Why California Cities Should Ditch Factory Farms

What will life on Earth look like in the next 30 years? The more we think about this issue, the more urgent it becomes. We must confront the existential threat to our climate and create a secure future for all of us. So where to start ?

The direction of our future depends very much on our financial investments from entities such as government, universities, religious organizations and financial institutions. The US non-profit organization 350.org’s Go Fossil Free campaign aims to divest from the fossil fuel industry. The campaign has succeeded in removing $11 trillion from the fossil fuel industry and helping us secure a safer future for planet Earth. But renewables alone will not keep the global surface temperature below 2°C.

On April 27, 2021, Berkeley became the first city in California to urge its public employee retirement system, CalPERS, to divest from the factory farming industry. The city council has asked the state pension fund to consider investing in a local plant-based economy instead. Berkeley’s decision could encourage other California cities to do the same.

Why divest from factory farming?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that the food sector contributes 37% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although estimates vary, some researchers claim that livestock farming accounts for nearly 60% of agriculture’s GHG emissions. Therefore, we need to address animal agriculture in order to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The top five industrial-scale meat and dairy companies alone generate more GHG emissions than Exxon Mobil, Shell or BP. Animal agriculture is also the leading cause of deforestation, which further contributes to global warming. Deforestation destroys wildlife habitats, putting them close to human populations and risking the spread of zoonotic diseases like Ebola and COVID-19. Additionally, the World Resource Institute reports that we will need 593 million hectares of additional agricultural land to meet the food needs of our growing population by 2050. This expansion of agricultural land will destroy our remaining forests.

Currently, 77% of the world’s agricultural land is used for meat, eggs, aquaculture and dairy products, which produce only 18% of our calories and 37% of our protein intake. Therefore, the factory farming industry is not only a threat to our environment, but also to our ability to solve complex problems like hunger and food insecurity in our growing population.

Factory farming and racial equity

Financial investments in factory farming enterprises damage our environment, as well as social and racial equity. These businesses tend to be in or near black and brown communities and often take advantage of vulnerable, resource-poor communities. For example, the World Bank’s $1.8 billion investment in factory farming companies, like Quinto-based Pronaca, is destroying these local economies, the environment and health.

Today, several organizations have launched campaigns to divest from industrial agriculture while raising awareness of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues associated with investing in industrial agriculture companies. Some financial institutes, such as Bank Australia, have already begun to withdraw from intensive farming.

Show us the money

California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) is the government agency that provides retirement benefits to public employees and state retirees. The 2019-2020 CalPERS Investment Report reveals an investment of nearly $679 million in industrial animal protein and factory farming.

The majority of invested companies are also listed in the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) ESG risk index. These investments include more than $100 million invested in Brazilian companies like JBS that are directly associated with the deforestation of the Amazon.

California has tackled the environmental crisis head-on, and several California cities have already divested from the fossil fuel industry to reduce their environmental footprint. But we cannot stop there. Cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco should be asked to divest their industrial agriculture industry portfolios, especially those included in FAIRR’s ESG Risk Index.

The solution

Forget factory farming. CalPERS should instead consider investing in the local plant-based economy. California is home to the most innovative plant-based meat companies in the world, and the plant-based market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 12% to reach a value of over $70 billion by 2027. in the plant-based economy would help create more green jobs in the state while providing an attractive return on investment. It’s a win-win for the state’s economy and the environment.

Nilang Gor

Nilang Gor is a molecular biologist and founder of Cultivate Empathy for All, a nonprofit organization based in Berkeley, California.

Bernard P. Love