Is the United States on the right path to implementing a sustainable agricultural system? According…
July 18, 2017
In the United States, more than 15 different agencies administer over 30 different laws regarding labor, safety, food production, nutritional guidelines, and environmental regulations. Even though the agencies have similar goals, there is no formal mechanism for communication between the groups, creating overlapping and conflicting policies that hold the United States back from being the shining example of a prosperous, equitable, and sustainable food industry that it has the potential to be.
In recognition of this problem, the Vermont Law School and the Harvard Law School have proposed a solution to create a dialogue between government agencies. After 18 months of researching food strategies around the globe, food industry experts Laurie Beyranevand, Emily Broad Leib, and Emma Clippenger hosted a national webinar explaining a Blueprint for a National Food Strategy. The Strategy aims to create and fund a leading office that can mediate between agencies and can engage state, local, and tribal actors as partners in policy development and problem identification. From there, the leading office will:
- Develop an approach to ensure stakeholder participation and to provide opportunities for feedback throughout the policy creation process.
- Clearly state the expected outcomes of the policies, with realistic implementation goals and public reports to ensure accountability.
- Give periodic updates of the policies as they develop and are implemented to ensure that the policies are always relevant and best address the issues at hand.
Establishing a leading office and increasing communication between government agencies is essential, as the food industry is highly dynamic; a single policy change can have an array of environmental, economic, and social implications.
One area where policy coordination between multiple agencies could resolve an array of issues is agricultural subsidies. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Department of Human Health and Services (DHHS) could reallocate agricultural subsidies to help Americans meet the USDA nutrition guidelines. Even though the nutritional guidelines recommend eating a variety of whole fruits and vegetables, the United States produces 24 percent fewer servings of produce than necessary for citizens to achieve these nutritional standards, as most agricultural subsidies go towards corn, soy, and cotton.
While imported produce can supplement this deficit, imported produce is often too expensive for some families and is frequently lower in quality after traveling so far. Subsidies should prioritize sustainable farming practices for food grown for human consumption, such as fruits and vegetables, as opposed to food grown for livestock consumption on factory farms, such as corn and soy. Supporting a broader range of fruits and vegetables through subsidies encourages crop diversification – leading to less harmful chemical input, healthier food, and improved land and waterways.
While the food strategy calls for national solutions, it also highlights the importance of building relationships across local communities and identifying shared goals at all levels of cooperation. Fair Farms’ partner, the Chesapeake Foodshed Network (CFN), is an organization that has already begun creating ties across state borders to “build a sustainable, resilient, inclusive, and equitable regional food system in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”
In a follow-up video conference to the national webinar, the CFN and creators of the National Blueprint expressed their desires for the Chesapeake Bay area to pioneer regional food strategies, and invited all interested locals to brainstorm with them. The leaders believe that because the watershed has both rural and urban landscapes, includes multiple states, and surrounds the nation’s capital, it is uniquely positioned to design and test policies that could serve as an example to other parts of the nation.
With the Chesapeake region’s leadership in mind, Christy Gabbard, coordinator of the CFN, stresses the importance of locals participating in the conference this November in Baltimore, Maryland. The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) will host its ‘It Takes a Region’ annual conference at the Lord Baltimore Hotel on November 9, 10, and 11 to “learn, debate, collaborate, and innovate solutions to critical food systems issues.” With representatives from twelve states in the Northeast region, the conference provides a unique opportunity for the Bay area to learn and gain momentum.
If you would like to become more involved with the Chesapeake Foodshed Network, you can sign up for The Hive, a bi-monthly digest of food system happenings based upon your food-related interests.