Where Do Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Stand on Sustainability?

In August, Vice President Mike Pence made headlines when talking about the meat industry. While speaking to a Trump campaign rally comprised of farmers and ranchers, Pence brought up past statements from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris and her stance on climate change, sustainability, and meat consumption:

“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would bury the economy under an avalanche of red tape: more regulation and more bureaucracy. In fact, the California senator that he named as his running mate this week said during her short campaign for president that Americans needed to be, and I quote, ‘educated about the effect of our eating habits on our environment. Senator Harris said that she would change the dietary guidelines of this country to reduce the amount of red meat Americans can eat. Well, I’ve got some red meat for you: We’re not going to let Joe Biden and Kamala Harris cut America’s meat.” 

Pence somewhat misrepresented what Harris said at a CNN town hall in September. While she did say she supported the U.S. dietary guidelines to reduce the intake of red meat, she didn’t make any particularly bold statement about eradicating meat (or factory farming). She also shared that she eats red meat, too.

What Harris actually said was:

“I think about the point that you’re raising in a broader context which is that as a nation, we actually need to have a real priority at the highest level of government around what we eat and in terms of healthy eating because we have a problem in America. I love cheeseburgers from time to time, I just do. But there has to be also what we do in terms of creating incentives that we will eat in a healthy way, that we will encourage moderation, and that we will be educated about the effect of our eating habits on our environment. We have to do a much better job with that and the government has to do a much better job with that.”

With the 2020 presidential election just months away, now is the time to learn where candidates stand on issues that matter to you. We combed their campaign materials and sponsorship of past bills for a look at where Joe Biden and Kamala Harris stand on a variety of issues pertaining to climate change animal welfare, food justice, and the environment.

Where does Joe Biden stand on climate change? | Joe Biden via Facebook


Biden’s campaign addresses issues that pertain to rural voters as an entire section on his website.

  • He proposes increasing the maximum loan amount for new or beginning farmers to $100,000.
  • He advocates creating regional food systems to direct fresh produce to schools, hospitals and federal institutions.
  • He proposes adding low-carbon manufacturing jobs to every state. These jobs would take byproducts of agricultural consumption and convert them to new products (like fabrics or chemicals) as a new revenue source for farmers.
  • He advocates paying farmers reaching goals for net-zero emissions for their farms.
  • He supports including farmers in the development of new technologies and new seeds, so that private companies are not the only beneficiaries of future success.
  • He’s been endorsed by Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the labor union United Farmworkers of America.

In February 2019, Kamala Harris introduced the Fairness for Farm Workers Act in the Senate. The bill would require businesses to pay agricultural workers overtime pay of one-and-a-half-times the usual rate. The bill would also repeal exemptions for overtime pay for some businesses, including small farmers.

In March 2017, she co-sponsored a bill that would put undocumented agricultural workers on a path to citizenship and shield them from deportation.

Will Joe Biden take the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement? | Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Climate Change

In 1987, Biden introduced the Global Climate Protection Act, which is one of the first bills in Congress to address climate change. The bill directed the president to establish a task force on climate change.

  • In July, he announced a $2 trillion plan to invest in clean energy jobs, including in clean vehicle production.
  • He advocates updating our infrastructure, such as water supply and buildings, to withstand climate change.
  • He proposed that disadvantaged communities are the recipients of 40 percent of the clean energy and infrastructure benefits in his plan.
  • He supports investments in climate research and innovation.
  • He hasn’t endorsed the Green New Deal with the vigor of other politicians, but he referred to it as “a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face” on his website.
  • He vows to recommit to the Paris Agreement, from which President Trump withdrew in 2017. The Agreement is a pledge by 200 countries to reduce greenhouse emissions and to help poorer countries adapt to climate change.
  • He promises not to accept campaign contributions from oil, gas or coal companies or executives.
  • If you’d like to hear directly from Biden about his beliefs on climate change, he dedicated an episode of his podcast, “Here’s the Deal,” to a discussion.

During a 2019 CNN town hall on climate change, Harris voiced support for the Green New Deal. She also said she’d direct the Department of Justice to investigate oil and gas companies for contributing to global warming.

  • In July, she introduced the Environmental Justice For All Act alongside Senators Cory Booker and Tammy Duckworth. Among other aspects of the Act, it would support communities and workers as they transition away from fossil fuels.
  • In July, Harris introduced the Water For Tomorrow Act to invest infrastructure to address climate change’s effect on the water supply.
  • In May, Harris joined other senators in asking the Environmental Protection Agency not to go forward with changes that might increase air pollution while the U.S. confronts the coronavirus epidemic.

The Meat Industry

The Biden campaign did not respond to a questionnaire sent to it last year about factory farms/concentrated animal feeding operations. He did, however, support offering additional pay to workers in meat processing plants during the coronavirus.

Biden has been targeted by Let Dairy Die, a direct action group that seeks to end the dairy industry. You may have seen the group jump onstage with Biden at a speaking engagement in Los Angeles back in March.

In July, Harris co-sponsored a bill that would prohibit meat processing plants and slaughterhouses from operating at high speeds.

Harris has expressed support for animal testing alternatives. | Vaun0815 via Unsplash

Animal Testing

The Humane Society Legislative Fund said Biden has “a long and positive legacy on our concerns,” including cosponsoring a bill that would prevent research on dogs and cats from certain animal dealers.

The Fund also called Harris “a very strong pick” for Biden on animal protection policy issues. In 2016, she supported increased funding for alternative chemical testing to eliminate animal suffering.

Food Justice

On his campaign website, Biden stated that food insecurity “isn’t about scarcity—it’s about a massive failure in leadership.”

  • He supports the FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries (FEED) Act, which would temporarily allow the federal government to pay nonprofits and restaurants to provide meals for seniors and underprivileged children during the coronavirus.
  • He also backs a federal $15 minimum wage as well as indexing the minimum wage to the median hourly wage.

In 2019, Harris co-sponsored the Basic Assistance for Students in College Act, which would establish a $500 million grant program to assist college students with food and other essentials. The Act stipulated that community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities should have priority for the grants.

  • In May, she co-introduced the FEED Act, which would temporarily allow the federal government to pay nonprofits and restaurants to provide meals for seniors and underprivileged children during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • She supports a federal $15 minimum wage.
  • In April, she co-introduced the Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2020 to strengthen supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits (SNAP, or food stamps) during the coronavirus pandemic. She also urged the USDA not to deny vulnerable college students of SNAP benefits during the pandemic.