DC Passes Legislation to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Food by 25 Percent

In a huge win for animals, human health, and the planet, the DC Council just passed the Green Food Purchasing Amendment Act of 2020! It is now headed to the mayor for signature. This legislation establishes goals for measuring and reducing emissions associated with food and beverages purchased by Washington, DC. It positions the district as a leader in emissions reduction. Mercy For Animals’ government affairs and public policy team proudly lobbied in support for this legislation.

What It Does

This legislation requires DC’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) to adopt an approach for estimating greenhouse gas emissions that occur over the life cycles of the foods and beverages purchased by the district. The DOEE must also provide guidance to district agencies on reducing emissions through purchasing choices. Agencies are required to track and take steps to reduce emissions associated with their food and beverage purchases to reach a 25 percent reduction by 2030. By requiring agencies to purchase climate-friendlier foods, DC sets itself up as a leader in the fight against climate change. The bill’s sponsor, Councilmember Mary M. Cheh, stated:

The food system is inextricably linked with environmentalism, and it is time for the District to align local food spending with our sustainability goals. And there is no better place to start than with our own local agencies.

Why It’s Important

Most food-based greenhouse gas emissions come from a small percentage of foods—namely, animal products. For example, cow, pig, and chicken meat, along with dairy products, produce more emissions (and cost more) per gram of protein than plant-based options such as soy, rice, beans, and wheat. DC could easily lower its food-based emissions by reducing its meat and dairy purchases.

This would be better not only for the planet but for marginalized communities because factory farms are often built near these communities. The farms pollute the environment, posing serious issues of public health and environmental justice. In its impact-analysis report, DC’s Office of Racial Equity wrote:

Greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution disproportionately impact Black residents. The efforts listed above show that Bill 24-0018 could potentially improve health outcomes for Black residents of the District.

The report also notes that purchasing foods with lower greenhouse gas emissions could mean less red meat and dairy offered to residents who receive meals through the district. This could significantly improve the health and wellness of DC’s more vulnerable populations. Diets higher in plants and lower in animal products have been linked to a reduction in heart disease, which the Centers for Disease Control reports as the leading cause of death in Washington, DC, in both 2016 and 2017. The impact-analysis report states:

Daily red meat consumption leads to frequently consuming chemicals linked to cardiovascular and other chronic diseases. With these considerations, Bill 24-0018 has the potential to advance racial equity in the District of Columbia.

What You Can Do

Mercy For Animals’ government affairs and public policy team advocates policies that will create a more compassionate food system for all. The team is pursuing legislation similar to the DC Green Food Purchasing Amendment Act in other jurisdictions across the United States. Be sure to sign up to receive our action alerts so that you can help pass legislation like this in your state!

You can make a difference for the planet, your health, and animals by eating more plant-based foods. Download our FREE Vegetarian Starter Guide for recipes, tips, and more.