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USDA chief says climate plans won’t involve a leaner meat diet

Vilsack shoots down false claims involving eminent domain, beef intake: 'It's not going to happen'

Cows stand in a pen near Fort Stockton, Texas on April 10. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Biden administration would not restrict meat consumption to meet its climate conservation goals.
Cows stand in a pen near Fort Stockton, Texas on April 10. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Biden administration would not restrict meat consumption to meet its climate conservation goals. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Biden administration will not use eminent domain to take farm or ranch property out of production to meet its climate goal of conserving 30 percent of U.S. land and water by 2030, nor will it try to restrict people’s meat consumption, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.

Vilsack told a conference of the North American Agricultural Journalists that unnamed groups were raising the specter of eminent domain and using the media as part of climate pushback directed at the administration.

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The concerns about land seizures worked their way into the April 22 confirmation hearing for Jewel H. Bronaugh, the nominee for deputy secretary of Agriculture, with questions from Sens. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and John Thune, R-S.D., about President Joe Biden’s proposal to conserve 30 percent of U.S. land by 2030, a project known as 30 by 30.

The proposal, with few details, was part of a Jan. 27 executive order that Biden signed. The order calls for the Agriculture Department and several agencies to reach out to the public and to report on ideas to achieve the goal.

Vilsack seemed to chuckle in exasperation when asked Monday about the land issue and rumors of a crackdown on beef consumption.

“Folks who represent commodity groups and farmers are using the media in a way to message the administration on issues. This discussion surrounding 30 by 30 is really, really off base,” Vilsack said.

Fifteen Republican governors sent a letter to Biden on April 21 saying they were concerned about any potential expansion of federal land ownership or restrictions on state-owned land.

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Vilsack said the administration is looking for ways to encourage, not force, farmers and ranchers to join the effort to address climate change.

“There is no intent to take land away from farmers. The goal here is to create new opportunities for farmers to benefit by embracing climate-smart agricultural practices,” Vilsack said. “There are a number of things we can do and will do, but none of it involves taking anybody’s land away from them or using eminent domain. It’s not going to happen.”

Vilsack also said there were false claims being made that Biden somehow planned to limit people’s meat consumption to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions from livestock.

The land-grab accusation persists despite the administration’s emphasis on voluntary conservation programs that provide financial incentives to land owners to retire environmentally sensitive land from farm or livestock production or to adopt practices on land still in production to help sequester carbon or to reduce other greenhouse gas emissions.

On April 21, the White House and the Agriculture Department announced plans to boost funding for the Conservation Reserve Program to provide higher rental payments and cost-sharing for technical assistance to land owners in a bid to get an additional 4 million acres of environmentally sensitive land enrolled in the program.

“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. Sometimes folks in the political world games get played and issues are injected into the conversation knowing full well that there is not a factual basis for the issue, but also knowing somebody is going to pick it up and somebody is going to ask about it and it all of a sudden will become an issue,” Vilsack said.

He said members of Congress have issued statements and filed bills on the beef issue based on nothing from the Biden administration.

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