Five actions Biden should take to build a more humane food system


By Viveca Morris and Jonathan Lovvorn, Opinion Contributors, The Hill



The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Morris is the executive director of the Law, Ethics & Animals Program at Yale Law School

Lovvorn is the program’s faculty co-director and co-director of Yale’s Climate, Animals, Food and Environmental Law and Policy Lab


President-elect Joe Biden has the power to make American agriculture more humane. Biden can help bring an end to the most extreme and widespread animal suffering in human history, while at the same time improving the welfare of agricultural workers, farmers, rural communities and the health of our environment and planet.


Today a handful of giant meat conglomerates, many of which are foreign-owned, completely dominate our food system. These corporations wield their massive economic and political power to tilt the playing field to their extreme advantage at terrible cost to animals, farm workers, independent farmers, our environment and to the successful development of more humane and sustainable alternatives.


For the past four years the Trump administration has empowered these giant agribusinesses to write the rules, gutted the environmental protections upon which human and animal lives depend, failed to enforce animal welfare and worker protections and greenlighted barbaric practices that past administrations disallowed for good reason.


With the following five actions, Biden can start to reverse this course and set us firmly on the path to developing a more humane, sustainable and healthy food system:



One, shut the revolving door between the USDA and “Big Ag.” Former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) is reportedly a frontrunner to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). She would be a terrible choice. Heitkamp has a track record of prioritizing the interests of multinational corporations over independent farmers, rural communities and the living world. Instead of appointing yet another pro-big-agribusiness USDA secretary interested in maintaining the status quo, Biden should appoint regulators who have a history of working to transform the food system to be more humane, fair, resilient and sustainable and who have the courage to take on the big corporations that are colonizing rural America. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), another of the USDA contenders mentioned in recent press, would be a better choice for both people and animals.


Two, break up the modern meat trust. Reining in Big Agriculture’s monopoly and monopsony power will have cross-cutting benefits for people, animals, the environment, rural communities and the responsiveness of our democracy. Even without Congress, the Biden administration can do a lot to enforce and strengthen competition policy through executive orders and through actions of the USDA, Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission. To start, Biden should only appoint leaders of these agencies who are committed to investigating and reforming anti-competitive conduct in the meat industry. Biden should also create an interagency council by executive order to tackle meat industry competition and propose specific regulatory and enforcement actions for each agency. Earlier this year, a diverse coalition of advocacy groups published a list of actions that should be taken to restructure the animal protein industry to improve competitiveness, transparency and fairness. Biden should take these actions.


Three, treat factory farms like factories. Make them pay their externalized costs. This includes their role in polluting our air, water, and soil, exacerbating climate change, abusing animals, exploiting workers and contract farmers and sickening rural communities. Biden should issue an executive order directing the USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of the Interior and other agencies to catalog all the regulatory and enforcement exemptions currently bestowed on factory farms, and to develop a regulatory action plan to bring environmental, labor, animal welfare and climate accountability to this industry. Biden should also direct his climate action team to incorporate animal agriculture, which is responsible for around 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, into climate policy and regulation. To date, the EPA has failed to measure (let alone regulate) the air pollution of factory farms. Biden’s EPA should list greenhouse gas emissions from industrial animal agriculture as pollutants under the Clean Air Act, and develop a reliable emissions reporting system for industrial animal farms that yields comprehensive and transparent data.


Four, shift federal financial and technical support toward more just and sustainable food production...


Five, act swiftly to stop slaughterhouses from sacrificing workers, public health and animal welfare...


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