Biden Government Invests $196M to Boost US Ag Supply Chain But Fails to Highlight Alt-Protein or Climate Change
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The Biden administration has made investments worth $195.9M in 185 agricultural projects to bolster the food supply chain and lower costs, but there’s barely a mention of climate change, protein diversification or GHG emissions.
The USDA has announced a $196M package of investment into 185 farming projects across 37 states and Puerto Rico to boost the agricultural supply chain, expand markets for producers, and lower overall costs. It was announced after the first meeting of the White House Council on Supply Chain Resilience, which also introduced new schemes to improve larger supply chain logistics, something the Biden-Harris administration says is part of its Bidenomics agenda.
“Today’s investments in agricultural producers and rural entrepreneurs will create better economic opportunities that spur competition and bolster food supply chains across the country,” said agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack.
And yes, supporting farmers is absolutely vital to protecting our food system. However, there’s a giant climate hole in the list of projects being awarded with the grants. Of the 185 recipients, only 10 have any mention of ‘sustainability’ in the USDA’s list. There’s no mention of carbon emissions – at least 11% of which come from agriculture in the US – or methane at all, despite at least 36% of the US’s methane emissions created by the farming industry.
This is, sadly, largely consistent with funding efforts in the US. One study found that between 2014 and 2020, American livestock farmers received 800 times more funding than plant-based and cultivated meat, while 95% of all research and innovation spending went to animal farmers, aimed at improving production. This latest grant fits that trend.
“These actions will help Americans get the products they need when they need them,” the White House said in a statement. But what the Americans really need is a way to cut down their meat consumption, which is overboard, to help bring their overall emissions down.
The US’s meat and climate problem
Americans eat 127kg of meat per year, which is eight times higher than the recommended amount of 15.7kg by the Eat-Lancet Commission to align with our decarbonising goals – of this figure, only 12% of its citizens are responsible for half of the share. And a 2021 poll found that 59% of them believe eating meat is just part of “the American way of life”.
Studies have found that 74% of Americans don’t think eating meat is linked to climate change – despite 60% of all food emissions (which make up a third of all emissions) coming from meat. Research has also revealed that switching to a vegan diet can cut emissions, land use and water pollution by 75% compared to a meat-rich diet, and swapping just 50% of our meat and dairy intake with plant-based alternatives can double climate benefits and halt deforestation.
In September, amid the aftermath of the flash floods in New York City (months after its polluted sky turned orange due to Canadian wildfires), a report revealed that Americans need to reduce their meat intake by 82% if they are to avoid similar climate disasters in the long term. Its authors called for more “public investment in research and innovation for cell-cultivated meat, plant-based proteins, and protein from fermentation” and a redirecting of subsidies towards “plant-based innovation”.
The fact that the Biden administration has largely ignored climate change, sustainability, greenhouse gas emissions and protein diversification in this latest grant is quite consistent with previous US presidencies. As food writer Alicia Kennedy wrote in the Guardian: “During the Obama presidency, despite gestures toward progressive environment policies, there were pushes to speed up poultry processing, continued antibiotic overuse in factory farm operations, and other issues in the meat industry that went unattended.
“At the start of the pandemic, Donald Trump declared meat processing “critical infrastructure”, keeping factories open regardless of safety. Between April 2020 and April 2021, nearly 60,000 meatpacking workers became infected with the coronavirus.”
Previous climate funding exists, but the scale is disproportionate
It would be unfair to say that the Biden administration has completely ignored climate change in all its funding efforts. Just this month, the White House announced $5B in investment in five USDA projects to help farmers adopt “new climate-smart agricultural practices”, support community infrastructure and ramp up rural economic development.
In September 2022, it released an executive order directing agencies to create reports on the biotech sector, which included one from the USDA on “cultivating alternative food sources”. This was followed by the allocation of $6M to USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for alternative protein R&D. A year earlier, the government made its largest public funding package for alt-protein through a $10M NIFA grant, which formed the Tufts University Center for Cellular Agriculture in Massachusetts.
There has been regional-level support too. In July 2022, California became the first US state to invest in research for alt-protein, allocating $5M from the state budget. And earlier this year, 1,400 mayors ratified a resolution promoting a shift to vegan diets across the US, which can help address chronic diseases, climate change and national healthcare costs.
But these alternative protein investments are dwarfed by the larger investments going into the US agriculture industry. All kinds of financing going into agriculture need to prioritise emissions-cutting and climate-friendly farming – the climate crisis is the most urgent threat we face. America’s farmers know this too, having lost yields to bad harvests and crop failures increasingly over the last few years.
US politicians haven’t exactly inspired confidence in terms of their stances or actions on climate change. Republicans have been ignoring or altogether denying the crisis, and sure, while Biden re-entered the Paris Agreement, he’s skipping COP28 – the most important climate conference ever – ahead of an election year.
How would that play out with America’s youth, who have already had to stand up against the system to fight for climate justice? Only 14% of the country thinks it’s been better off since Biden took over – will that number drop even further?