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Regulating Cows

On 17 April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that greenhouse gases do endanger public health and welfare and, thus, carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane emissions will be regulated from now on. As the meat industry organ Meating Place reported, “a collective shiver went down the back of animal agriculture” at that news.

Why? Because animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other industrial sector. Why? Because, in addition to the massive quantities of CO2 associated with the mechanics of hauling animals to slaughter factories, running the machines in those factories, and then hauling chopped up body parts to grocery stores and food processing plants that themselves emit CO2, animals themselves emit methane. Jokes about cow burps and pig farts aside, the methane released by millions of animals (not to mention massive manure lagoons) adds up to a primary cause of climate change.

According to Meating Place reporter Janie Gabbett:

If the EPA definition of air pollutants includes methane, USDA estimated that any agricultural operation of more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle, 200 hogs or 500 acres of corn would be subject to emission fees. The American Farm Bureau Federation calculated it would cost farmers and ranchers $175 per dairy cow, $87.50 per beef cow and $21.87 per hog and affect more than 90 percent of the livestock industry.

Not surprisingly, the industry is already fighting back:

Within hours of the announcement, Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), a former Secretary of Agriculture under the Bush Administration, announced he is co-sponsoring legislation to protect livestock producers from regulations that might result…. The proposed legislation would amend the Clean Air Act to preclude regulation of naturally occurring livestock emissions, including methane and carbon dioxide.

Worryingly, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was on the Daily Show last week, jokingly assuring viewers that the EPA won’t be regulating cows. The comment period on the ruling stating simply that greenhouse gases shall be regulated isn’t even over and already they’ve decided to exempt the industry most responsible for methane from regulation?!?

Obviously, we all — animal advocates, environmentalists, and anybody worried about the impact of climate change on communities — ought to be just as active as the for-profit industries seeking to squirm out of regulation. Here’s how:

First, tell the EPA what you think! (Just click on the “add comment” balloon to exercise your right to participate in this public hearing.) Say that not only must greenhouse gases be regulated but also that regulation must extend to animal agriculture. You may wish to cite the UN-FAO report identifying animal agriculture as a chief cause of global warming and/or other credible sources of information concerning climate change and methane.

Next, contact your Senator and Representative and urge them not to support any legislation that misguidedly exempts factory farms from environmental regulations. Explain that, even though “regulating cows” sounds silly, reducing methane emissions is a necessary step in arresting global warming. Yes, it may make meat more expensive. That’s good. Health experts agree: Americans need to eat less meat and more fresh fruits and vegetables. Americans eat so much meat because its so cheap; meat is so cheap because the current structure of farm subsidies facilitate factory farming. If they want to help farmers and promote public health at the same time, they could support programs that help farmers to transition to sustainable cultivation of more healthful (and lucrative) food for people, as former tobacco farmers have done.

Finally, ask Lisa Jackson to quit playing along with factory farmers by making jokes about regulating cows and, instead, use her considerable personal charm to explain to the public why regulation of animal agriculture is both necessary and in the public interest. She’s such an engaging spokesperson for environmental regulation; it would be wonderful if she would use her communicative abilities to counter rather than collude with meat industry propaganda.

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