Curb CAFOs and the effects of meat and dairy

Incentivize carbon farming

By Didi Barrett.  Didi Barrett is a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly.

The agricultural industry is a leading source of greenhouse-gas emissions globally. Practices that improve soil health will play a critical role in our efforts to combat climate change by reducing the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and states can help by passing legislation that incentivizes carbon farming.

Carbon farming refers to climate-smart agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by sequestering, or storing, carbon in the soil instead of promoting its release into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Carbon farming improves soil health and productivity, thereby maximizing crop yields. It also increases soil resilience and reduces the need for pesticides.

Carbon-farming strategies include planting cover crops that increase water retention and soil nutrients and keep weeds down; using no-till approaches that limit aeration of surface soils and reduce erosion; and planting diverse perennial forages with deeper root systems for grazing animals. Longer root systems increase organic matter (carbon-based molecules) in the soil. These practices could have a huge impact on our emissions: Project Drawdown estimates that widespread adoption of these types of practices could reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 23.2 gigatons by 2050.

In New York, I introduced the Carbon Farming Act, a first-of-its-kind bill that would give farmers a financial incentive for implementing climate-smart practices. This legislation creates a tax credit for farmers to continue these practices and to encourage others to begin them, because policies that reward — rather than punish through carbon penalties, for example — will ultimately be more effective and equitable.

Farmers, who are responsible for producing the fresh food we put on our tables and depend on weather for their livelihoods, could make significant contributions to helping us reach emission reduction goals. Incentivizing carbon-farming practices will ensure that agriculture’s future is both economically and environmentally sustainable.

Curb CAFOs and the effects of meat and dairy

By Juliette Majot. Juliette Majot is executive director of the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy.

We must begin regulating the factory-farm model of livestock production to step up the fight on climate change. A 2018 report from the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy and GRAIN analyzed the greenhouse-gas emissions of the world’s 35 biggest meat and dairy conglomerates and found that the top 20 emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than several Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries did.

The mass production of ruminant animals produces untenable amounts of climate-warming methane. The conversion of large swaths of land into feed grain monocultures to raise ever-growing numbers of animals emits the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, as synthetic fertilizers leach into soils and water. Additionally, this land-use change releases precious carbon stocks from soils into the atmosphere.

Now is the time to call the meat and dairy conglomerates to account. Let’s start by curbing both over-production and emissions by securing a moratorium on new factory farms, a.k.a. CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). Predominantly located in low-income communities and, often, communities of color, these major polluters of air and water are already facing tenacious public opposition. From North Carolina, to Wisconsin and Iowa, to California and Oregon, communities are calling on their local and state governments to step up and better regulate these polluters.

Then, let’s stop funneling taxpayer money to these big corporations through various farm-bill programs, such as the guaranteed loan program that often backs the construction and expansion of CAFOs. Instead, we should start investing in a just transition to agricultural systems that lift up rural communities by supporting farmers practicing sustainable grazing practices, expanding the infrastructure for the growing grass-fed beef and dairy markets, and enforcing fair market and fair contract rules for the livestock industry. That will improve the quality of our food, air, soil, water and climate. 

Prevent wasted food — the right way

By Roni Neff.  Roni Neff is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a program director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

When Project Drawdown ranked the 80 most impactful climate change solutions, No. 3 was addressing waste of food. In the United States, we waste up to 40 percent of our food supply — enough nutritional value to feed millions. The United Nations estimates that if wasted food was a country, its greenhouse-gas emissions would rank third globally. That’s in part because of the food system’s outsize climate impact: It accounts for an estimated 19 percent to 29 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions.

The United States and many states and localities have signed onto a global target of halving wasted food by 2030. So-called food waste bans, policies restricting food from going to landfills, can help get there. Five states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont) and multiple municipalities and international locations have such bans or mandatory food recycling. Others incentivize reduced landfilling with “pay as you throw” approaches.

These policies can lead to increased food recycling (composting or anaerobic digestion) and related infrastructure. But while preferable to leaving food to release methane in landfills, recycling can’t make up for the emissions that went into the food’s production, processing, distribution, heating and cooling. Recycling can even be perceived as a justification for discarding good food.

Among food waste mitigation strategies, by far, the greater climate benefit per ton comes from avoiding unnecessary food production. Accordingly, waste-ban policies should be considered incomplete unless they promote waste prevention and donation as the preferred approaches. California, for instance, has passed a bill requiring that, by 2025, at least 20 percent of edible food that would otherwise be disposed instead be recovered to eat.

Halving waste of food is an audacious target, but it’s achievable. Food waste bans can dramatically ramp up the prevention, recovery and recycling of food. Most ban policies are fairly new, and more research is needed, but thus far it appears that, approached right, they can be a win-win-win-win-win for waste mitigation, jobs, economic activityfood insecurity and, of course, the climate.