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Our Food Supply is Broken

Friday, April 17, 2015

Today's Friday Pearl addresses the nutrient-deficient state of government-supported food production in the US.

We are presenting a partial report on current farm policy from an organization I have supported for years, the Cambridge Massachusetts-based, Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). 

The UCS Board is chaired by former Harvard professor, James J. McCarthy, PhD, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the prestigious publisher of Science magazine



The information below is from the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

"Agriculture in the US has taken the wrong road, and it isn’t working. The wealthiest nation in the world is feeding its citizens an unhealthy diet—and growing most of this nutrient-lacking food using unsustainable methods. The result? A population threatened by a crisis of diet-related chronic illness; millions of acres of damaged farmland, and too much toxic chemical runoff spilling into our waterways.

"The US government spends billions of dollars each year to subsidize industrial complex crops used to produce processed foods and sugary drinks—the same foods the USDA’s nutritional guidelines are telling the public to eat less of.

"Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

"Genetic engineering (GE) has become a key component of industrial agriculture. This technology can, no doubt, offer potential benefits—​along with farming risks that current regulations have not addressed effectively." 

The most concerning regulatory issue for a lot of us is the potential political danger of the entire GE international seed supply being patented and owned by a few industrial complex companies.  

"So far, GE solutions to food production problems haven’t actually performed well in real-world applications, especially in comparison with less-costly crop breeding and sustainable farming methods.

"The news is that we know how to safely fix our food system." 

Sustainable and Diversified Agriculture

"A sustainable and diversified approach to farming is economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially beneficial: it works for the farmer, the land, and citizens who need and want a more nutrient-dense affordable food supply that includes government supported 'specialty crop' fruits and vegetables that can help prevent obesity-related chronic and painful degenerative diseases that are costing our government billions of extra healthcare dollars every year.  

"Sustainable agriculture is grounded in the idea of stewardship: preserving the resources that allow us to meet our own needs so that future generations can meet theirs too.

"If we are serious about sustainability, we cannot continue to farm in ways that deplete soil, pollute water, reduce biodiversity and impoverish rural farming communities. 

"We need a new agricultural toolkit and concerned farmers across America, with the help of science, are developing that toolkit. 

“Crops require fertile soil and protection from weeds and insect pests in order to produce the food we need. Sustainable agriculture meets these requirement with sophisticated management practices grounded in the science of agroecology, which views farms as ecosystems made up of interacting elements—soil, water, plants and animals—that can be modified to solve problems, maximize yields and conserve resources. 

“Time and research has proven that agroecologically based farming methods—such as organic fertilizers, crop rotation and cover crops—can succeed in meeting our food nutrient needs, while helping to prevent the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture.

"As farmers incorporate these practices into their work, many benefits emerge: less pollution, healthier and more fertile soil that is less vulnerable to drought and flooding and a lighter impact on surrounding ecosystems, resulting in greater biodiversity.       

"Ultimately, it is the small farmers themselves who are adopting sustainable farming practices used years ago. They, with the help of more farm hands, can turn agriculture from a movement of forward-thinking innovators into standard operating procedure for healthier US food production. 

"As consumers, we can vote for sustainability with our wallets at the supermarket—or better yet, at the farmers market. As citizens, we can call on farm policy decision makers to increase funding for research to improve sustainable practices, provide incentives and support for farmers to adopt or expand their use, and invest in diversified local and regional food systems." 

Our current system is the result of poor farm policy choices—it’s time to make better choices by using academic strategic thinking math on the increased farm labor costs of healthier nutrient-dense food production versus the ever-rising health care costs associated with less expensive production of nutrient-lacking, high-calorie foods that are making us sick.  

Industrial Agriculture

"The late 20th century saw a major transformation in US agriculture. Farms were allowed to grow to enormous sizes, becoming focused on two or three commodity crops and increasingly dependent on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Meat production became dominated by large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These methods of producing food has left a host of problems in their wake.

"Runoff from chemical inputs and CAFO waste pollutes our water and contributes to global warming; monoculture—planting a single crop over a large area year after year depletes soil nutrients and reduces biodiversity; overuse of antibiotics in meat production threatens our ability to fight human disease." 

There truly is a better way. and it’s up to individual voters to elect officials who will strengthen healthy farm policies that support sustainable agriculture, expanded production and increased accessibility to better quality food. Our nation's health depends on it. 

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, and the Biosyntrx staff


"Preventable diseases like hypertension and diabetes result from a default food system that exists only because it is successful as a business proposition for large agribusiness firms. By changing this, we can improve public health." —​Richard Salvador, PhD, UCS Director, Food, Agriculture & Environment Program


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