Effecting a Sustainable Food System: What Would it Take?

I wrote the following policy memo for my Sustainability class.

Food Policy Recommendations for the Obama Administration and Federal Government

Synopsis. An obese populace, oceanic dead zones, community maldevelopment, and pest resistance. These damages manifest a high-magnitude relationship among social and environmental problems. In the United States, the cheapness of food and its abundance in poor quality reflect systemic problems attributable to domestic farm subsidies, corporate disruption of federal regulation, and a harmful culture of convenience. The aforementioned problems are symptomatic of a food system in shambles: the product of industrial agriculture and the centralization of food supply and production. In this case, government has the opportunity to employ one of the most significant preventative health measures of all time for both people and planet. Foremost, the Obama Administration must make sustainable agriculture a national policy priority. It must configurate the Farm Bill to subsidize organic farming, incent states to create local food economies, and re-establish the status of farmers as critical members of society. Lawmakers, you must catalyze food economies that are local, self-sufficient, and nourishing for farmers, consumers, and communities. These and other solutions, though pending, are no longer a matter of choice, for our nation’s very survival may depend upon them.

 Modern Agriculture Poses Grand Challenges.

 As a basis for analysis, I will provide a sampling of industrial agriculture’s detrimental effects on society and the ecosystems that support it.

 Our life support systems are faltering. For example, biodiversity – the backbone of a functioning web of life – suffers massively from our enormous monoculture operations, which discourage natural ecology in favor of artificial pest control and managed ecosystems. Synthetic fertilizers pollute our soil, air, and water, causing respiratory problems in people, as well as oceanic “dead zones.” When nitrogen-based chemicals runoff farms into rivers and oceans, microorganisms flourish, hogging all the water’s oxygen, and asphyxiating larger marine animals. With humans’ present penchant for six crops to supply the majority of their calories, humanity has lost approximately 96% of crop diversity since 1880. Yet there may be hope for crop diversity, when we return to local food economies.

 We must reduce animal product consumption. Livestock production consumes an astoundingly unsustainable amount of resources. It occupies 30% of Earth’s land area, much of which was pristine forest. It generates a vastly disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions. One pound of beef requires 12,000 gallons of water over a cow’s lifetime. Even more striking, the United States could feed 800 million people with the amount of grain it uses to raise livestock. Lastly, livestock accounts for 18% of GHG emissions worldwide. We simply must convert livestock feed to grass-fed – nature’s preference, and encourage less animal product consumption both here and abroad.

 Divest from biofuels. “The current biofuels craze is neither clean nor green. Instead, it has disrupted food and commodities markets and inflicted heavy penalties on poor consumers,” writes Foreign Affairs contributors C. F. Runge and B. Senauer. Subsidies by EU and US governments have distorted food prices, forcing hundreds of millions more people into hunger. In 2009, the UN reports that 1,000,000,000 (one billion) people will be hungry this year. This is unacceptable by any measure; we must divest from biofuel production immediately as it is exacerbating socio-ecological crises. Yet there may be hope for population control, when we empower farmers to grow their own food as well as educate women.

 There is a way out.

 Let the following tentative policy framework guide your action:

  1.  Initiate a progressive nationwide conversion to sustainable agriculture. In this model, the federal government would divest money from conventional agriculture, allocating funds instead to sustainable farmers as well as local Food Policy Councils to spur the creation of decentralized food economies. Another facet of this policy would phase out synthetic chemicals from the food system.
  2. Set a goal of reducing livestock production by 20% by 2020, and mandate a “Grass feed or No feed” policy for said industries.
  3. Create under the Department of the Interior a U.S. Farm Corps whose charge would be to facilitate public participation in sustainable farms nationwide. This would fuel a cultural shift whereby Americans would come to appreciate the value of real food, give back to the Earth, and improve their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being simultaneously.
  4. Create under the Department of the Interior a U.S. Farm Corps whose charge would be to facilitate public participation in sustainable farms nationwide. This would fuel a cultural shift whereby Americans would come to appreciate the value of real food, give back to the Earth, and improve their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being simultaneously.
  5. Integrate food production, nutrition education into curricula at all levels of schooling. It is imperative that people learn proper nutrition as well as the relationship between food and Earth.

 

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