Reduce methane or face climate catastrophe, scientists warn

https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/06/reduce-methane-or-face-climate-catastrophe-scientists-warn

Cows stand in a field near the village of Eghezee, Belgium May 20, 2021.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Exclusive: IPCC says gas, produced by farming, shale gas and oil extraction, playing ever-greater role in overheating planetFiona Harvey Environment correspondentFri 6 Aug 2021 02.00 EDT

Cutting carbon dioxide is not enough to solve the climate crisis – the world must act swiftly on another powerful greenhouse gas, methane, to halt the rise in global temperatures, experts have warned.

Leading climate scientists will give their starkest warning yet – that we are rushing to the brink of climate catastrophe – in a landmark report on Monday. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish its sixth assessment report, a comprehensive review of the world’s knowledge of the climate crisis and how human actions are altering the planet. It will show in detail how close the world is to irreversible change.

One of the key action points for policymakers is likely to be a warning that methane is playing an ever greater role in overheating the planet. The carbon-rich gas, produced from animal farming, shale gas wells and poorly managed conventional oil and gas extraction, heats the world far more effectively than carbon dioxide – it has a “warming potential” more than 80 times that of CO2 – but has a shorter life in the atmosphere, persisting for about a decade before it degrades into CO2.Emissions from cows on New Zealand dairy farms reach record levels

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and a lead reviewer for the IPCC, said methane reductions were probably the only way of staving off temperature rises of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which extreme weather will increase and “tipping points” could be reached. “Cutting methane is the biggest opportunity to slow warming between now and 2040,” he said. “We need to face this emergency.”https://c6ee67f87568d73b16477d514712daf5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0

Zaelke said policymakers must heed the IPCC findings on methane before the UN climate talks, Cop26, in Glasgow in November. “We need to see at Cop26 a recognition of this problem, that we need to do something on this.”

Cutting methane could balance the impact of phasing out coal, a key goal at Cop26 because it is the dirtiest fossil fuel and has caused sharp rises in emissions in recent years. However, coal use has a perverse climate effect: the particles of sulphur it produces shield the Earth from some warming by deflecting some sunlight.

That means the immediate effect of cutting coal use could be to increase warming, although protecting the Earth in the medium and long term. Zaelke said cutting methane could offset that. “Defossilisation will not lead to cooling until about 2050. Sulphur falling out of the atmosphere will unmask warming that is already in the system,” he said.

“Climate change is like a marathon – we need to stay in the race. Cutting carbon dioxide will not lead to cooling in the next 10 years, and beyond that our ability to tackle climate change will be so severely compromised that we will not be able to run on. Cutting methane gives us time.”Britain could be taking the lead in tackling the climate crisis. Where’s the ambition? | Keir Starmer

Levels of methane have risen sharply in recent years, caused by shale gas, poorly managed conventional gas, oil drilling and meat production. Last year, methane emissions rose by a record amount, according to the UN environment programme.https://c6ee67f87568d73b16477d514712daf5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0

Satellite data shows that some of the key sources of methane are poorly managed Russian oil and gas wells. Gas can be extracted from conventional drilling using modern techniques that all but eliminate “fugitive” or accidental methane emissions. But while countries such as Qatar take care over methane, Russia, which is a party to the 2015 Paris climate agreement but has made little effort to cut its emissions, has some of the leakiest infrastructure.

“Today more than 40% of EU gas is methane heavy gas from Russia, which is worse than coal for the climate,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate adviser now with the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington. “The EU should begin to measure and then regulate methane emissions from all its natural gas imports to begin a cleanup of global natural gas.”

Reducing methane emissions can save money. The UN’s assessment found that about half of the reductions in methane needed could be achieved with a quick payback.https://c6ee67f87568d73b16477d514712daf5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0

Zaelke urged governments to consider crafting a new deal, alongside the Paris agreement, that would cover methane and require countries to sharply reduce their gas. “I predict we will have to have a global methane agreement,” he said.

Methane is also produced by melting permafrost, and there have been indications that the Siberian heatwave could increase emissions of the gas. However, large-scale emissions from permafrost melting are thought to be still some way off, while emissions of methane from agriculture and industry can be tackled today.

https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/06/reduce-methane-or-face-climate-catastrophe-scientists-warn

Is Beef the New Coal? Climate-Friendly Eating Is on the Rise

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-14/is-beef-the-new-coal-climate-friendly-eating-is-on-the-rise

Studies predict a drop in meat consumption is comingBy Mike DorningMay 14, 2021, 3:19 AM PDTPauseUnmuteCurrent Time 3:19/Duration 24:06Loaded: 0%Progress: 0% CaptionsShareFullscreenLeaders With Lacqua Goes Green: Al GoreUnmuteLeaders With Lacqua Goes Green: Al Gore

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Eleven Madison Park, a top Manhattan restaurant, is going meatless. The Epicurious cooking site stopped posting new beef recipes. The Culinary Institute of America is promoting “plant-forward” menus. Dozens of colleges, including Harvard and Stanford, are shifting toward “climate-friendly” meals.

If this continues — and the Boston Consulting Group and Kearney believe the trend is global and growing — beef could be the new coal, shunned by elite tastemakers over rising temperatures and squeezed by increasingly cheap alternatives.

“Beef is under a whole lot of pressure,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communications. “It was the shift in market forces that was the death knell for coal. And it’s the same thing here. It’s going to be the shift in consumer tastes and preferences, not some regulation.”

Americans do claim to want a shift. Seventy percent say it would be healthier if the country ate less meat and 58% would like to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, according to a 2020 survey by the food market research firm Datassential. Worries about climate pile on top of long-standing health concerns about red meat.More fromCalifornia Faces New Round of Record-Breaking Heat This WeekendCarnival Pledges Its Cruises Will Be Carbon Neutral by 2050Gates-Backed Climate Fund Invests in Sealing Leaky BuildingsExxon Activist Investor Shakes Up $6.5 Trillion ETF Market

Yet, while long-term trends back the change, U.S. consumption of beef actually ticked up slightly during the 2020 pandemic, to 55.8 pounds per person. It has been slowly rising since 2015 after plunging during the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Consumption last year remained 11.4% below 2006 and nearly 40% below peak 1970s levels, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.Sponsored ContentThe Risk She Took: Kunthea’s Journey to Cambodia’s Middle ClassTiffany & Co.

Tastemakers are pushing. Popular culinary personalities including chef Jamie Oliver are promoting plant-centric meals. Bill Gates is urging developed nations to completely give up conventional beef. Many school and corporate cafeterias have dropped all-beef patties for “blended burgers” made of one-third mushrooms.

Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver discussing his book “Ultimate Veg: Easy & Delicious Meals for Everyone.”Photographer: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Meanwhile, a backlash is stirring among rural Republican politicians who scent a new battleground in the partisan culture wars. In broad swaths of the Heartland, cattle and the rows of corn grown for animal feed are central to livelihood and identity. More than a third of U.S. farms and ranches are beef cattle operations, making it the single largest segment of U.S. agriculture. Burgers sizzle from countless backyard barbecues.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts seized on a suggestion by his Democratic counterpart in neighboring Colorado that the state’s residents cut red meat for one day to counter with a “Meat on the Menu” Day. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds outdid him, declaring all of April “Meat on the Menu Month.” Fox News later spent days promoting phony accusations the Biden administration had launched a “War on Beef.”

It hasn’t, but there is no escaping the fact that beef is a climate villain. Cows’ ruminant digestive system ferments grass and other feed in multiple stomach compartments, burping methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Cattle’s relatively long lifespan compared to other meat sources adds to their climate impact.

texas cattle methan
A dust cloud over a cattle company’s feed yard near Bovina, Texas.Photographer: George Steinmetz/The New York Times/Redux

Globally, 14.5% of human-driven greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production, with cattle responsible for two-thirds, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Per gram of protein, beef production has more than 6 times the climate impact of pork, more than 8 times that of poultry and 113 times that of peas, according to a 2018 analysis of global production in the journal Science. U.S. livestock producers generally have lower emissions than worldwide averages because of production efficiencies.

High-Protein Emissions

Beef production is responsible for more emissions than other protein sources.https://www.bloomberg.com/toaster/v2/charts/f4db1aa7c59b4aaba61e6baf747c7401.html?brand=green&webTheme=bbgreen&web=true&hideTitles=true

Source: Poore and Nemecek, Science, 2018; OurWorldinData.org

Cattle producers have sought to blunt the appeal of competing faux meat products with state laws banning them from using common meat terms and addressed environmental criticism by promoting the role of ranchers as stewards of the land.

“That Wild West is alive and well because cattle producers protect that space and make it resilient,” said Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of natural resources for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

For now, an emerging global middle class in China and elsewhere is bolstering global demand for meat and feed-grains used for livestock, improving export opportunities for American farmers and ranchers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said Biden administration climate initiatives won’t target meat consumption.

Kim Reynolds
Kim ReynoldsPhotographer: Olivia Sun/The Des Moines Register/AP Photo

Investors are rushing into plant-based and cultivated faux meat startups. A Boston Consulting Group report in March heralded the beginning of a “protein transformation” and forecast meat alternatives would make up 11-22% of the global protein market by 2035. A Kearney study projects global meat sales will begin to drop by 2025 and decline 33% by 2040 as alternatives take away market share.Sponsored ContentThe Ring That Reminds Her of Surviving CancerTiffany & Co.

Much as falling costs for natural gas, wind and solar power were drivers in shutting down coal plants reviled by environmentalists, pocketbook decisions will be crucial, said Carsten Gerhardt, a Kearney partner who consults for agribusiness and co-authored the study. Trends suggest alternatives are well on their way to “parity” in taste and texture and will soon beat conventional meat on price, he said.What on Earth?The Bloomberg Green newsletter is your guide to the latest in climate news, zero-emission tech and green finance.EmailSign UpBy submitting my information, I agree to the Privacy Policy and Terms of Service and to receive offers and promotions from Bloomberg.

Plant-based alternatives already have hit the mass market, with Burger King’s Impossible Whopper. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks serve plant-based sausage patties. Even Tyson Foods Inc, the U.S.’s largest meat processor, joined in this month with its own line of 100% vegan meat products.

Impossible Foods Joins Rival Beyond Meat In Supermarkets
Impossible plant based meat at a grocery store in Los Angeles.Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Cultivated meat is also advancing. In December, Singapore became the first country to approve commercial sale of such animal cells.

More than half of roughly 350 school districts in the U.S. supplied by food service giant Sodexo SA have switched from all-beef to blended beef-mushroom burgers and many corporate and health-care customers also use the blend for tacos and lasagna, said Lisa Feldman, director of recipe management. Corporate customers are adopting “choice architecture” to steer employees toward meals with less meat.

A consortium of 41 colleges including Harvard, Stanford and Kansas State University joined in a “Menus of Change” collaborative to shift students to healthier, more climate-friendly diets. Harvard dining halls showcase vegetable and grain-heavy “bistro bowls.” The University of North Texas has a “Mean Greens” vegan dining hall. In 2019, the 19 member institutions that reported data lowered meat purchases 9.4% from the year earlier, even as overall food purchases rose.

Sophie Egan, co-director of the university collaborative, said the initiative consciously targets young people to shape food preferences at a time of life when most are more adventurous and still forming identities and tastes for a lifetime. Students are often especially open to dishes inspired by global cuisines that use less meat.

“We know trends start with the youngest generations,” Egan said. “They’re coming in to the dining hall three times a day, sometimes for years. That’s sculpting their food identities for many years to come.”

EU’s farm animals ‘produce more emissions than cars and vans combined’

Greenpeace says bloc must get a grip on reducing greenhouse gases from livestock or risk missing Paris agreement targets

A German Angus cattle eats hay
 Deforestation to produce feed is a major driver of carbon dioxide emissions attributable to cattle. Photograph: Jens Büttner/dpa

Cows, pigs and other farm livestock in Europe are producing more greenhouse gases every year than all of the bloc’s cars and vans put together, when the impact of their feed is taken into account, according to a new analysis by Greenpeace.

The increase in meat and dairy production in Europe over the past decade has made farming a much greater source of emissions, but while governments have targeted renewable energy and transport in their climate policies, initiatives to reduce the impact of food and farming on the climate have lagged behind.

In 2018, the latest year for which accurate data is available from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock on EU farms (including the UK) were responsible for the equivalent of about 502m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, mostly through the methane they release. That compares with 656m of carbon dioxide from Europe’s cars and vans in the same year.

But when the indirect greenhouse gas emissions are calculated, using established methods to estimate the deforestation and land use changes associated with growing animal feed, then the total annual emissions are equivalent to 704m tonnes of carbon dioxide. The calculations are set out in a new Greenpeace report entitled Farming for Failure, published on Tuesday.

The EU’s meat and dairy production rose by 9.5% between 2007 and 2018, which according to Greenpeace translated into an increase in annual emissions of 6%, or about 39m tonnes. That would be the equivalent of putting 8.4m new cars on the road.

If such rises continue, the EU has little chance of meeting its obligations to reduce greenhouse gases under the Paris agreement. Last week, the EU strengthened its targets on cutting emissions, announcing a target of 55% cuts by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, as part of the European green deal, and ahead of key UN climate talks next year.

Marco Contiero, agriculture policy director for Greenpeace, said policymakers must get a grip on livestock emissions, or face missing carbon reduction targets. “European leaders have danced around the climate impact of animal farming for too long,” he said. “Science is clear, the numbers as well: we can’t avoid the worst of climate breakdown if politicians keep defending the industrial production of meat and dairy. Farm animals won’t stop farting and burping – the only way to cut emissions at the levels needed is to cut their numbers.”

Halving intensive animal farming would cut about 250m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, about the same as the total emissions from the 11 lowest-emitting countries in Europe.

A spokesperson for the UK’s National Farmers’ Union said farmers were taking action, with a target of being carbon neutral by 2040. Farming in the UK is directly responsible for 10% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, according to the NFU, without taking into account indirect emissions related to feed.

“If we are to achieve [the carbon neutrality goal], we must reduce all our greenhouse gas emissions,” said the spokesperson. “A focus on improving productivity is key here, alongside maintaining and improving our storage of carbon in grassland and producing more renewable energy.”

Greenpeace is calling for an end to public subsidies for industrial-scale animal farming under the EU’s common agricultural policy, as part of the bloc’s plans for a green deal. Such a policy is unlikely to win much favour from the powerful farming lobbies in most large European countries, but policymakers will be under pressure to show how they can meet the EU’s climate targets without large-scale reforms to farming.

Crew and cattle loss renew concern about livestock shipping

A Filipino crew member believed to be onboard Gulf Livestock 1 is rescued by a Japan Coast Guard boat. Picture: JAPAN COAST GUARD/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

A Filipino crew member believed to be onboard Gulf Livestock 1 is rescued by a Japan Coast Guard boat. Picture: JAPAN COAST GUARD/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

Sydney/Tokyo — A cargo ship with 43 crew and 5,800 cattle on board that overturned during stormy weather in the East China Sea has renewed concern about animal welfare issues in the live export trade in Australia and New Zealand.

The Gulf Livestock 1 capsized after engine trouble and as a powerful storm swept through the region, according to seafarer Sareno Edvardo, who was rescued on Wednesday. A second person pulled from the water on Friday was pronounced dead, according to the coast guard. The vessel was transporting cattle from New Zealand to China when it entered the path of Typhoon Maysak.

On Thursday, New Zealand suspended all live exports in the wake of the incident, local media reported. The government is already reviewing the industry and considering several options for new regulations including a potential total ban on specific types of exports. Any shipments of animals for slaughter already require the approval of the director-general of the Mmistry for primary industries.

“Our thoughts are with the families who are missing their loved ones, but we have to recognise the risk to animals that the live export trade brings,” she added in a separate statement.

Australasian Global Exports, the Melbourne-based trading company that chartered the Panamanian ship, said in a statement that its primary concern is for the safety and well-being of the ship’s crew. It declined to comment further.

Rigorous approvals processes are in place for all live exports, from both an animal welfare and maritime perspective, Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council CEO Mark Harvey-Sutton said by phone on Friday. However, “now is not the time” for a debate on animal welfare in the sector. “The families are our priority at the moment.”

New Zealand’s livestock exports, including cattle, deer, goats and sheep, were worth about NZ$54m ($36m) in the year to end-June 2019, according to a government report. It exported about 23,500 cattle during the year, the bulk of which were shipped to China.

Australia’s live export sector is far bigger and is worth about A$800m ($580m) a year, according to the government. It shipped and air freighted almost 2.3-million live animals in the 2018/2019 financial year, including about 1-million sheep and 960,000 cattle, to destinations throughout Asia and the Middle East.

“The incident underscores the risks sometimes involved in conducting our agricultural trade both domestically and internationally,” Australia’s minister for agriculture, David Littleproud, said in an e-mailed statement. “These risks extend far beyond the farm gate.”

2nd Crew Member Found Alive From Cattle-Carrying Ship That Sank Off Japan

An unoccupied lifeboat drifts near Kodakarajima island. Japanese authorities are racing to find dozens of missing sailors from a cargo ship that sank in a typhoon.

10th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters/AFP via Getty Images

A second crew member has been found alive from a ship carrying livestock that capsized and sank during a typhoon off the southern coast of Japan. But another storm expected to hit the area over the weekend is likely to hamper the search for 40 other people still missing.

The Gulf Livestock 1, a 450-foot ship with a cargo of some 5,800 cows en route from New Zealand to China, issued a distress call early Wednesday Japan time near the island of Amami Oshima, north of Okinawa. The ship’s “mayday” was sent from an area affected by Typhoon Maysak, a powerful Category 4 storm.

Japan’s coast guard said Friday that it had rescued Jay-nel Rosals, a 30-year-old Filipino deckhand. Another crew member, chief officer Edvardo Sareno, who was initially identified as Sareno Edvarodo, was located on Wednesday.

Edvardo Sareno, a 45-year-old chief officer from the Philippines of the capsized ship The Gulf Livestock 1, is seen being rescued by Japan’s coast guard on Wednesday. So far, he is one of two survivors from the vessel’s crew of 43.

Japan Coast Guard, 10th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters

Rosals was wearing a life jacket and floating in a raft, the coast guard said without elaborating on his condition.

The two found alive are among the 39 crew listed as being from the Philippines. Two others are from New Zealand and two from Australia.

Earlier, a third crew member, who was not identified, was recovered from the water unconscious and facedown, a spokesman for the coast guard said, according to The Associated Press. The man was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Searchers also said they had found a fuel slick on the sea surface and dozens of floating animal carcasses.

After Sareno’s rescue on Wednesday, he told rescuers that the Gulf Livestock 1 was hit broadside by a large wave, capsized and sank. He managed to jump overboard wearing a life jacket but said he did not see any others escape from the sinking ship.

He reportedly asked rescuers: “I’m the only one?”

“I’m so sorry … [I’m] so lucky,” Sareno said, according to the AP.

The Panamanian-flagged vessel is owned and operated by the United Arab Emirates-based Gulf Navigation, which issued a statement about the disaster that was carried by media on Friday.

“Our hearts go out to those onboard and their families at this time,” a Gulf Navigation spokesman said. “We also express deep regret for the sad loss of the livestock onboard. We are monitoring the situation closely and working closely with those involved in rescue efforts. We pray that there are other survivors.”

Typhoon Haishen, bearing down on the same general area affected by Typhoon Maysak earlier this week, was likely to complicate the search for any remaining survivors. Japan’s Meteorological Agency forecasts that by Sunday, Haishen will pass near Okinawa, just south of where the Gulf Livestock 1 went down. The JMA said the storm has the potential to be even more dangerous than Maysak.

Can lemongrass and a catchy new song fix Burger King’s emissions problem?

HOLY COW

On Tuesday, Burger King announced that it was treating some of its cows to a new menu with a Thai twist, adding lemongrass to their feed.

It sounds like a whopper, but it’s true. The fast-food giant is in the middle of a long-term scientific experiment — how much can it reduce the amount of methane cows burp into the atmosphere by adding lemongrass to their feed?

Burger King’s restaurants will be offering the fruits of its initial labor, new “reduced methane emissions beef,” to customers in Austin, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, and Portland, for a limited time this month. The news exploded onto the internet on Tuesday with a splashy music video starring the Walmart yodeling kid and directed by Michel Gondry.

The video explains how cow emissions contribute to climate change in a catchy sing-along, and with accurate science to boot. Well, for the most part — for the sake of a rhyme, the lyrics talk about reducing cows’ farts, but it’s actually their burps that have the biggest impact. (And the buoyant tone when the kids sing, “That methane that they pass is a greenhouse gas that’ll trap the sun’s heat n’ change our climate too!” while wearing gas masks is a little disconcerting.)

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock are responsible for 14.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and the methane emitted when cows burp constitutes 39 percent of that. Methane doesn’t stick around in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, but while it’s up there, it traps 86 times as much heat as CO2 — and largely due to agriculture and fossil fuel production, methane emissions have hit an all-time high.

Burger King has never disclosed its climate impact, nor has it released a plan to cut its carbon footprint. But in the ad campaign, the company is at least admitting, “Since we are part of the problem, we are working to be part of the solution.” However, BK may have jumped the gun with the release of the low-methane burger. In fine print at the end of the video, the company says that research conducted at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico (UNAM) and the University of California, Davis, found that when fed to cows during the last three to four months of their lives, the lemongrass diet reduced their methane emissions by an average of 33 percent per day during that time.

But that number may be a bit of an exaggeration. One of the scientists involved in the research noted on Twitter that only one of the two studies found a 33 percent reduction in emissions:

Kebreab, a professor of animal science at Davis, also tweeted that the study conducted by UNAM is currently in peer review, and the UC Davis study is still in the process of being written.

Although Restaurant Brands International, the company that owns Burger King, claims that it “discovered” that feeding lemongrass to cows reduces their emissions, other studies found this connection years ago. And it’s not just lemongrass — seaweed and garlic have also been shown to be promising solutions to curbing cows’ gassy reputations. On the plus side, Burger King is publishing its lemongrass research and feed formula online, inviting other companies to take advantage of it.

The company admits it will take time to make its new “cow menu” a “mainstream reality” beyond the reduced-methane burger pilot program. Burger King’s next steps are to work with suppliers to “validate the reduction in methane emissions and to understand the commercial and long-term livability of this new sustainable diet.”

This isn’t the first time BK has tried to clean up its environmental reputation. Meatless Impossible Whoppers debuted on their menus last year, the company is making efforts to reduce plastic waste generated by its Jr. Meal toys, and it’s working with CDP, an international nonprofit that runs a public environmental disclosure database, to eliminate deforestation in its supply chain.

But without any public accounting of Burger King’s carbon footprint, there’s really no way to gauge whether its low-methane burger could move the needle, or if it’s just a load of cow dung

Tyson Foods Linked to Largest Toxic Dead Zone in U.S. History

Less oxygen dissolved in the water is often referred to as a “dead zone” (in red above) because most marine life either dies, or, if they are mobile such as fish, leave the area. Habitats that would normally be teeming with life become, essentially, biological deserts. NOAA

By Shana Gallagher

What comes to mind when you think of Tyson Foods? A chicken nugget? A big red logo?

How about the largest toxic dead zone in U.S. history? It turns out the meat industry—and corporate giants like Tyson Foods—are directly linked to this environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, and many others.

Industrial-scale agriculture to support America’s livestock is the number one source of water pollution in the country. But while industrial agriculture to feed animals raised for meat is currently resource-intensive and ecologically destructive, it doesn’t have to be. Solutions exist which, if adopted, would allow the meat industry and agricultural corporations that sustain it to reduce their impact on water and the planet.

That’s why Mighty Earth has launched the Clean It Up, Tyson campaign in order to hold this industry accountable to our communities and the environment. Corporations can and should respect the health and well-being of their customers, and the landscapes that allow them to profit. Considering America’s current political climate, and the increasing severity of environmental problems across the globe, collective action and corporate-targeted campaigns like this one have never been more urgent.

Mighty EarthIn a country with five times as many livestock animals as humans, it takes a lot of land to grow feed for the meat that ends up on consumers’ plates. More than a third of America’s agricultural land is dedicated towards the production of corn and soy, but humans consume less than 10 percent of this, according to Mighty Earth’s campaign report. The vast majority is consumed by livestock.

What many people don’t realize is that this livestock feed production is controlled by a very small number of large and powerful corporations, making huge upstream profits, but creating massive downstream pollution. These companies—ADM, Bunge, Cargill (often referred to as the ABCs)—don’t have much of a public reputation, as they don’t sell directly to individual consumers. Under our current regulatory system, they’re also not responsible for their run-off or excess fertilizer use, both of which are classified as “non-point source” pollution. In other words, soil erosion and run-off from enormous swaths of America’s crop fields are washing into the waterways, and taxpayers shoulder the burden. These two factors mean that industrial agriculture companies operate with impunity while polluting the land, rivers and oceans.

Mighty EarthA recent report by Environmental Working Group found that more than 200 million Americans—more than half of the people in our country—are exposed to contaminated drinking water due to fertilizer pollution. The estimated clean water costs to taxpayers are more than $2 billion per year. The nitrate and phosphorous in fertilizer that leaches into our drinking water are associated with various types of cancers, birth defects and other health problems. This burden disproportionately falls on rural communities, whose water treatment systems were not built to deal with the levels of chemicals they’re now facing.

“The EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) ordered Pretty Prairie, Kansas, to build a new water treatment plant last year to lower nitrate levels that could cost $2.4 million—well over $3,000 for every person in town,” EWG reported. “Eighty-five percent or more of the communities with elevated levels of nitrate have no treatment systems in place to remove the contaminant.”

Another alarming characteristic of industrial agriculture is that because it’s so intensive, fields are quickly exhausted, and the industry must continuously expand to new areas. For this reason, the American prairie and grassland ecosystems are being altered faster than the Amazon rainforest.

A recent University of Wisconsin study estimated that this loss of natural grassland “could have emitted as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as 34 coal-fired power plants operating for one year—the equivalent of 28 million more cars on the road,” noted Mighty Earth. These unique landscapes are among the most threatened in the world, and are irreversibly damaged after conversion into crop fields, often to grow corn and soy. At a time in our country when public lands are being attacked from many angles, industrial-scale agriculture to support the meat industry is the biggest challenge these ecosystems face.

Mighty EarthLuckily, there are a number of simple, cheap and effective ways in which the meat industry could adopt sustainability measures into supply chains to and protect clean water. For example, currently less than 30 percent of fertilizer applied to massive industrial-scale crop fields is actually absorbed by the plants. Instead, most of this washes off as fertilizer pollution and contaminates waterways.

This is what has caused the largest dead zone in U.S. history in the Gulf of Mexico. It is currently more than 8,000 square miles, where no marine life can survive due to toxic fertilizer pollution. By using more precise application methods, farmers could save money on fertilizer, and less of it would contaminate the water. Additionally, techniques like using cover crops, diversifying crops beyond corn and soy, and limiting tillage are proven ways to reduce soil erosion.

P177 / FlickrA few months ago, Mighty Earth conducted a comprehensive study into which areas of America are experiencing the worst water contamination from fertilizer pollution (Figure 1), and the most dramatic land conversion into livestock feed crop fields (Figure 2). This groundbreaking research also identified the agricultural and meat industry corporations most present in these areas. The clear culprit driving these destructive agricultural impacts was identified: Tyson Foods.

The country’s largest meat company, the second largest globally and the pioneer of the industrial meat system, Tyson Foods produces one in every five pounds of meat: more than 20 percent of all chicken, beef and pork. They are therefore uniquely placed to drive solutions, incentivize their suppliers to farm more responsibly, and reduce the catastrophic effects that industrial-scale agriculture has on the environment and public health.

Mighty Earth

Mighty Earth“Recent commitments from a growing number of food companies like Kellogg’s, General Mills, Walmart, PepsiCo, and even Tyson’s competitor, Smithfield, are showing the way forward,” reported Mighty Earth. “These companies have committed to improve fertilizer and soil-health practices in their U.S. crop supply chains and have launched programs and practices that Tyson and other meat producers can adopt to drive improvements in their supply chains.”

Tyson Foods has the power to make these changes too, and therefore to change the entire meat industry for the better—and we have the power to ask them to do it.

Tyson’s prior commitments to sustainability are admirable, but don’t go far enough. With the demand for meat rising, and the threats to our environment increasing, the stakes could not be higher.

This issue affects all of us. As far back as 2013, the majority of American waterways were contaminated by fertilizer pollution, according to the EPA. That’s why Mighty Earth is organizing in communities across the country to ask Tyson to protect our water and our environment. By signing the petition or making a call to Tyson’s corporate headquarters (you can use our calling script for pointers), you can add your voice to the rising chorus calling for cleaner meat. Tyson Foods must lead the way to a more sustainable food system and protect the one planet we have.

Shana Gallagher is one of seven organizers around the U.S. launching Mighty Earth’s #CleanItUpTyson campaign.

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

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Coronavirus to slow US meat production for months, CEO says

Head of the biggest US beef producer says JBS is revamping operations and has hired 1,000 workers to do extra cleaning

The coronavirus will likely hamper U.S. meat production for months, as new safety measures and reduced staffing slow plant operations, said the head of the biggest U.S. beef producer.

JBS USA Holdings Inc., which slaughters 23% of the country’s cattle and produces nearly one-fifth of its pork, is revamping plant operations to space workers farther apart while about 10% of its workforce has been sent home because of their higher risk from Covid-19, Chief Executive Andre Nogueira said.

A shopper pushes his cart past a display of packaged meat in a grocery store in southeast Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“We will not be able to go to full capacity anytime soon as we fight this virus because of all the changes we have implemented,” Mr. Nogueira said in an interview.

JBS, a unit of Brazilian meat conglomerate JBS SA, last month closed several of its beef and pork plants around the country after coronavirus infections spread among plant workers, prompting calls from union and local health officials to shut down facilities. Other meat companies, including Tyson Foods Inc., Smithfield Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc., also temporarily closed plants.

President Trump in late April issued an executive order aimed at speeding meat plants’ reopening, and easing the coronavirus’s disruption to the U.S. food system. With meatpacking plants closed and slowed, U.S. supermarkets are dealing with shortages and surging meat costs. Hog farmers, unable to send livestock to processing plants, have turned to euthanizing them by the thousands. R-Calf USA, a cattle rancher group, this week estimated that around 500,000 cattle were backed up on feedlots and unable to be slaughtered.

“Will we have all the items in the grocery store? Probably not for the next several weeks, but at this point I am not concerned about a shortage of protein,” Mr. Nogueira said. He said JBS is selling more meat domestically rather than exporting it.

JBS has reopened plants that it closed in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin. So far, those are operating at 70% to 95% of their normal capacity, a company spokesman said.

Hundreds of JBS plant employees have stayed home in recent weeks, either because they were sick or out of concern for their health, according to company and union officials. Mr. Nogueira said safety measures the company is putting into its plants, such as air-purification systems equipped with ultraviolet lights, are helping employees feel better about coming in to work as plants reopen.

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Around 6,000 JBS employees — those over the age of 60 or who have health conditions that put them at greater risk from the coronavirus — have been directed to stay home and are being paid, Mr. Nogueira said.

JBS has hired 1,000 new workers in response to the coronavirus in recent weeks, he said. Roughly half of those are doing extra cleaning in break rooms, hallways, bathrooms and other high-traffic areas, while the other half are teaching workers how to use protective gear and are monitoring social distancing.

In Greeley, Colo., JBS runs one of its biggest beef plants near the company’s U.S. corporate headquarters. The company closed the plant for about two weeks as Covid-19 infections spread among employees, reopening April 24. Since then, infections among plant employees have climbed to 319 this week from 245, according to state health department data. JBS employs more than 3,000 people at the plant. A spokeswoman for the local United Food and Commercial Workers International Union representing JBS’s Greeley plant employees said enforceable laws to protect workers are needed, along with federal work safety inspections.

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A JBS spokesman attributed most of the new cases to state-sponsored tests while the plant was closed. The company is offering free testing to Greeley plant employees and is screening them for symptoms before their shifts, he said.

JBS’s beef-processing plant in Souderton, Pa., was the first major U.S. meatpacking facility to close in early April following a Covid-19 outbreak among workers. After reopening the week of April 20, no new cases have been confirmed among JBS employees, according to county health and union officials.

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Wendell Young, president of the local UFCW chapter that represents JBS employees, said closing the facility stopped the virus’s spread there and gave time to space out workers and put up barriers between their stations.

JBS’s Mr. Nogueira said it wasn’t clear whether shutting down the company’s plants helped slow the coronavirus’s spread in communities like Souderton and Greeley, because cases continued to increase even when the plants were shut down. He said closing the plants nevertheless was the right decision and that the company could still close more facilities if needed.

Why dairy farmers across America are dumping their milk

 

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A few weeks ago, Jim and Katie DiGangi started dumping up to 20,000 gallons of milk a day.

The couple runs Darlington Ridge Farms in Wisconsin. They’ve never had to dump milk before, and the practice has been “completely devastating,” said Katie. “It’s very challenging for our family.”
Dumping milk is pretty much what it sounds like: Disposing of milk before it is delivered to processors and turned into dairy products. Recently, farmers like the DiGangis have had to resort to milk dumping because of a precipitous drop in demand from schools, restaurants and other food service providers, which have been mandated to close their doors to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The sudden shift in demand means that dairy farms across the country have an excess of milk. Between 2.7 million and 3.7 million gallons of US milk could be dumped per day as a result of the crisis, the Dairy Farmers of America, a major dairy co-operative, estimated. But farmers can’t just stop milking their cows.
“Dairy is a daily crop,” said Alan Bjerga, senior vice president of communications for the National Milk Producers Federation. “When a young milk cow gets put into production, you don’t turn the production on and off. And so it’s very difficult to be quickly responsive to a crisis.”
Milk dumping isn’t just devastating for the farmers. For Americans who can’t afford food or are unable to buy enough milk because grocery stores are out or capping purchases, the images are painful.
A dairy farmer in Pennsylvania watches 5,500 gallons of milk swirl down the drain.

Pouring out milk is another example of how major disruptions in the supply chain, caused by the pandemic and efforts to contain it, are preventing food from getting to where it needs to go.
The pandemic has delivered a major blow to several sectors, from the airline industry to retail. For the milk industry, the setback is particularly painful.
Both dairy farmers and milk processors were struggling even before the pandemic hit. Such a major disruption has only made things harder. And the rigid supply chain means neither farmers nor processors can switch gears quickly enough to avoid waste.
Nobody wants to dump milk. But doing that now -— along with other efforts -— could help farms pull through later on, and could help make sure that Americans have enough milk, cheese, butter and ice cream in the future.

Another bad year

Before the pandemic hit, things were finally looking up for milk farmers.
By the latter half of last year, prices were starting to trend higher after about four years of low milk prices. It’s not unusual for milk prices to ebb and flow, but the stretch between 2015 and 2019 was a particularly difficult one, exacerbated by retaliatory tariffs from China and Mexico in 2018.
“We had experienced the price milk crisis as an industry,” said Jim DiGangi. “There was a shining light at 2020. It was going to be our rebound year.”
Despite an uptick in prices, those four years took a toll on the milk industry. By the time the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States, many dairy farmers were already in a precarious financial position.
“People have burned up a lot of their equity to stay in business,” said Dave Kyle, owner of Kylecrest Holsteins and Jerseys in Wisconsin and a director of his dairy cooperative, Foremost Farms USA.

Why farmers keep milking cows

When Kyle, who saw demand starting to fall off a cliff, asked co-op members to cut back production in mid-March, many balked. “They’re like, ‘We can’t. We just can’t survive if we cut back,'” he said.
In addition to financial fears, there are those practical reasons to keep milking.
Farmers could take steps to reduce the amount of milk each cow produces or cull their herds. But that would mean less milk overall, which could lead to dairy shortages down the road. Plus, with demand so volatile at the early stages of the crisis, it’s been difficult for dairy producers to get a sense of what it will look like in the future.
Adjusting the size of dairy herds now could lead to shortages in the future.

“That phenomena of keeping cows in the herd so that they are here when we need them in a few months, but not being able to use their milk — that’s what is manifested as milk dumping,” said Marin Bozic, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s applied economics department. “It’s a sad picture, but it’s optimal as long as this crisis doesn’t stay with us for too long.”
Milk dumping is the last resort for dairy farms, said Dennis Rodenbaugh, president of council operations for Dairy Farmers of America. But, “it can be the least-cost option, at least in the short term,” he explained. If there is no end market for milk, turning it into cheese or butter and then disposing of it would be a more expensive proposition for the processors, which are sometimes also owned by dairy farms or co-operatives.

Processing bottlenecks

Dairy farmers aren’t the only only ones dealing with huge amounts of uncertainty. Processors are too.
Not all dairy processing plants do the same thing. Some pasteurize fluid milk, while others take raw milk and turn it into cheese, butter or ice cream. And some serve food service providers, like school cafeterias or restaurants, while others sell to big consumer goods companies or retailers.
It’s possible for processors to switch gears, but it takes time.
For Borden, one of the country’s largest milk processors, the drastic shift in demand was a major disruption.
“About a third of our total production goes to either schools or restaurants,” said CEO Tony Sarsam.
“I have dedicated lines to run school milk,” he said. “And we have dedicated routes that deliver to schools.” In mid-March, “we almost instantaneously lost the vast majority of both of those,” he said.
Retail demand has gone up as consumers stock up on staples and cook more of their meals at home. “It’s been quite a juggling act” to readjust, said Sarsam. Borden has transitioned many of its production lines to serve grocery stores. But the shift hasn’t been enough to offset Borden’s losses. Milk gallon production has fallen by about 25%, he said. And even though the company is giving milk away to the needy, it still isn’t able to make up that new production gap.
The company has donated over 700,000 servings of milk to food banks, homeless shelters and other charities, Sarsam said. But those places have their own capacity constraints and can’t take more than they can refrigerate and distribute.
With demand down by that much, it doesn’t make sense for Borden to take as much milk from farmers as it used to.
Like the dairy farmers themselves, milk processors were also struggling prior to the pandemic. Borden filed for bankruptcy in January, explaining at the time that it could not afford its debt load and pension obligations. Capacity limitations and the difficult financial situations mean that processors like Borden can only accept so much milk.

The way forward

Dairy groups are scrambling to figure out ways to prevent more milk from going to waste without further harming the industry.
The National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association have estimated that supply exceeds demand by at least 10% and have asked the USDA to provide financial incentives to dairy farmers to reduce their supply by that much for about six months. They’ve also asked the USDA to compensate dairy farmers for the discarded milk for about three months.
The groups are asking the government to purchase dairy products and donate them to food banks, a way to both feed people in need and prevent demand from plummeting further.
Those steps, among others, could help stabilize the dairy sector and reduce dumping.
Rodenbaugh, from the Dairy Farmers of America, said that the co-op is also working with food brands to try to increase their use of dairy products. One way to do that: Cheesier pizzas.
Dairy farmers are hopeful that with help, they'll be able to get back on track.

“Right now we have consumers that are stuck at home,” he said. “They’re feeling life’s a bit bland. How can we add flavor?”
If pizza makers add more cheese to their pizzas, they could help provide a new home for excess milk.
In addition to pizzerias, “we’re also asking all food suppliers to take a look at how they can add an ounce. Add an ounce of cheese to every burger, every taco, every sandwich. It will make a tremendous difference in the utilization of the milk,” he said.
Travis Fogler, CFO and dairy operations manager of Stonyvale Farm, is hoping that more time at home might help consumers return to habits they’ve abandoned, or hold on to new ones, like baking.
“I think there is a light on the other side,” he said. “We’re hoping as an industry that as people have been home, spending more time with their family, eating cereal for breakfast again because they have time to and drinking fluid milk, that on the other side of this maybe that will last and we’ll see an increase in demand,” he said. “As we readjust to whatever this new normal is, we’re hoping that dairy can be a plus and can become part of people’s lives again.”

To reduce cows’ methane emissions, UVM researchers look to seaweed

To reduce cows’ methane emissions, UVM researchers look to seaweed

A cow in a field in Lowell on Friday, June 7, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — Researchers at the University of Vermont are looking to the ocean to try to reduce the impact that cows have on climate change.

With the help of a mechanism that mimics bovine digestion, Dr. Sabrina Greenwood, a professor with UVM’s department of animal and veterinary sciences, is teaming up with colleagues in coastal Maine to figure out if seaweed can reduce the methane emissions of cows.

The idea has been gaining traction in recent years. A 2018 study at the University of California, Davis, found that a dozen cows fed a particular type of seaweed recorded methane output reductions of 24% to 58%.

Methane, a greenhouse gas, is 34 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, a United Nations climate report says. Agriculture systems account for about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenwood, a ruminant nutritionist, became involved with the research after the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine, received a $3 million grant in October to fund the work. The project’s leader at Bigelow, Nichole Price, emailed a colleague of Greenwood’s in hopes of connecting with a ruminant nutritionist in Vermont, Greenwood said.

“She recognized the importance of dairy in Vermont and [her email] got forwarded to me and I said ‘Yeah, let’s talk,’” Greenwood said.

Greenwood’s research involves the use of six 6-liter continuous culture fermenters, which Greenwood described as a “suped up beaker.” The fermenters, with some slight alterations made to them, mimic the rumen of a cow, or the chamber of a cow’s stomach that houses most of the digestive microbes and bacteria.

Greenwood and the half dozen students who work with her introduce various components to the beaker to create the desired effect. This includes introducing carbon dioxide gas to remove any oxygen, wrapping the beakers in a heat blanket to keep it at the same temperature as the inside of a cow, reducing light pollution and creating fake saliva.

The last ingredient is rumen fluid. Greenwood said some cows at UVM’s farm have a fistula in their side. The surgically implanted device creates an opening on the side of the cow, so Greenwood and her students can reach inside the cow’s rumen and collect the fluid needed.

“When you’re testing out new feed, it’s often very nice to test them on these kinds of systems before you move them to an animal,” Greenwood said.

One particular microbe in the rumen, methanogens, produce the most methane in cows, Greenwood said.

It’s a common misconception that cows flatulate all their methane, she said. In fact, about 85% of methane released by cows actually comes from their belching, because the methanogens are located in the rumen, the first chamber of the stomach.

Seaweeds have compounds that researchers believe can interfere with the way that cows produce methane, she said.

Price’s team at Bigelow is working to identify which types of seaweed could have the greatest effect on reducing cows’ methane output while also working to grow them sustainably as part of Maine’s large aquaculture industry.

Greenwood said Bigelow is working with thousands of different types of seaweed to understand better how they break down, what their potential methane output could be and the presence of any metals which may have been picked up in the ocean.

Once Bigelow researchers find a few promising seaweeds, they will partner with regional aquaculturalists to send samples to Greenwood and her team. Greenwood will then determine a potential diet ratio, usually 1% to 2% of body weight, and introduce the different types of seaweed and measure the methane output. She plans to repeat this process many times over until she gets a consistent result.

The research aims to figure out how much and what types of seaweed in cow feed would have the desired effect on methane output, without compromising the nutritional needs of cows.

When Greenwood finishes her research, which she hopes will be complete by the end of the summer, she will send the results back to Bigelow, where there is a microbiologist on staff. The microbiologist will then analyse how the microbes in the artificial rumen interacted with the seaweed.

Once the specific types of seaweed are selected for testing in real cows, Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment in Freeport, Maine, and the Organic Dairy Research Farm at the University of New Hampshire will begin feeding it to their herds.

“They’re going to feed it to herds and they’re going to do that likely in comparison with kelp meals that are already out there to see if these are better candidates…from a methane perspective,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood said these tests are crucial to understanding how a seaweed diet affects cows over time. The fermenters Greenwood has in her lab mimic only the rumen, and she said researchers need to determine if milk or reproductive systems could be impacted by the changing diet. Cows at Wolfe’s Neck and UNH are expected to start on a seaweed diet either later this year, or in 2021.

None of the cows at UVM will be fed seaweed as part of the study. Their primary contribution to the research is their rumen fluid for Greenwood’s culture fermenters.

Greenwood said she wants to strike a balance between feeding cows seaweed and the environmental impact involved with getting seaweed to farms. Seaweed would need to be shipped to landlocked states which, over a long enough distance, could counteract the net impact of methane reduction on the farm.

Greenwood said the dairy industry “sometimes get the short end of the stick” in climate change discussions. She said over the past decade, dairy farmers have been working much harder to reduce waste and runoff on their farms.

“This isn’t a silver bullet,” she said. “If the dairy industry were to miraculously find some sort of product, like seaweed, that could completely knock out methane emissions, it doesn’t solve the world’s climate problem. There’s a lot more beyond that.”