On April 27, Berkeley became the first city in the United States to urge its public employees’ retirement system to divest from industrial animal protein and factory farming companies. Berkeley Councilmember Kate Harrison, the author of the divestment resolution, has set another example of how government can “think globally and act locally.”
The city of Berkeley is known for responsible investment decisions. In 2013, the city of Berkeley became the first U.S. city to divest from the fossil fuel industry by joining 350.org’s Fossil Free campaign, which has since divested $11 trillion from the industry. Moreover, the city of Berkeley adopted a resolution to integrate environmental, social and governance principles into the city’s investing policy. (ESG)
California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) is a government agency that manages public employee pension funds. The city of Berkeley provides retirement benefits through CalPERS and deposits funds on behalf of its employees. But CalPERS invests nearly $679 million in industrial animal protein and factory farming companies, like JBS and Tyson. Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return reports that industrial animal protein and factory farming is associated with 28 ESG issues ranging from greenhouse gas emissions to global pandemics. As a result, CalPERS’ holdings in these industrial-scale animal farming companies contradict the city of Berkeley’s ESG investment principles.
Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use account for 24% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions and animal agriculture is responsible for nearly 60% of the agriculture emissions. The top five meat and dairy companies generate more GHG emissions than Exxon Mobile, Shell or BP, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Moreover, Amazon rainforests are being destroyed in order to clear the land for livestock companies, which has compounding consequences on global warming, wildlife sustainability, and indigenous communities. Researchers at Oxford University report that 83% of farmland is being used for meat, dairy, eggs and aquaculture in order to provide only 18% of the global calorie supply. Therefore, industrial animal agriculture will not only destroy the remaining forests and worsen our climate crisis but also increase food insecurity for the growing population.
The city of Berkeley is in good company by divesting from factory farming companies. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, has authored Farm System Reform Act (FSRA) to phase out factory farming. The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusettes. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, has also co-sponsored the FSRA companion bill in the House. Some financial institutes, like Bank Australia, have already divested from factory farming companies. By urging CalPERS to divest, the city of Berkeley joins this growing movement and their pioneering decision will hopefully encourage other California cities to do the same.
My organization, Cultivate Empathy for All, is an innovative nonprofit that does not raise donations. Instead, we mobilize local residents to educate their local lawmakers along with proposing drafted programs and policies.
Nilang Gor is a Berkeley resident, molecular biologist and founder of Cultivate Empathy for All, a volunteer group of empathy enthusiasts.