Environmental concern about meat and dairy production has been long-standing. The five largest meat and dairy corporations (JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America, and Fonterra) are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the giant oil conglomerate ExxonMobil. Factory farms pollute the environment by releasing large volumes of manure, chemicals, and antibiotics into the water. Antimicrobial resistance in the natural world continues to increase because livestock is frequently treated with antimicrobials for a variety of diseases. And as factory farms make serious contributions to ocean pollution, the resulting algal blooms kill marine life. The list of negative environmental impacts from raising livestock can go on for pages. Meanwhile, global meat consumption continues to rise, prompting companies like JBS to increase production. With climate change being the reality of everyday life, the impact from factory farms and raising livestock needs to be addressed as a public health concern. The government can address the negative impacts that factory farms have by reducing the amount of subsidies that factory farms receive and shift such support to sustainable vegetable and fruit farming instead.
Livestock production in the US became industrialized after World War II and caused the consumption of meat to rise sharply. Nowadays, meat and dairy production in the US receive 63% of federal government subsidies, while fruits and vegetables only receive 0.04%. At the same time, most of the subsidies go to large corporations instead of smaller farmers. This has not only drastically reduced the price of meat in the US, but also made factory farms a necessity to keep up with the demand for cheap meat.
Lowering the percentage of subsidies that factory farms receive is a step in the right direction to address the negative impact on climate and the environment, especially because meat and dairy production constitutes one of the world’s biggest sources of livestock-related CO2 emissions. The price of meat when unsubsidized will better reflect the price of the environmental destruction that it takes to produce it. Furthermore, with plant-based diets and foods becoming increasingly popular over the past decade, eliminating meat and dairy subsidies would also be aligned with the direction of the nation’s diet. Shifting subsidies to sustainable vegetables and fruits will then lower their cost and encourage healthier and more environmentally conscious food purchases. In the end, lowering the subsidies on meat and transitioning that subsidy to more sustainable foods will change how much meat is purchased and produced and begin to reduce the harm that the industry has on the environment.
During the midst of the 2020 election, Americans heard a common phrase in the presidential debates and other online forums: will Joe Biden ban fracking? Many might ask “what is fracking?” It is the process of extracting natural gas or oil from shale and other forms of rock by blasting water, chemicals, and sand at pressures high enough to crack the rock to allow the gas and oil to flow to the surface. Because fracking makes it easier to obtain hard to reach sources of oil and gas, it has transformed the energy industry in the US. The technology has been popular in many states, including in Pennsylvania, a swing state in Presidential elections with one of the most electoral votes.
Apart from simply being a fossil fuel extraction technology, fracking has been extremely controversial because of its many negative environmental impacts. Fracking contributes to groundwater contamination, uses large amounts of water, causes earthquakes due to the pressure on the rock formation, and allows greenhouse gases to escape into the atmosphere. Fracking has also raised serious public health concern — fracking is linked to cancer, respiratory and neurological problems, birth defects, and premature mortality, especially for industry workers who are exposed on-site.
In spite of such environmental and health concerns, President-elect Joe Biden has promised not ban fracking, mostly because fracking makes up a large portion of the energy industry and is a source of jobs and economic prosperity in states where thousands of people work in the industry. Instead, the President-elect’s plan is to stop issuing new fracking permits on federal land, while allowing fracking to continue on private lands.
The plan is an effort to please people on both sides of the aisle — no new fracking on public lands to appease those who are concerned about the environmental impact of fracking, while making a concession to states and industry by continuing to allow fracking on private lands to be regulated by states. Yet, it is also unclear how much this compromise will accomplish for the environment. In states such as Pennsylvania, allowing fracking to continue on private land will have little effect on curbing this practice since most fracking there occurs on private land. In fact, oil and gas production utilizing fracking technology on federally owned land constitutes less than 10% of the US total. Thus, even though the Biden’s plan constitutes an important compromise and valuable first step in addressing the problems associated with this controversial gas extraction technology, it is not likely to make a significant difference in terms of a nationwide positive impact. It remains critical for strict regulations and permit requirements to be imposed on ongoing and future fracking activities once the Biden Administration begins its work, regardless of whether they occur on private or public lands. Otherwise, this initial policy compromise is unlikely to accomplish much for the environment and will be little more than political cover.