Greenhouse Gas In Food Purchasing Cuts Proposed
Going On A Diet
New York’s food purchasing system could be going on a strict diet.
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-Bronx, has introduced S.9082 in the state Senate to requiring the Office of General Services, in consultation with the Department of Environmental Conservation, to establish a way to estimate the greenhouse gas emissions of food and beverages purchased by state agencies to reduce the overall greenhouse gas emissions associated with state food and beverage procurement by 10% by 2024, 18% by 2027, and 25% by 2030. If approved, the legislation would only affect food purchased by state agencies, and not the shopping habits of state residents.
According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018, greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture economic sector accounted for 9.9% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have increased by 10.1% since 1990. Drivers for this increase include a 7% increase in N2O from management of soils, along with a 58.7% growth in combined CH4 and N2O emissions from livestock manure management systems, reflecting the increased use of emission-intensive liquid systems over this time period.
Emissions from other agricultural sources have generally remained flat or changed by a relatively small amount since 1990.
“Modeled after legislation introduced in Maryland, this bill builds on New York’s environmental goals by requiring the Office of General Services, in consultation with the Department of Environmental Conservation, to track emissions from the State’s food and beverage procurement, and to reduce these emissions by 25% by 2030. This target is in alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Resources Institute,” Biaggi wrote in her legislative justification.
The Maryland legislation was introduced after the release of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that reportedly showed the entire food production system, with transportation and packaging included, accounts for as much as 37% of total greenhouse gas emissions. It calls for changes to land use practices, a change to diets with less meat, and elimination of food waste as areas that should be global priorities to combat climate change. The report also calls and end to deforestation, limiting greenhouse-gas-emitting fertilizers and raising crops in ways that add carbon to the soil.
Biaggi also cited a pilot analysis from the Oakland Unified School District in California that shifting to low-carbon foods over two years saved the district $42,000 and an October 2020 pledge by New York University to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions on all its campuses by 25% by 2030.
“New York has a history of using procurement to reflect our environmental and social values,” Biaggi wrote. “Under the GreenNY program, the state is committed to environmentally preferable purchasing of electronics and appliances, energy sourcing, transportation equipment and more. Food purchased by the state should be held to a high environmental standard as well.”
However, a recent study in the journal Science calls into question the IPPC’s conclusions. Researchers looked at five types of broad fixes to the food system and calculated how much they fight warming. They found that sampling a buffet of partial fixes for all five, instead of just diving into the salad bar, can get the job done, according to a study published in a November issue of Science.
“The whole world doesn’t have to give up meat for us to meet our climate goals,” said study co-author Jason Hill, a biosystems engineering professor at the University of Minnesota. “We can eat better, healthier foods. We can improve how we grow foods. And we can waste less food.”
The researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom found:
¯ A nearly complete switch to a plant-rich diet around the world could slash almost 720 billion tons of greenhouse gases (650 billion metric tons).
¯ If almost everyone ate the right number of calories based on their age, around 2,100 calories a day for many adults, it would cut about 450 billion tons of greenhouse gases (410 billion metric tons).
¯ If farming got more carbon efficient — by using less fertilizer, managing soil better and doing better crop rotation — it would slice nearly 600 billion tons of greenhouse gases (540 billion metric tons).
¯ If farms could increase yield through genetics and other methods, it would trim almost 210 billion tons of greenhouse gases (190 billion metric tons).
¯ If people waste less food either on their plates, in restaurants or by getting it to people in poorer countries, that would eliminate nearly 400 billion tons of greenhouse gases (360 billion metric tons).
While most of the world’s heat-trapping gases come from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, one-quarter to one-third of the greenhouse gases come from agriculture, Hill said.
John Roy Porter, a professor of agriculture at the University of Montpellier in France, said some of the calculations from Hill’s study double counted emissions, which Hill disputes, and said he worried that “the only people really to profit from such a paper will be the fossil fuel lobby who can divert attention from oil wells to farmers’ fields.”
Another researcher told the Associated Press that forcing millions of people to adopt a vegan lifestyle was going to be nearly impossible.
“Something like convincing the whole world to go vegan was always going to be an impossible large sell,” said Breakthrough Institute climate director Zeke Hausfather, who wasn’t part of the study. “This paper shows that a mix of different behavioral and technological solutions can make a real difference.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.