Bob Gallagher: Let’s insist on a sustainable food system

Bob Ghallgher PhotoFair Farms is excited to announce that Bob Gallagher (pictured right), one of our steering committee members, has an article in this week’s Annapolis Capital Gazette all about the Fair Farms campaign! His guest column talks about issues such as food labeling, antibiotics used in agriculture, and of course, a smarter and healthier food system for Maryland:

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I took note of all the food labeling: free-range, grass-fed, sustainable, antibiotic and hormone free, organic, non-GMO — it goes on and on. A consumer might think this is over-the-top gastro political correctness, but I think it signals something different.

During the past few decades, large agriculture companies have consolidated control over the food production industry in a way that dramatically increased crop yields and meat production while maximizing corporate profits and squeezing many family farms out of business. While newer production methods have helped to keep food costs relatively low, they have created unintended negative effects on public health and the environment. Taxpayers ultimately bear the costs of addressing these consequences.

Here are some examples: In meat production, the routine use of human antibiotics in animals that are not sick is promoting the proliferation of drug-resistant superbugs. Some commonly used pesticides are linked to serious health issues; harming pollinators we rely on and destroying marine life and degrading water quality. Tons of excess chicken manure are suffocating parts of the Chesapeake Bay.

Increasingly, consumers seek to avoid these risks by choosing food that is local, free of toxic chemicals, and grown or raised in a manner that is more humane for the animals and protective of the environment. These choices are sometimes more difficult to find and more expensive. That isn’t surprising, because it costs a farmer more to provide natural feed to livestock, remove weeds manually and find markets for organic products. It’s cheaper for a poultry grower to spread manure onto already saturated fields than to find a more responsible alternative for its disposal. Taxpayers heavily subsidize the intensive farming norm, while also paying higher bills for related health care costs and to restore the damage done to our environment.

Efforts to more carefully regulate antibiotics and pesticides and the spreading of excess manure have had limited success. Lobbyists for groups representing the interests of agribusiness over those of the farmers themselves have been successful in defeating common-sense reforms.

But, a “good food” movement is building across the country. Americans are voting with their forks to let food producers and retailers know that they want healthier food that is sustainably produced. The evidence of its success is growing. The appetite for organic, sustainable, humanely raised food is reflected in more farm-to-table restaurants, farmers markets and grocery store options than ever. Fast food restaurants are going cage-free and antibiotic-free. Costco’s sales of organic products now exceed Whole Foods’. Several big poultry companies are phasing out antibiotics in production. Schools and colleges are looking for local, sustainable food options.

These groups just announced the launch of Fair Farms, a campaign convened by Waterkeepers Chesapeake and supported by more than 40 endorsing partners working to create awareness about the relationship between our food systems, the environment and public health.

Fair Farms asks consumers to pledge to support sustainable farming practices, make informed choices when food shopping or dining out, and lend their voices to efforts to reduce unhealthy and polluting practices. Fair Farms expects that market pressure generated by the campaign will encourage conventional food producers and sellers to move toward sustainable practices. Healthy food will become increasingly available and, importantly, less expensive. And, pollution from unsustainable agricultural practices will be reduced.

I pledge that, when I go food shopping or out for a meal, I’ll try to patronize a vendor who is committed to healthier food and a healthier environment. We all have a role we can play in a better future for our families and for Maryland. You can learn more about Fair Farms at

Bob Gallagher, an Annapolis resident, is a member of the board of Waterkeepers Chesapeake and a co-chairman of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. Readers may contact him at

To read the full article, please visit here.

Reprinted with permission, ©Capital Gazette, 2015.