Consumers can make more informed choices. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)
Making the changes necessary to fix the problems in both our agriculture and in our diets requires a fundamental shift in attitude.
Some of today’s major agricultural problems, such as pollution, greenhouse gases and soil erosion began decades ago, with government incentives that rewarded production of just a few commodity crops.
Here are some suggestions to improve and fix our broken food system:
Develop a worldwide farming best-practices standard
While it is important for producers with a focus on naturalness to find customers, it is not an optimal standard for environmental health. Farmers are experimenting with cover cropping, no-till, precision agriculture and lots of other strategies to reduce runoff, conserve water and cut greenhouse gas emissions. If we can codify best practices and certify the crops of farmers who use them, those farmers can attract customers willing to pay more for foods grown that way.
Move to crop-neutral insurance and subsidizing
Governments are disproportionately subsidizing crops that form the backbone of what public-health experts are telling us to eat less of: processed foods and meats. We should continue to help farmers reduce risk through insurance-premium help, but eliminate the supplemental programs that support commodity crops, primarily corn and soy.
Overhaul our governmental incentive programs
If we want to move away from subsidizing farmers for growing what is not healthful, we should consider the same idea at the consumer level as well. People shall be encouraged to disregard unhealthy foods by providing the customers with governmental incentives to buy healthful foods in their time of need.
While it is very hard to change adults’ habits but not quite as hard to change kids’, we should provide them with information and start them young learning what is good and what is not.
Use sourcing as a selling point
This is beginning to happen, as more companies ask farmers to reduce antibiotic use, let chickens out of cages and eliminate gestation crates, so they can give concerned consumers a way to support those practices.
Consumers have aright to know what goes into products, how was their vegetables grown, how were the pigs and chickens treated. Where the products or meat they are buying genetically modified in any way? Were the fruits, vegetables or proteins they are buying treated with disease-resistant or herbicide-tolerant products? The consumer has a right to know.
As a consumer, her is what you should do:
Look for those labels and buy the products that align with your priorities. Create a demand for products grown with best practices.
Get closer to your food: grow something, anything. Plant some herbs in a window box or a tomato plant in a pot. It’s particularly important if you have kids. We all need a reminder that food begins with a plant that turns sunlight into energy.
Spend some time with animals, and you will end up giving more thought to the lives they had before ending in your plate. Raising and killing your own livestock will forever cured you of wasting any part of an animal.
Help our farmers, not the multinationals
Farmers are the interface between planet and people.
No matter what the rest of us do, the environmental impact of farming is in the hands of the people who are actually doing it. Everyone agrees that reducing pollution, safeguarding soil and sequestering carbon are important, but no one knows how to do that on any particular farm, or particular field, better than the farmer.
Governments and consumers have to find a way to give farmers the help they might need to make changes. We need to create and encourage a market for crops and animals raised with attention to the rights of farmworkers, the welfare of animals and the impact on the planet. We need to create a standard that allows farmers to harvest products and raise animals according to higher standards.
One way to achieve this goal would be to stop creating incentives to grow a few commodity crops at as high a capacity as possible, with insufficient attention to environmental repercussions. One other way to achieve this goal would be for the consumers to stop buying these fruits and vegetables, these meat products that are not harvested or raised according to higher standards, health, ecological and environmental considerations.
Remember: Farmers grow what people buy!
JMD is a talented Keynote and Motivational Speaker, Writer, Columnist, Public Affairs & Communications Strategist.