4 Climate Scams Big Ag Is Pushing for in This Year’s Farm Bill

Published Aug 22, 2023


Food System

The Farm Bill could have a huge impact on climate, but Big Ag and its allies are pushing for funding on scams that could make matters worse.

The Farm Bill could have a huge impact on climate, but Big Ag and its allies are pushing for funding on scams that could make matters worse.

Update (November 16, 2023): This month, Congress extended the deadline for the 2023 Farm Bill to September 30, 2024 as part of a continuing resolution to push back deadlines on must-pass spending bills. In the next 10 months, Food & Water Watch will continue building support for a fair Farm Bill for all.

The Farm Bill, renegotiated and passed every five years, designates hundreds of billions of dollars in public funds to food and agriculture programs. It’s a key shaper of our food system — and, as agriculture accounts for 15-25% of global emissions, it also has a big impact on our climate.

But corporations have hijacked federal food policy to pay for their dirty and expensive practices, masquerading them as “green” solutions.

We need policies that support small- and medium-sized farmers, rural communities, local economies, and a livable planet — not Big Ag boondoggles. As Farm Bill negotiations continue into the fall, here are four climate scams we’re fighting.

1. Conservation Programs Could Boost Greenwashed Factory Farm Gas

The Farm Bill’s Conservation Title funds programs that are supposed to invest in environmentally friendly practices. One big program under this title, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), now gets about $2 billion a year

But under the Farm Bill, half of that budget is designated for livestock farming only. And in an industry dominated by factory farms, that means much of EQIP funds polluting operations. 

In 2022, more than $100 million of EQIP money went to factory farm infrastructure, including methane digesters. These digesters turn manure into factory farm gas, a climate boondoggle that extends the factory farm model. While proponents claim that the gas is a “sustainable,” even “renewable” alternative to fossil fuels, it’s anything but. 

Factory farm gas is primarily methane, the same as fracked gas. It would run through much of the same U.S. gas infrastructure, which is plagued by leaks that are huge contributors to climate change.

A growing factory farm gas industry would add to and entrench this leaky network — on top of the already significant methane emissions from routine factory farm operations. 

What’s more, a market for factory farm gas would allow Big Ag to profit even more from its harmful waste management. For example, factory farm manure lagoons already burden nearby communities with air and water pollution.

Send a message urging your Members of Congress to support a Fair Farm Bill — one without harmful climate scams!

2. Current Policies Prop Up the Corn Ethanol Industry

The Farm Bill also distributes crop subsidies and insurance, which affect what gets grown and who can afford to grow it. Once, with supply management policies, these subsidies helped protect small- and medium-sized farms from an unpredictable market. 

But for decades, they have served as giveaways to Ag giants to overproduce commodity crops, using some of the most harmful practices.

What’s worse, a large portion of these crops — such as corn and soy — don’t actually feed people. For example, 40% of corn goes to animal feed (used mainly on factory farms), and a whopping 45% to ethanol production

For years, the federal government has supported corn ethanol as a “green” substitute for gasoline. Along with federal mandates to add ethanol to our gasoline supply, corn subsidies prop up the ethanol industry.

But ethanol’s climate impact is even worse than gasoline’s because of all the extra corn grown and land consumed by it. All that corn means more harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides, too.

3. Corporations Want to Cash in on “Climate Smart” Funding

Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act designated an additional $20 billion for “climate-smart agriculture” through conservation programs like EQIP. Now, lawmakers may use the Farm Bill to clarify what qualifies for funding or to divert funding altogether. 

So far, efforts at “climate-smart” practices have suffered from a major lack of transparency. Worse, these dollars are more likely to pad the pockets of Big Ag than lower emissions. 

Since the USDA kicked off a $3.1 billion “climate-smart” program last year, it has been tight-lipped about the grant recipients, many of which are Ag giants. One $61-million project helmed by meat giant Tyson aims to create “climate-smart” beef. But how exactly that would pan out and the benefits to climate — if any — remain a mystery.

Without clear standards that reserve funding for small- and medium-sized farmers, Big Ag will capitalize on “climate-smart” and continue to hijack our federal food policy. 

4. “Carbon Offsets” Harm the Climate More Than Help It

In this year’s Farm Bill, lawmakers may also promote “carbon offsets,” which allow companies to pay to pollute the climate.  

Carbon offsets do little to fight climate change. For instance, many offsets come from companies using digesters to make polluting and emitting factory farm gas. In fact, offsets could worsen climate change because they delay emissions reductions at the source.

Besides failing on the climate front, carbon offsets encourage corporate and land consolidation, unsustainable farming, and dirty energy production (including factory farm gas). This also disproportionately harms indigenous people, farmers, and environmental justice communities.

Moreover, the Farm Bill may fund the recently passed Growing Climate Solutions Act. This law authorizes the USDA to connect private companies with farmers to create and manage carbon offsets (for example, through farmers’ participation in USDA Conservation programs like EQIP).

But many of these companies are Ag giants, giving the industry outsized influence on what “sustainable” practices and products farmers use and how they’re paid.

The Policies We Need for a Climate-Friendly Farm Bill

Instead of shelling out taxpayer dollars to polluting megacorporations, the Farm Bill should invest in sustainable, diversified, and resilient food systems. To that end, Food & Water Watch is calling for a Farm Bill that:

  1. Ends funding for factory farms and carbon offsets that worsen the climate crisis, reduce food affordability, and damage public health;
  2. Supports food production that actually feeds people, not the factory farm and ethanol industries; and
  3. Increases competition to allow small- and medium-sized farmers to thrive in a fair marketplace for sustainably raised foods. 

Tell your representatives to support Farm Bill policies that truly work for farmers and families.

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