FDA needs to modernize its pathway for climate tools so farmers can use them now

We are at a pivotal moment for climate change. According to the United Nations, the world has eight years left to curb emissions or suffer irreversible damage to the planet. As the world looks to tackle this crisis, critics of farming are hijacking the debate and calling for mass reductions of dairy, meat, and poultry consumption — a move that would threaten global food security and block vulnerable populations from receiving essential nutrition. 

We cannot disconnect the conversation about climate from calories — they are inextricably linked. Despite what critics may say, the science is clear that livestock can — and should — be part of the climate change solution by quickly reducing methane emissions, a potent, but short-lived greenhouse gas produced through livestock digestion. With just a 20-30 percent reduction in methane emissions, the entire livestock industry can be climate neutral in the next two decades, guaranteeing that we can nourish the world and reduce climate warming.  

But to reduce methane emissions quickly, we need better, more efficient regulatory pathways to get the latest sustainability tools into the hands of producers — now! In the last decade, innovators in our industry have made several scientific breakthroughs with safe and effective feed ingredients that can be added to the diets of livestock to significantly reduce emissions, yet, because of red tape, virtually none of them are being used here in the United States.  

While the rest of the world leads in the authorization of these feed ingredients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration applies an archaic 1998 policy to environmentally beneficial animal feed and feed ingredients and regulates them as animal drugs, a scientifically unnecessarily and costly process that prohibits them from coming to market. Other countries can bring emissions-reducing technologies to market much quicker than we can in the United States — potentially four or five years earlier — putting us at a big disadvantage and negatively impacting supply chain resilience. It is time for the FDA to move forward, adopt a modernized approach to regulating these products as animal feeds and find ways to reduce review times. 

You can walk into a farm supplier in Europe and other parts of the world and purchase feed ingredients that advertise their ability to reduce methane emissions from cattle. Last year, the European Food Safety Authority provided a fast and comprehensive safety and efficacy review of Bovaer, a feed ingredient that reduces methane emissions by 30 percent or more in cattle. Farmers in Europe and other countries are now using safe technologies such as Bovaer years earlier than we will in the U.S., and that is putting our farms at a competitive disadvantage.  

With decisive action, innovation in animal agriculture can be the critical, immediately tangible solution to positively impact global climate warming through the reduction of methane emissions. Why methane? Because of methane’s short-lived nature, persisting just a decade in the environment, reducing its production presents an opportunity to slow the clock on climate change.  

The Biden administration’s whole of government approach to confronting the climate crisis is putting attention on the important role of the FDA. Congress is also supportive of this policy to modernize the FDA approval process to speed the delivery of proven tools to farmers and included language to do so in the FY22 omnibus appropriations bill. Achieving an efficient regulatory pathway for these ingredients would eliminate the competitive disadvantage facing U.S. farmers and provide them science-based proven technologies to become climate neutral. Farmers want tools to fight climate change, and we have a responsibility to get them the tools they need.  

This is an urgent situation. On May 9, the World Meteorological Organization said there is a 93 percent chance that the five years from 2022 to 2026 will be the hottest on record. We must quickly get sustainability innovations into the hands of livestock producers if we are going to nourish the world and reduce climate warming by 2030.  

Constance Cullman is president and CEO of the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA)