MDA scolds committee for focusing on ‘carbon-intensive foods’
BALTIMORE — A committee working to reduce the state government’s carbon footprint shouldn’t be focused on slashing the amount of beef, dairy and other animal products purchased by state agencies, the Maryland Department of Agriculture said this month.
The Carbon-Intensive Foods Subcommittee met Aug. 8 for the first time since naming the agriculture department a co-chair and expanding the committee to include more members from the state’s farming community last month.
Agricultural representatives clashed with an environmentalist and other committee members who said the group was organized to create new purchasing guidelines for state agencies, such as universities and prisons, to reduce the amount of animal food products they buy.
“People should have the choice of what they want to eat, and we should be able to provide that choice, and we need to be very careful on the messaging that we’re putting out,” said Hans Schmidt, a committee member and assistant secretary at the agriculture department.
The Department of General Services — the committee’s other co-chair — hosted the meeting in its Baltimore office.
The 26-member committee, which was created in the spring, was initially scheduled at the meeting to finalize a list of so-called “carbon-intensive foods” that would be distributed to state agencies along with best practices for purchasing foods whose production creates less greenhouse gas.
The list was one of several committee “deliverables” approved by General Services Secretary Ellington E. Churchill Jr. before the agriculture department was named co-chair, said Chloe Waterman, a committee member and senior food campaigner with Friends of the Earth, a Washington, D.C., environmental advocacy group.
Schmidt, however, said he was against creating the list.
“I need to kind of reevaluate and talk to (Churchill) to understand what the deliverables are, but walking into this room, my intent was not to come up with a list, but to come up with whatever the strategy is that we can reduce our carbon footprint,” he said.
Maryland farmers are deeply committed to sustainability and among the most progressive in the world, several agricultural representatives said. They also produce a tiny amount of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But most of the food purchased by the state is produced outside Maryland, Waterman said, and climate change demands an urgent response.
The United Nations released a startling report on Aug. 7 that said the world’s land and water resources are being depleted at an extraordinary rate, which when paired with climate change, could soon threaten the global food supply.
“This is a dire situation,” Waterman said.
Schmidt said both departments would figure out the committee’s next steps.