Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


Trevor J. Smith


As people around the globe grapple with the realities of an ever-warming planet, Americans, too, are coping with some of the attendant consequences of climate change: severe droughts, storms, and wildfires to name just a few. In response, Americans are evaluating their personal and collective contributions to the climate crisis. Notwithstanding President Trump’s unilateral move in June 2017 to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, the international community is pressing forward with comprehensive strategies to mitigate anthropogenic sources of atmospheric carbon. Despite their best efforts, however, most of these actions focus on the energy and transportation sectors while largely ignoring the most significant, though lesser acknowledged, climate culprit of them all: industrial animal agriculture (or “factory farming”). Like many of its international counterparts, the United States currently has no broad-based plan to mitigate carbon emissions from its livestock industry. However, if Americans can garner the political will to prioritize the climate impacts of animal agriculture, any effective emissions-reduction strategy must be multi-faceted. The strategy must address the underlying drivers of factory farming and not just livestock-related emissions. This necessarily requires an overhaul of federal crop subsidies that provide livestock producers with a glut of cheap feed grains—corn and soy, specifically—that enable them to produce meat well below its true cost. Shifting federal subsidies away from commodity crops and toward a broader array of fruits, vegetables, and nuts (or “specialty crops”) could level the playing field between commodity crop and specialty crop production. Additionally, shifting federal subsidies to specialty crops could catalyze a change in consumer choices away from carbon-intensive meat and toward more carbon-neutral, plant-based alternatives.

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