On January 27, 2021, President Biden issued the “Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” This order outlined the administration’s planned approach to climate change and called for feedback. While the order commits to conserving more land, protecting oceans, and adopting “climate-smart” agricultural practices, Mercy For Animals was grateful for the opportunity to share why devastating environmental effects of industrial animal agriculture must be front and center in the conversation.
Mercy For Animals’ comment, signed by Director of Government Affairs AJ Albrecht, provides input on how the USDA can use positive agricultural practices to not only lessen climate concerns but benefit farmers, ranchers, rural communities, and animals. One of the main ways would be using Transfarmation—Mercy For Animals’ initiative that helps farmers transition from industrial animal agriculture to plant-based farming—as a model. Here are a few key takeaways:
Industrial Animal Agriculture Accelerates Climate Change
Despite awareness that industrial animal agriculture is a huge contributor to climate change, large-scale farmed animal production continues. Each year, 9.5 billion animals are raised for food in the United States alone, with over half of U.S. farms devoted to raising animals. Globally, animal agriculture is responsible for a stunning 14.5 percent of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
If the United States wants to successfully tackle climate change, we must acknowledge and address the role of industrial animal agriculture. A 2020 study published in Science reveals that even if fossil fuel emissions were halted, without changing our global food systems, we would be unable to reach temperature targets outlined in the Paris Agreement. Therefore, addressing our industrialized system of animal agriculture is essential to limiting climate change.
Industrial Animal Agriculture Hurts Farmers, Harms Rural Communities, and Perpetuates Environmental Injustice
Many farmers are forced to take on massive debt to enter industrial animal agriculture. They often struggle to pay it off and have little to no control over their operations. For example, most farmers who raise chickens do so on a contract basis for major meat companies, such as Tyson Foods, also known as integrators. These farmers sometimes liken their situation to that of indentured servants because they have mortgaged their farm and home to enter an industry where they work at the discretion of the integrator. This relationship is often characterized by a “debt treadmill” that sees farmers nearly pay off debt only to have integrators require facility upgrades to maintain their contract.
Farms associated with industrial animal agriculture—known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—also harm rural communities. CAFOs produce air pollutants that can cause respiratory problems and lung disease. In fact, raising farmed animals is one of five human activities responsible for half of air-pollution-related deaths in the United States. And because of the large amounts of manure they produce, CAFOs pose threats to safe drinking water by polluting nearby water sources with chemicals, heavy metals, and bacteria.
CAFOs are disproportionately located in communities of color and low-income communities, subjecting residents to air and water pollution, poor public health, and plummeting property values. Studies show that people who work in or live near CAFOs have increased rates of allergic and respiratory symptoms and disease.
Making a Difference with Transfarmation
As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, our current food system is fragile, unsustainable, and bad for farmers. Because of this, an increasing number of farmers want to switch from raising animals to growing plants. Transfarmation is a Mercy For Animals project that supports farmers transitioning from industrial animal agriculture to plant-based farming.
In the program’s first year, we successfully helped four farmers in West Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas transition from raising pigs and chickens to growing hemp and mushrooms. Plant-based farming operations produce far less greenhouse gas and require less land and water than industrial animal operations. They also cause less pollution, helping ease the burden on nearby communities.
Plant-based farming is also a more financially secure agricultural model than contract animal farming, as it eliminates the exploitative integrator-farmer relationship. This means Transfarmation can help relieve farmers’ severe debt while giving them the autonomy they deserve.
Transfarmation is good for the earth, people, and animals. Because of this, Mercy For Animals believes that the USDA should use Transfarmation as a model to advance its policies, programs, and funding initiatives.
Click here to read the full comment.