Skip to main content

These US policies incentivize sustainable beef production

The US beef and dairy supply chain is a massive greenhouse gas emitter. These policies incentivize farmers to clean up their act.

Conveyor in a factory of ready-made beef hamburger cutlets - a modern ecological bio-print meat factory

Image courtesy of Shutterstock/guteksk7

The concept of sustainable beef is a long-sought remedy to the sector’s infamously toxic and emission-heavy production cycle. Private sector behemoths such as McDonald's are still struggling to address the environmental impact — deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and land degradation — of their globally popular Big Mac. See GreenBiz's investigation into McDonald's 10-year quest for sustainable beef here for more specific detail. That’s why federal policy incentivizes the beef supply chain to transition to more sustainable practices.

The Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities policy was first announced in February 2022, when the Biden administration invested over $3.1 billion to increase the production of greenhouse gas-mitigating agricultural products, including beef. Funding has gone to projects such as the Low Carbon Beef USDA Pilot Program, which uses technology to track and correlate methane releases down to the level of individual cows. Results will allow farmers to breed lower-emitting cattle through selective breeding. The program allotted $9.9 million in funding for Low Carbon Beef.

The Farm Bill, a massive piece of legislation passed every five years or so, is the main driver of a wide range of agricultural tax credits, subsidy and loan programs. There are two main programs in it with substantial conservation and emissions reduction funding. They are:

  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP): Nestled under the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, EQIP funds farmers and ranchers who want to address the negative environmental byproducts of beef production. Funding has gone to projects as small as installing fences in cattle pastures to allow the regrowth of native plants after grazing to managing the methane emissions from cattle manure. The 2018 Farm Bill allocated $9.175 billion across its programs, with 50 percent of this budget for livestock operations.
  • Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP): The CSP addresses natural resource conservation and agricultural operations such as funding for soil erosion barriers or the maintenance of hedgerows that provide habitat for indigenous species. The 2018 Farm Bill allotted between $700 million and $1 billion between 2018 and 2022, with the Inflation Reduction Act investing an additional $3.25 billion.

The funding in the 2018 Farm Bill ran out in 2023. To ensure a continuation of programs funded by the legislation, Congress passed a one-year extension of the funds through September, in lieu of negotiating and passing the next version of the Farm Bill.

More on this topic