When President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement last month, Gov. Jerry Brown promised that California would continue to lead the fight against global warming: “I want to do everything we can to keep America on track, keep the world on track, and lead in all the ways California has.”
Unfortunately, legislation under consideration in California threatens to undermine that commitment. The bill, AB 243, seeks to double the funding for California’s beef “checkoff program.” That’s shorthand for a mandatory fee collected by a state council or commission from ranchers and farmers and used to promote the beef industry at the state and national levels. Essentially, AB 243 means that the government will funnel more of the industry’s profits into trying to persuade the public to eat lots of burgers and steak.
There’s a lot wrong with the assumptions behind this bill. If we’re going to truly address climate change, it’s simply no longer possible to ignore the profound consequences of animal agriculture. By some estimates, animal agriculture now accounts for nearly 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than every car, bus, truck, plane, and train on the planet combined. Cattle lead the way, representing 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions.
It’s unconscionable that our own government is actively working to promote foods that are among the least healthful you could eat.
On top of that, we all remember California’s drought. Agriculture accounts for about 80% of our water use in the state, and the beef industry is one of the thirstiest culprits. Producing just a pound of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water, according to the Water Footprint Network. You could shower for an entire year and still wouldn’t use as much water as it takes to produce 10 burgers. To take meaningful steps toward protecting our environment and conserving water, the last thing our state government should be doing is encouraging people to eat more beef.
So how exactly would AB 243 inspire more meat-eating? Even if you haven’t heard of the state checkoff program before, you’re probably familiar with one ad campaign it helped fund: The ubiquitous “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” spots on television and in print.
Such efforts strive to position beef as “vital to the public health and welfare,” in the words of the proposed legislation. They’re bad news for Californians’ health, as well as the environment. Beef isn’t good for you. A recent National Institutes of Health study analyzed data from 536,969 participants and found that red meat consumption can increase the risk of death from a host of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and kidney disease.
Making matters worse, checkoff programs work closely with fast-food restaurants. In 2012, the California Beef Council partnered with Jack in the Box to launch the Sourdough Cheesesteak Melt — a 450-calorie sandwich packed with 55 milligrams of cholesterol and 1,380 milligrams of sodium. Similarly, national efforts funded with the help of state beef councils have helped launch Taco Bell’s grilled steak tacos and McDonald’s Angus cheeseburger.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the checkoff programs, and it’s also responsible for developing our federal nutrition guidelines. It’s outrageous and a clear conflict of interest that the same agency that tells us to cut down on fat, saturated fat and cholesterol would be simultaneously helping to push people to eat steak quesadillas from Taco Bell.
California’s beef checkoff program also pays for “educational” outreach to hospitals and schools to convince doctors, dietitians, and schoolchildren that beef is an essential part of a healthy diet. It’s unconscionable that our own government is actively working to promote foods that are among the least healthful you could eat.
Finally, we should consider the impact AB 243 would have in increasing the unnecessary suffering we inflict on animals. It’s been 30 years since I’ve eaten meat, and the way I see it is that with every meal, I have a choice to either cause suffering or prevent it. To choose foods that will protect our planet or foods that will destroy it. To eat in a way that will heal my body or in a way that will make me sick. So what’s for dinner, if not beef? Some of my favorite choices right now are tomatillo gazpacho with heirloom cherry tomatoes, risotto with asparagus and mint, and vegan spinach ravioli. Moving beyond beef isn’t limiting, and it’s not a sacrifice. It’s empowering.
For the sake of Americans’ health, our planet, and animals, I hope California’s lawmakers agree and vote no on AB 243.
Moby’s vegan restaurant Little Pine opened in Silver Lake in 2015. His latest album is “More Fast Songs from the Apocalypse.”
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