May 11th, 2011 by Joshua S Hill
A group of leading scientists, economists and farmers, brought together under the leadership of John Reganold, a Washington State University soil scientists and lead author of a paper published in the journal Science, have called for a broad shift in federal policies to speed the development of farm practices that are economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable.
Reganold is known for pioneering several widely cited side-by-side comparisons that showed organic farming systems were more earth-friendly than the conventional systems in use at the time, while producing more nutritious and sometimes tastier foods.
The authors note that the current policies focus on the production of a few crops and a minority of farmers, all the while failing to address farming’s contribution to global warming, biodiversity loss, natural resources degradation and public health problems.
“We have the technology and the science to grow food in sustainable ways, but we lack the policies and markets to make it happen,” said Reganold.
The authors of the Science paper are particularly critical of the Farm Bill, which is slated for renewal next year. According to the authors, only one-third of farmers receive payments under the bill, while much of the influence of the bill is focused on production.
The authors note that it does little to promote sustainability while “distorting market incentives and making our food system overly dependent on a few grain crops mainly used for animal feed and highly processed food, with deleterious effects on the environment and human health.”
These deleterious effects include overdrawn aquifers, eroded soil, and polluted water, says Reganold. He adds that agricultural research and the field of agroecology are working to find new ways to grow abundant and affordable food while still protecting the environment, helping farm finances, and contributing to the well-being of the farmers, farm workers, and rural communities.
And it is obvious that the general populace wants change in this area.
Consumers are seeking out organic and alternatively grown foods wherever they can; at grocery stores, farmer’s markets, food coops, community supported agriculture networks, and large outlets like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Costco, and are looking to the conditions of farmers, animal welfare and food safety.
Throw all of this on top of the already mounting evidence that shows just how much damage the agricultural industry is doing to our environment, and there is no surprise that there are those calling for a shift in federal support away from the big business and industry and into research, policies, and markets that support more benign alternative farming systems.
“We need to move more quickly,” said Reganold. “Why are we supporting big, mainstream agriculture that’s not necessarily protecting or benefiting the environment? Why don’t we support innovative farming systems of all sizes that produce food sustainably?”
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