Biden Pledges $1 Billion to Meat Farmers. Why Not Invest in Plant Protein?
When the Biden administration announced a $1 billion plan to help out farmers struggling to put food – specifically meat – on Americans' tables, it was met with praise by the farming community, but the question is, why not invest in the future of plant-based protein instead? The bailout is intended to be a lifeline for small farmers who have seen disruptions in the workforce due to COVID-19, causing hardship to their farms, as well as inflationary prices at the market, and growing meat and poultry shortages across the country.
This appears to be in direct conflict with the Biden administration's pledge to reduce emissions by half by 2030, announced with fanfare last Earth Day. It's one thing to take trucks and cars off the roads, invest in public transportation and electrical recharging stations, but why ignore the evidence that animal agriculture accounts for a large part of the problem of carbon and methane production that leads to climate change?
No one is rooting for inflationary prices, and our hearts go out to struggling farmers since everyone wants to help small business owners trying to stay afloat – but the administration's earmarking of funds to build more meat processing plants across the US seems atavistic, and could instead be used to help independent farmers re-engineer their production to crops such as peas, soybean, and oats, all of which are in high demand as 61 percent of consumers say that plant-based proteins are the wave of the future and a preferred source.
As shortages of meat and eggs, poultry and pork grow nationwide, rather than double down on our need for these sources of protein, we should be encouraging consumers to opt for plant-based proteins, which now come packaged in tasty and realistic meat alternatives, poultry substitutes, and eggs made without the chicken. For a full list of what to buy at the store, check out these meat alternatives to try today.
Farmers are struggling
"The main issue is there's a lack of options for farmers and ranchers to sell their products," Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, Baharat Ramamurti, was quoted as saying in early January. "The meatpacking industry is highly concentrated. There are only a few different options and in some regions of the country, there may be only one option for farmers and ranchers to sell their products. That means they have to take whatever price they are offered."
The bailout comes as consumers have seen meat prices go up at the grocery stores, but farmers and ranchers are not making more money and in fact, production during the pandemic is costing them more, too.
Tracy Tomascik raises beef cattle in Central Texas and told a local news station in Texas that these last few years have been difficult for people in his industry.
"I can speak for everybody in the livestock industry across the state," Tomascik said. "Things have been challenging for the most part when it comes to producing the livestock, the commodity that we sell and these families make a living off of."
One answer to this economic crisis is to re-engineer farming
Spending $1 billion to invest in more meat production is the opposite of what many companies are doing privately. Elmhurst, the dairy company founded in 1925, made the bold decision to go fully plant-based several years ago, and now is seeing success with its plant-based creamers, milks, and popular non-dairy products.
Instead of spending $100 million in funding to increase the pipeline of workers going into this field, or to bolster the educational efforts of meat producers, the administration could be better aligned with its climate initiatives to grant farmers what they need to re-engineer their production to grow pea protein and create more plant-based ingredients.
One company helping American farmers convert from dairy to oats is Hälsa Foods, the maker of oat milk yogurts, it has started working with dairy farmers in the US to offer the opportunity to grow organic oats as an alternative to raising dairy cows, and they have assembled a coalition to support the farmers with the conversion process. These massive pivots require funding, patience, and a vision and this bail-out appears to be at odds with what we know about animal farming and climate change.
Raising farmed animals is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases and the WHO as well as the UN and Harvard School of Public Health have all warned that in order for our global food systems to be sustainable, we need to eat more plant-based proteins.
Farmers themselves are voluntarily making the switch to plant-based growing, such as Jay Wilde, a farmer featured in the documentary 73 Cows, who retired the cows from his dairy farm and sent them to Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk, UK, and decided to grow oats instead. He decided in 2017 he could not bear to "send the cows to the slaughterhouse for what must be a terrifying death." Wilde originally produced dairy products, then moved to produce organic beef and now, three years later, Wilde is transitioning to produce oat milk, a more sustainable and kinder option to cow's milk.
Wilde worked with Refarm'd, an organization that helps dairy farmers transition to producing plant-based milk to transform Bradley Nook Farm in Ashbury, UK. According to Refarm'd's website, "By uniting together with farmers and providing them with the tools they need to move away from the dairy trade, we’re offering a viable new opportunity for their businesses to be part of the growing plant-based movement."
Bottom Line: The $1 Billion Bail Out to Farmers Could Be Used to Help Them Grow Plant-Based Protein Instead