Vilsack: ‘Sometimes in the political world, games get played’
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday flatly denied there is any effort by President Joe Biden to reduce meat consumption to meet proposed 50% to 52% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 vs 2005 levels. “There is no effort designed to limit people’s intake of beef coming out of President Biden’s White House or coming out of the USDA,” Vilsack virtually told members of the North American Agricultural Journalists.
“Sometimes in the political world, games get played,” he said. “Issues get injected into the conversation knowing full well that there’s no factual basis for the issue, but also knowing that someone is going to pick it up and ask about it and, all of a sudden, it becomes an issue.”
Biden's proposals didn’t include any targets for agriculture or any other sector. But a story in the conservative Daily Mail, a British news site (link), suggested that reaching the goal could require that Americans drastically reduce meat consumption by some 90% or a paltry four pounds a year. “I’m pretty sure I ate 4 pounds of red meat yesterday. That’s going to be a hard NO from me,” Donald Trump Jr. joked on Twitter feed. The Daily Mail story was quickly echoed by Fox News personalities. Larry Kudlow, an economic adviser to former President Donald Trump, said on Fox Business that Americans might have to swap out meat for grilled vegetables.
Vilsack said the Biden administration has no policy papers on the meat issue. He said that while there are movements globally to reduce meat intake for health and environmental reasons, they are not being promoted by the government. “There are other efforts on your way internationally, for sure, but not in at this point in time by the administration, and not certainly at USDA,” Vilsack noted.
Another Vilsack irritant: some reports about a proposed 30x30 plan. Vilsack did not mention any specific names or groups but was upset about what some are saying about the president’s goal of conserving 30% of U.S. land by 2030. Vilsack repeated comments that he made last week that there is no intent to take land away from farmers. “I gotta hand it to folks in agriculture, folks who represent commodity groups and farmers, for using the media in a way to message the administration on issues, but this discussion surrounding 30x30 is really, really off base,” Vilsack said. Within the next 10 years, the federal government hopes to transition nearly 440 million acres into federal protection. This would mean that a landform around the size of Texas must be a part of a conservation plan by 2030.
Vilsack got backup aid from one of his coworkers at USDA. The 30x30 goal isn't a problem for the United States to meet and will help in climate negotiations, said Bill Hohenstein, director of USDA's Office of Energy and Environmental Policy, within the Office of the Chief Economist. "It gives us a platform to engage other countries, countries where they don't have that same legacy of conservation," he said. "The United States has a longstanding legacy of conservation. We have a very strong foundation to build from," Hohenstein said. "This (30x30) is not about taking land. This is not about restricting land. This is about conservation."
Vilsack said, "There is no intent to take land away from farmers. The goal here is to create new opportunities." He said the administration and the USDA want to incentivize farmers and ranchers to use the tools that he has at the USDA to compensate and pay farmers for being good stewards of their land. "(We want them to) embrace new opportunities and new ways," he said. "None of it involves taking anyone's land or using eminent domain."
During the next month, the government will evaluate how to best measure and assess the country’s progress toward the 30x30 goal. More than 1,300 phone calls were made to the USDA in regard to this plan.