By Tyce Herrman
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has updated its dietary guidelines, now called MyPlate, to include more fruits, vegetables and a diverse range of proteins beyond meat.
However, the USDA needs to put its money where its mouth is. According to a report compiled by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, less than 1% of agriculture subsidies go to fruits and veggies, and 63% of subsidies go to meat and dairy. Grain subsidies total 20%; however, most of those grains go to feeding livestock, bringing the actual subsidies for meat and dairy much higher than 63%.
How does livestock production contribute to greenhouse gas emissions? The FAO calculates yearly CO2 contributions from the different steps along the livestock production chain this way:
- Fossil fuels used in manufacturing fertilizers for feed crops – 41 million tons of CO2
- On-farm fossil fuel use – 90 million tons of CO2
- Livestock-related land use changes – 2.4 billion tons of CO2
- Livestock-related releases from cultivated soil – 28 million tons of CO2
- Releases from livestock-induced desertification of pastureland – 100 million tons of CO2
- Livestock processing – several tens of million tons of CO2
- Livestock transportation – .8 million tons of CO2
That puts (conservatively) CO2 emissions in the livestock production chain at 2.65 billion tons. With yearly anthropogenic CO2 emissions totaling 29 billion tons, the meat industry contributes about 11%. In considering other factors, the FAO says livestock contributes up to 18% of CO2 emissions (see figure below). And this does not account for the fact that livestock make makes up 35-40% of total methane emissions (20 times more potent than CO2) and 65% of total nitrous oxide emissions (300 times more potent than CO2).
Excessive meat and dairy consumption has a major climate impact. If the USDA followed its own guidelines and directed subsidies to healthier produce, the impact would be beneficial for both our health and the climate.
— Tyce Herrman, Climate Progress Intern