California: New bill could prevent by-products going to feed

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Cattle herd grazing on a pasture on the hills of kern county, Bakersfield, Califonia USA © GettyImages/ Eisenlohr
Cattle herd grazing on a pasture on the hills of kern county, Bakersfield, Califonia USA © GettyImages/ Eisenlohr

Related tags California GHG emissions global warming by-products

A change to a California law on food waste could have devastating impacts on the state’s livestock industry, says a UC Davis professor.

Frank Mitleohner, a professor and air quality specialist in cooperative extension in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), published a Twitter thread on July 25 on Assembly Bill 2959, now in the California Senate. 

Cattle operations are an important part of the California agricultural economy, ranking fifth in revenue among agricultural commodities (NASS).

“Animal agriculture is often attacked by those who believe it is a major contributor to global warming, and it is not. But that is not going to be my focus today. Instead I want to focus on how this bill would take away an opportunity for California dairy farmers and beef producers to fight climate change,”​ he wrote.

Mitleohner outlined how California has a law, SB 1383, ​stating methane emissions in landfills and from livestock must be reduced, in fact it mandates a 40% reduction of methane below 2013 levels by 2030, and another law stating local governments are responsible for managing solid organic waste unless the waste is byproduct from food and beverage manufacturing.  

However, AB 2959 would allow local governments in California take control of byproducts from restaurants, grocery stores and other retail businesses, he said. Currently, many of these businesses sell their byproducts to haulers who then sell the material to farmers for feed use, reported the US Davis ag specialist.  

As to why the bill was brought forward, he told FeedNavigator: "Waste haulers have monopoly franchise contracts and they have expanded them due to state goals to divert more waste from landfills.  Because of the contracts, they are enforcing their rights to pick up all the waste material."

“The bill could greatly disrupt the role dairy farmers and beef producers play in keeping solid organic waste from heading into landfills, thus preventing the waste from contributing to more methane emissions in landfills.

“According to the EPA, landfills are the 3rd largest source of human-related methane emissions, accounting for about 15% of all US methane emissions in 2018. 

One California based deli owner​ said AB 2959 is “a bad one-size-fits-all approach to disposing organic waste.”

“In California, about 18% of materials that go into landfills is wasted food. In the US, about 30-40% of the food supply is wasted. Let those numbers sink in. It’s truly unacceptable

“Farmers and producers use byproducts inedible by humans to feed livestock. In fact, 86% of global livestock feed is not human edible. This material can come from many different sources including restaurants, grocery stores and retail businesses.  So byproducts that would otherwise sit at a landfill and emit GHGs, are instead used to produce nutritious protein that can be eaten by humans. This is called upcycling and it plays a significant role in meeting SB 1383 goals,” ​said Mitleohner.

If the proposed AB 2959 passes, the bill would potentially set back the contributions made by dairy farmers and beef producers in California in reducing methane emissions, he argues.

“We can’t throw blame at our farmers and producers for impacting warming, then take away an opportunity for them to do their part.”

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