Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Food and the Environment

By Bill Duesing

Should we take the environment into consideration when we eat? 

That is a very critical question because crises with both food and the environment loom large as we look ahead to the New Year and beyond.
Food and the environment are intimately linked.  Food comes from the environment. How we grow food has environmental consequences.  They can be, and currently are, very serious. 

The good news is that recent research and traditional knowledge point to ways of growing and eating that produce health both for the environment and for people.
For the first time ever, the advisory committee charged with creating the 2015 version of USDA's Dietary Guidelines was considering including environmental costs in writing those guidelines. Sounds like a good idea to me.  But not to everyone.

Language slipped into the Cromnibus Bill, that massive piece of legislation (a.k.a., the agreement) that Congress cobbled together quickly (!) and passed in December to keep the government running, squashed any hope of connecting food choices with environmental consequences:

... The agreement directs the Secretary to only include nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors, in the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Those extraneous factors are identified in the bill language as "agriculture production practices and environmental factors." Note 1.  
Biodiversity loss, the nitrogen cycle and climate change are the three earth vital signs that are way outside the safe zone.  All are directly caused by the industrial approach to agriculture, especially synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and herbicides.  An increase in any of the three makes the others worse.

If the government can't tell us about how our food choices effect the environment, we inherit that responsibility.