Sustainable Seafood and Agriculture: Fishing for Solutions
Here’s the major buzz on the hottest trend in food: sustainability. When someone figures how to put all this on a label, we’ll let you know.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
TOTAL ENERGY USED. There’s a new low-carb diet: low
carbon. Consumers want to know the greenhouse emissions of the
total energy used in food production in order to reduce global
warming. One component is “food miles,” the distance food
travels from producer to consumer. A second component, the
energy used in production and processing, can be mitigated by
use of alternative fuels like solar or wind power, or use of
biofuels in farm equipment and in distribution trucks.
WATER CONSERVATION. Water tables are overdrafted in many farm communities. Conservation methods and technologies include gray water recycling, rainwater capture, neutron probes for soil moisture monitoring, pressure bombs for measuring a plant’s water content, irrigation scheduling, and soil capacity amendments.
FOOD SAFETY. The Center for Disease Control reports 76 million cases of food-borne illness each year, 350,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths. Thirty years ago, the FDA monitored 20 percent of all imported food. Today it monitors only .2 percent. Seafood imports alone have risen to 80 percent of US seafood consumed. And we had our recent lessons on domestic food risk.
FOOD SECURITY. Historically, security is an issue of poverty. The 35 million people in the US who do not have access to a nutritious, consistent, safe food supply are poor. But contaminated food supplies, global epidemics, erratic weather, and terrorism are raising concerns for everyone.
SOCIAL JUSTICE. More consumers want assurance that their food comes without a moral compromise. Livable wages, fair trade and safe working conditions must be provided for employees both at home and abroad. Humane treatment of animals must be guaranteed.
FOOD POLICY. The fact is not everyone has access to an adequate grocery store. And the global and organizational nature of the food system is fragile for all economic classes. The government is failing to provide incentives for farmers to do the right thing. Government funds for agricultural research are skewed in favor of conventional farming. The current Farm Bill allocates only 1.5 percent of research funds to organic farming, which has surpassed 3 percent of total farming and represents the most quickly expanding segment of the industry. Farm subsidies support an unfair proportion of conventional farms and large-scale corporate farms.
Organic advocates who work with large farms are quick to point out that they are not the enemy. Many are converting to sustainable practices and are passionate about the healthy, rich soil and plants that result from organic methods. In many cases, they are raising the standards.
ECONOMIC VIABILITY. All of these demands must add up to financial sustainability for food producers. Consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay more for organic food, and a growing segment supports a broader sustainability.