Will Biden’s climate friendly term in office see the end of exploitative factory farming? If so, it would be a huge win for racial equality.
Tom Vilsack will soon be serving his third term as U.S. secretary of agriculture, a rare feat for any Cabinet pick. But his first two terms were pocked with scandals and disappointments: firing Georgia’s director of rural development, a Black woman, at the behest of Breitbart; admitting to President Obama that there were days when he “literally had nothing to do”; and failing to do anything meaningful for small, exploited farmers – or animals – until the waning days of his tenure.
But now he has another shot at fixing our broken food system, and he should start with addressing one of the uglier sides of it: factory farms.
Factory farming has long been the third rail of the left-wing, dismissed as an animal-rights issue. But the ways in which cheap meat, dairy and eggs are produced place industrial animal agriculture squarely into the realm of human concern, given the industry’s outsized contributions to climate change along with its consistent exploitation of Black and Brown communities. As the Biden-Harris administration begins work on a platform that prioritizes economic recovery, racial equity and climate change, it must begin to address how these issues are exacerbated by the production of animal products.
For many, the sense of relief at President Trump’s departure was tempered by the new administration’s signaling of continued fealty to Big Ag. The nomination of Vilsack raised alarms among Black farmers, animal advocates and environmentalists alike, given his most recent position as a dairy industry lobbyist and his shoddy record on environmental justice. Vilsack’s appointment is akin to hiring an oil industry executive to head the EPA, and while disappointing, it’s unsurprising given how little the left has prioritized the problems inherent within dairy and meat production.
The consequences of animal exploitation, and the indifference of meat producers towards their workers, were rendered especially clear during the pandemic. At meatpacking plants across the country, which are more dangerous workplaces than coal mines, workers were compelled to continue showing up for shifts at plants that failed to implement sufficient social distancing. The resulting disease epicenters were responsible for accelerating the spread of COVID-19 early on. To date, nearly 54,000 infections and hundreds of deaths are the direct result of the meat industry’s failures to provide safe environments for workers.
To address the COVID-19 crisis, President Biden introduced a national strategy including a vaccine distribution plan for essential workers, but this strategy has so far failed to prominently address the needs of meatpacker workers. This disregard is reflective of the refusal to confront the problems presented by the meat industry as well as the systematic disenfranchisement faced by Black and Brown communities, who disproportionately make up its workforce.
The state of apartheid that defines America’s food system reaches far beyond meatpacking workers. Corporations seeking to establish new factory farms often target low-income African-American and Latino communities and operate under the assumption that its residents are so desperate for jobs that they must accept the many inevitable, and sometimes even lethal, health consequences factory farms bring. This form of environmental extortion could be resolved by putting a halt on new factory farm construction – as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Corey Booker have called for.
And no effective climate strategy can discount the contributions of animal agriculture. The dairy industry Vilsack lobbied on behalf of, together with the beef industry, account for more greenhouse gas emissions than Exxon-Mobil, Shell and BP, and are expected to emit 81% of global emissions by 2050 if growth continues unchecked. Ignoring the impacts of animal agriculture is not so different from climate denialism.
It is widely recognized that plant-based diets are needed to mitigate the worst of the climate catastrophes — which are anticipated to affect the countries least responsible for emissions and least equipped to deal with resulting disasters. The United Nations points to plant-based diets as a major opportunity for climate change mitigation; the emissions footprint from plant-based foods has been found to be up to 50 times smaller than those of animal products.
Addressing animal agriculture, and enumerating the benefits of a plant-based diet, can no longer be considered radical; instead, these issues should comprise a rallying cry.
The Biden administration must begin to understand animal agriculture’s role in perpetuating racial inequality, disease and climate change. Communities of color have long been at the forefront of talking about these issues.
Progressive heroes like Dolores Huerta, Angela Davis and Colin Kaepernick are outspoken about the interconnections between animal consumption and the systemic oppressions upon which much of the nation is predicated. And nowhere has the vegan diet taken off more than in the Black community, where 8% are strict vegans or vegetarians, compared to 3% of the general population.
Addressing animal agriculture, and enumerating the benefits of a plant-based diet, can no longer be considered radical; instead, these issues should comprise a rallying cry. Like it or not, it starts with Biden and Vilsack.
Original source: https://www.nydailynews.com