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New York City has unveiled an ambitious plan to track the carbon footprint of household food consumption and impose limits on the amount of red meat served in public institutions. These initiatives are part of a comprehensive effort to achieve a 33% reduction in carbon emissions from food by 2030.

Mayor Eric Adams, together with representatives from the Mayor's Office of Food Policy and Mayor's Office of Climate & Environmental Justice, announced these programs at a Brooklyn culinary center run by NYC Health + Hospitals, the city's public healthcare system, just before Earth Day.

As part of these initiatives, the city will include a new chart in its annual greenhouse gas inventory that publicly tracks the carbon footprint associated with household food consumption. This addition is the result of a partnership between New York and London, American Express, C40 Cities, and EcoData lab. Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection highlighted the significance of this expanded data collection, stating that it sets a new standard for cities and provides a foundation for shaping policy.

The inventory will not only measure emissions from food consumption but also from the production and consumption of other consumer goods like apparel, regardless of whether they are made in New York City. It will also track emissions associated with services such as air travel and healthcare.

During the announcement, Mayor Adams emphasized the environmental impact of food consumption, particularly meat and dairy products. He acknowledged that food represents the third-largest source of emissions in cities, following buildings and transportation. Adams highlighted the need for a conversation about the emissions generated by beef and stressed that changing eating habits could benefit both the climate and public health.

However, experts caution that the relationship between meat consumption and emissions is more complex than it may seem. Different meats have varying greenhouse gas footprints due to differences in production systems, and the suitability of land for cattle production differs from that for other types of agriculture. Regenerative agricultural systems, for example, can actually help sequester carbon and reduce the overall greenhouse gas footprint of food production.

Regenerative livestock farmer Will Harris emphasized the importance of animal impact in regenerating depleted land and restarting natural cycles disrupted by industrial farming practices. He argued that when done correctly, animal impact provides ecological benefits and cannot be disregarded as part of the solution for a healthier planet.

In parallel, a partnership between American Express, New York, London, and C40 Cities was launched to map the consumption-based emissions of both cities. This effort aims to develop actions that incentivize sustainable consumption and reduce emissions associated with food systems and waste.

The mapping of urban emissions inventories is seen as a crucial step in measuring, planning, and implementing sustainable strategies for cities. By collaborating with businesses, including supermarket chains and retailers, cities can work towards becoming better places to live while supporting sustainable business practices.