterday’s New York Times.

The ad is signed jointly by JBS and Pilgrim’s, but JBS owns nearly 80% of Pilgrim’s, so this is JBS’s ad.

At the bottom of this ad, you can read about the company in very small print:

JBS is the second-largest food company in the world, producing high-quality beef, chicken and pork products, alokng with innovative prepared foods and plant-based alternatives that reimagine the future of protein….

The company is based in Brazil, where burning of the rainforest to grow soybeans—to feed cattle–produces massive amounts of greenhouse gases.

In this ad, JBS promises to achieve “net-zero emissions” by 2040.

How?  It’s a bit vague on details.

We’re setting time-bound, science-based targets and backing them up with $1 billion in capital over the next decade.  We’re supporting producers by investing $100 million by 2030 in on-farm research.

We will cut our own emissions by 30% by 2030 and eliminate Amazon deforestation from our supply chain within five years.

For the record, JBS’ annual revenues are nearly 40 times higher than what it plans to spend on this over the next 10 years.

The company’s revenues have been declining.  Does that explain its sudden interest in preventing climate change?

This looks like classic greenwashing to me.

Before believing that this is not greenwashing, I’d like to see those “time-bound, science-based targets” and to know who is holding JBS accountable for meeting them.

Jul 10 2020

Weekend reading: more reports

CAST [Council for Agricultural Science and Technology: Economic Impacts of COVID-19 on Food and Agricultural Markets:  This is a collection of 16 articles by various experts on the effects of Covid-19 on food, agriculture, and forestry.  The report is here.

IATP (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy): Milking the Planet: How Big Dairy is Heating Up the Planet and Hollowing Rural Communities: The report is here.

FAIRR (a global network of investors addressing issues in meat production): An Industry Infected: Animal Agriculture in a post-COVID world.  The report is here.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds globally, we are presented with a real-time case study into the vulnerability of animal agriculture systems to external shocks. It has reminded us of the vulnerability of human health to disease risks stemming from both wild and domestic animals, and has served as a warning of the role modern animal production systems can play in increasing zoonotic disease risk.

The British Meat Processors Association is not happy with this one, it seems.

 

Oct 11 2019

Weekend reading: World Resources Report

The World Resources Institute has issued its final report on Creating a Sustainable Food Future.

The report addresses the central dilemma of our time: how to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050 without destroying the planet in the process.

The report takes a deep dive into potential solutions:

  • Reduce demand
  • Increase production
  • Protect national ecosystems
  • Increase fish supply
  • Reduce greenhouse gases produced by agriculture
  • Policy options

This report deals with these issues, none of them simple, in more than 550 pages.  It offers no simple solutions.  Dealing with this dilemma will take a great many actions by a great many people, governments, and industry.  The report sets the agenda.  Now it’s our turn.

Feb 12 2019

Resolution for a Green New Deal to reduce climate change

If we don’t have goals, we will never come close to attaining them.

The fabulous new Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the esteemed Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have issued a non-binding resolution urging Congress to enact and implement a ten-year plan to control and reverse climate change.

The Green New Deal is a comprehensive plan that demands profound changes in many sectors of society, including agriculture.  With respect to agriculture, it calls for:

Why does this matter?  Here, for example, is a graph of world temperatures over the last century, with 2018 being the fourth hottest ever.

The Resolution may seem like a pipe dream in today’s political climate, but the issues it addresses are urgent.  Its recommendations set an agenda, one deserving of serious advocacy.

 

Jan 28 2019

New Lancet report: The Global Syndemic: Uniting Actions to Address Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change

The Lancet has been busy.  Last week, it published a blockbuster report on the need for worldwide dietary changes to improve human health and that of the environment.  I posted about this EAT-Forum report on Friday.

Now, The Lancet releases yet another report, this one taking a unified approach to dealing with the three most important nutrition issues facing the world: Malnutrition (undernutrition), obesity, and the effects of our food production and consumption system on the environment and climate change—for which this report coins a new term: The Global Syndemic.

This report breaks new ground in identifying the food industry as one of three main barriers to ending this “Syndemic.”  I’ve added the numbers for emphasis.

  • Powerful opposition by [1] commercial vested interests, [2] lack of political leadership, and [3] insufficient societal demand for change are preventing action on The Global Syndemic, with rising rates of obesity and greenhouse gas emissions, and stagnating rates of undernutrition.
  • New social movement for change and radical rethink of the relationship between policymakers, business, governance and civil society is urgently needed.
  • The Commission calls for a global treaty to limit the political influence of Big Food (a proposed Framework Convention on Food Systems – modelled on global conventions on tobacco and climate change); redirection of US$5 trillion in government subsidies away from harmful products and towards sustainable alternatives; and advocacy from civil society to break decades of policy inertia.

Wow.  This is telling it like it is—at long last.  From the press release:

  • A key recommendation from the Commission is the call to establish a new global treaty on food systems to limit the political influence of Big Food.
  • The food industry’s obstructive power is further enhanced by governance arrangements that legitimise industry participation in public policy development, and the power that big corporations have to punish or reward governments by relocating investment and jobs.
  • Regulatory approaches to product reformulation (eg. salt and sugar reduction), labelling and marketing to children are needed because industry-led, voluntary approaches have not been effective.

Yes!

The documents

The press

▪ The Guardian
The Times (London)
Irish Farmers Journal

Additional press, posted January 30

Newswires (syndicated in international outlets):

UK:

US:

Rest of world:

Nov 28 2018

Climate change report: bad news for agriculture

The US Global Change Research Program released its 4th report on climate change Wednesday night, coincidentally or deliberately during the slow news Thanksgiving holiday.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is a Federal program mandated by Congress to coordinate Federal research and investments in understanding the forces shaping the global environment, both human and natural, and their impacts on society.

USGCRP comprises 13 Federal agencies that conduct or use research on global change and its impacts on society, in support of the Nation’s response to global change.

The report comes in two volumes, a technical report and an assessment report.

Don’t look for any good news here, especially for agriculture.

U.S. agriculture and the communities it supports are threatened by increases in temperatures, drought, heavy precipitation events, and wildfire on rangelands (Figure 1.10) (Ch. 10: Ag & Rural, KM 1 and 2Case Study “Groundwater Depletion in the Ogallala Aquifer Region”Ch. 23: S. Great Plains, KM 1Case Study “The Edwards Aquifer”). Yields of major U.S. crops (such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, and cotton) are expected to decline over this century as a consequence of increases in temperatures and possibly changes in water availability and disease and pest outbreaks (Ch. 10: Ag & Rural, KM 1). Increases in growing season temperatures in the Midwest are projected to be the largest contributing factor to declines in U.S. agricultural productivity (Ch. 21: Midwest, KM 1). Climate change is also expected to lead to large-scale shifts in the availability and prices of many agricultural products across the world, with corresponding impacts on U.S. agricultural producers and the U.S. economy (Ch. 16: International, KM 1).

Chapter 10 has four key messages, none of them cheerful:

1:  REDUCED AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTIVITY: Food and forage production will decline in regions experiencing increased frequency and duration of drought. Shifting precipitation patterns, when associated with high temperatures, will intensify wildfires that reduce forage on rangelands, accelerate the depletion of water supplies for irrigation, and expand the distribution and incidence of pests and diseases for crops and livestock. Modern breeding approaches and the use of novel genes from crop wild relatives are being employed to develop higher-yielding, stress-tolerant crops.

2: DEGRADATION OF SOIL AND WATER RESOURCES: The degradation of critical soil and water resources will expand as extreme precipitation events increase across our agricultural landscape. Sustainable crop production is threatened by excessive runoff, leaching, and flooding, which results in soil erosion, degraded water quality in lakes and streams, and damage to rural community infrastructure. Management practices to restore soil structure and the hydrologic function of landscapes are essential for improving resilience to these challenges.

3.  HEALTH CHALLENGES TO RURAL POPULATIONS AND LIVESTOCK: Challenges to human and livestock health are growing due to the increased frequency and intensity of high temperature extremes. Extreme heat conditions contribute to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and heart attacks in humans. Heat stress in livestock results in large economic losses for producers. Expanded health services in rural areas, heat-tolerant livestock, and improved design of confined animal housing are all important advances to minimize these challenges.

4: VULNERABILITY AND ADAPTIVE CAPACITY OF RURAL COMMUNITIES: Residents in rural communities often have limited capacity to respond to climate change impacts, due to poverty and limitations in community resources. Communication, transportation, water, and sanitary infrastructure are vulnerable to disruption from climate stressors. Achieving social resilience to these challenges would require increases in local capacity to make adaptive improvements in shared community resources.

The recommendations: reduce greenhouse gas emissions, now.