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According to a talking points document for the Green New Deal, “We set a goal to get to net zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” (Amanda Radke/Special to Agweek)

Ag responds to Green New Deal

Freshman U.S. Rep.. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) made headlines when she released her Green New Deal plan on Feb. 7. The proposal laid out resolutions to accomplish net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years.

To do so, Ocasio-Cortez, who hails from the Bronx and Queens in New York City, proposes the United States eliminate air travel in favor of trains, retrofit the nation's buildings, provide every person with a living family wage, socialized health care, union jobs and more.

In addition to the proposal, a more detailed talking-points document briefly appeared on Ocasio-Cortez's website. The document's authors attracted the attention of American agriculture, with this sentence, "We set a goal to get to net zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren't sure we'll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast."

The document promised to, "secure for all people of the United States for generations to come — clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature and sustainable environment."

The congresswoman also vowed to work "collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emission from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible by supporting family farming, investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health, and by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food."

So what does this all mean, exactly? Knee-jerk reaction from the agricultural industry was to first laugh and attack the congresswoman; however, a few in the industry took a different approach — let's try educating and working with Ocasio-Cortez instead.

For example, Kansas rancher Brandi Buzzard Frobose wrote a letter on her blog titled, "An Open Letter to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez From a Kansas Rancher."

In her blog post, which quickly went viral on social media, Buzzard Frobose writes, "As a beef producer in rural Kansas working with my family to raise cattle, I feel the need to point out some facts about agriculture that were misrepresented in your Green New Deal. As a rancher, I am proud to produce safe, healthy and affordable beef for a hungry nation. We are producing beef in the United States more sustainably and efficiently than ever before — did you know that the U.S. produces nearly 20% of the world's beef with only 9% of the world's cattle?"

Additionally, Frank Mitloehner, University of California Davis Department of Animal Science professor and air quality Extension specialist, engaged with the congresswoman on Twitter, which ultimately led to an ongoing discussion about cattle and climate change.

Mitloehner tweeted, "I had a constructive discussion with Ocasio-Cortez team members about ag and the Green New Deal. I am glad they reached out to experts around agriculture."

Mitloehner is world-renowned for his research on greenhouse gas emissions and livestock production. An advocate for beef and dairy in the diet, Mitloehner works tirelessly to unravel the popular rhetoric that cattle are worse for the planet than transportation, a myth that was perpetuated by a 2006 United Nations report, titled "Livestock's Long Shadow."

"If all U.S. Americans practiced Meatless Mondays, we would reduce the U.S. national (greenhouse gas) emissions by 0.6 percent," said Mitloehner. "Smarter animal farming, not less farming, will equal less heat. Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries."

Meanwhile, Colin Woodall, National Cattlemen's Beef Association senior vice president of government affairs, urges citizens to demand more from policy makers when they propose regulations that could impact climate change.

NCBA developed a cost/benefit principles for climate change, which asks a series of questions including: "What specific policy changes are you proposing? How much would your proposed policy changes cost? Who will pay these costs, and how? How much would your proposed policy changes impact global temperatures down the road? And, oh by the way, please show your math on all your calculations above."

"Despite all the progress we've made on the environmental front in recent decades, some policymakers still seem to think targeting U.S. beef producers and consumers will make a huge impact on global emissions," Woodall said. "That's why we drafted our principles — to give the folks who are proposing new public policies the opportunity to outline the specific costs and estimated benefits of their proposals."

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