Last fall nearly every Democratic presidential candidate pointed to links between food production and the climate crisis.
Last fall – in debates, Town Hall meetings, and interviews – nearly every Democratic presidential candidate pointed to connections between food production and the climate crisis. And the similarities went further than that: a whopping 10 candidates agreed that the next administration should pay farmers to adopt climate-friendly practices. Nearly as many also pointed to the need for regenerative practices that make soil a carbon sink, rather than a source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, as the general election looms, the Biden agenda and the Democratic Party’s 2020 platform both include a “zero emissions” goal for agriculture as well as increased investment in conservation practices.
Meanwhile, the climate crisis is front and center like never before, with unprecedented wildfires raging on the West Coast and devastating storms hitting Iowa, Louisiana, and other states. And while Biden has been out in front on linking the current catastrophes to climate, big questions remain about precisely how a potential Biden administration will approach farming for the climate, and farmer groups, agribusiness, and environmental advocates are all jockeying to exert their influence.
“The biggest thing that is missing from both the Biden plan and the DNC platform is a focus on the role of animal agriculture in generating greenhouse gas emissions and the need to curb those emissions through reducing the overall amount of animals that are produced in this country,” said Hamerschlag.
In July, eight national and state-level groups including Family Farm Action, the Land Stewardship Action Fund, and HEAL Food Action joined Friends of the Earth Action in asking the DNC platform committee to endorse a transition away from industrial-scale animal agriculture “starting with a moratorium on new Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and large-scale food and agriculture mergers.” But the final platform did not include any mention of animal agriculture.
Elected Democrats, however, are increasingly focused on the issue. Last year, Senator Booker introduced a bill to halt mergers and acquisitions in agriculture and the Farm System Reform Act, which would place a moratorium on new large CAFOs and phase out the largest existing CAFOs by 2040. Then, this summer, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), signed on to back the bill, and House Democrats introduced companion legislation. In early September, a coalition of 300 advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to pass the bill.
Recent polls show increasing public support for a moratorium on large CAFOs, and progressive Democrats are increasingly focusing on not just the negative environmental impacts, but also on the impact on farmers and rural communities. While NSAC has not endorsed Booker’s bill, Deeble said it was clear that NSAC’s “membership is headed in that direction” in terms of supporting a moratorium.
The Biden campaign has so far stayed away from mentioning emissions from animal agriculture.
Despite all this, the Biden campaign has so far stayed away from mentioning emissions from animal agriculture, except in the context of methane digesters, an emissions-reduction strategy that some environmentalists say props up and even incentivises the growth of large CAFOs, allowing them to continue to pollute in other ways.
Advocates say the Biden campaign’s silence isn’t surprising, since Tom Vilsack – the Agriculture Secretary under Obama, and who now represents a dairy group focused on large-scale exports – is advising the campaign. “There’s no way he’s going to be advocating for regulation of his industry,” Hamerschlag said.
There are also reports that Biden is considering former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp to lead the USDA. In 2018, Heitkamp ranked number one in Senate campaign donations from the crop production industry. She frequently sided with Republicans on resisting environmental regulations and was a frontrunner to head the USDA under President Trump.
And, instead of a panel that included small, diversified vegetable farms, regenerative ranchers, or organic crop farmers, the farmers given the microphone during the Biden campaign’s Farmers and Ranchers Roundtable were primarily large commodity producers. “Given the fact that local and regional direct market farmers play such an integral role in resilient local farm systems, that was a missed opportunity,” said Deeble. “But I also think that it’s not the fault of the campaign. We’re looking at the end of maybe a 30, 40, 50-year arc of concentration and consolidation and there’s a notion that not rocking any boats is the right play right now.”
And yet, there’s a real opportunity to talk about what a better system would look like. Biden’s plan, for example, does include a bullet point to make sure “small and medium-sized farms have access to fair markets” by strengthening enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act – something small farm advocates have long been fighting for.
For NSAC members and other groups, a better system would involve policies that drive large scale shifts away from monoculture commodity crops and CAFOs and toward more small, diversified farms that minimise inputs, raise animals on pasture, and sell food directly to their communities – all with an eye towards reducing emissions and building soil that can hold carbon while increasing biodiversity.
A growing number of Democrats are on board with those changes. The Farm System Reform Act includes support for independent livestock producers in the form of payments to help contract farmers transition out of industrial animal agriculture and a restoration of country of origin labeling (COOL) on meat. The House Climate report includes a plan to reduce emissions from livestock operations by significantly increasing support for farmers using rotational grazing and silvopasture.
And Democrats have introduced bills in both the House and Senate that would increase funding for small farms that sell into local markets, many of which were left out of the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
But where Biden and his potential administration will land is still unclear. Progressives like Hamerschlag said that if the campaign were bolder on agriculture and climate, it could present a more hopeful path forward for rural America. For example, the 2020 DNC platform includes a plan to fund research on “low-carbon crops” and organic farming, but Biden’s plan does not mention organics at all. “Organic is such a bright spot for rural America . . . there’s just a lot of economic opportunity,” she said. “Big factory farms and big monocultures are not a winning economic development strategy for rural America, and we know that rural communities bear the brunt of the impacts from factory farms.”
Original source: https://civileats.com