By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice
With dairy at the forefront of the Central Valley’s top commodities, the regulations dairy producers and processors face are underscored by California’s growing efforts to combat climate change. One effort, pushed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, sponsored a billboard in Tulare County — the nation’s top dairy-producing county.
“Ditch Dairy to Fight the Climate Crisis” was displayed on Highway 99 south of Tagus. The billboard went up within the same month as Tulare’s 2022 crop report, which attributed 31% of its $8.6 billion crop and livestock revenue to dairy products.
On its website, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine claims that milk and other dairy products are linked to heart disease and cancer, among other unfavorable health concerns.
However, a 2016 study from the National Library of Medicine claims that the intake of milk and dairy products was associated with a reduced risk of childhood obesity, improved body composition in adults, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. The totality of available scientific evidence, according to the study, supports milk intake to meet nutrient recommendations and may protect against prevalent chronic disease with few adverse effects.
According to Katie Davey, Bakersfield High School alumna and newly appointed Executive Director of the Dairy Institute of California, the most pressing issues for dairy processors in the state are related to climate change.
“If California continues to lead in battling climate change, we’re gonna see more legislation passed in the capitol that will fundamentally alter the way we do business,” Davey said.
She explained that the Dairy Institute will remain engaged in regulatory matters to ensure that dairy processors have a voice in that process. Dairy processors in California are facing increased regulations as a result of Extended Producer Responsibility laws, which aim to limit waste through sustainability efforts.
After failing in legislative session twice, Senate Bill 54 marked a landmark bill for EPR legislation in California. The bill, signed into law in June 2022, creates a producer responsibility organization to implement a statewide collection and recycling program for packaging, with regulatory oversight.
“[It] will fundamentally change our plastic packaging and recycling process in California, and manufacturers need to use plastic to package their foods to ensure efficacy and safety for the consumer,” Davey said.
ENDING CLIMATE CREDITS
The California Air Resources Board announced a plan to phase out climate credits by 2040 for methane emitted by cows that produce natural gas. The Low Carbon Fuel Standard was implemented to decrease the amount of carbon in California transportation by providing various low-carbon and renewable alternatives.
Under SB 1383, California is required to cut methane emissions by 40% by 2030. According to CARB, roughly 20% of state methane emissions come from landfills, and the remainder comes from dairies and livestock, oil and natural gas extraction, wastewater, and agriculture. The collection of gases from cattle manure offered a renewable source of fuel, but a shift to an electric-based solution has affected this practice.
Now, with CARB proposing to gradually end the practice of giving credits for reducing methane emissions from dairy and swine manure, natural gas production will be further limited.