Why Doesn't The USDA Support Farm To Fork?
In May of 2020, the European Commission issued “A Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system.”
It is a landmark document that sets ambitious goals for the EU (and the rest of the world). It is the heart of the European Green Deal that sets the ambitious goal of carbon neutrality for the European continent by 2050. It recognizes “the inextricable links between healthy people, healthy societies and a healthy planet.”
It describes that “in the EU, 33 million people cannot afford a quality meal every second day. Obesity is also rising. Over half of the adult population are now overweight, contributing to a high prevalence of diet-related diseases (including various types of cancer) and related healthcare costs.”
The statement goes on to create the blueprint for the development of a “circular bio-based economy.”
It depicts an international system of agriculture that embraces the kind of sustainable practices that have been promoted for 80 years by the organic movement. They set the specific goals of reducing the overall use of chemical pesticides by 50% by 2030. All while working to support farmers in this transition.
“In the EU today you see this new initiative, the “Farm To Fork” thing, which I call “Farm To Empty Fork” because that’s what it's going to be! They are abandoning the use of technology in agriculture! And they wonder why we’re not having it. We are not going to have the EU send a message to Africa, or for that matter, to anywhere else in the world that this is the direction to head, folks.”– Gregg Doud, Chief Ag Trade Negotiator under Donald Trump speaking in 2020
And they specifically address organic farming, saying it needs to be promoted. “It has a positive impact on biodiversity, it creates jobs and attracts young farmers. Consumers recognise its value. The legal framework supports the shift to this type of farming, but more needs to be done…”
“The Commission will put forward an Action Plan on organic farming. This will help Member States stimulate both supply and demand for organic products. It will ensure consumer trust and boost demand through promotion campaigns and green public procurement. This approach will help to reach the objective of at least 25% of the EU’s agricultural land under organic farming by 2030 and a significant increase in organic aquaculture.”
This document is the best of news for the world food movement.
To have the European Union take such a strong stance about a sane agriculture is unprecedented. It pushes “conventional” agriculture to use less chemicals. It calls for eaters to eat less meat and to source that meat from pasture based farms. It commits them to having 25% of their land farmed organically.
It is a part of the European Green Deal, a roadmap that puts Europe on track to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
And how has the US responded to this visionary movement?
“We’ve had for many years a significant difference of opinion about the way in which we farm, and how we go about determining what needs to be regulated and what needs to be allowed or the permission farmers are given to use certain pesticides and chemicals and so forth. There’s obviously been a significant difference.
“The question is whether or not those we do business with around the world will embrace whatever decisions are made by the EU. Obviously we don’t have much impact on the EU in terms of convincing them to do something differently.
“Now the question is whether our customers in Southeast Asia, our customers in Japan, our customers in Korea, our customers in China are going to impose some of the same restrictions and same requirements and conditions? Or can we provide an alternative approach that is supported by science, that also meets the needs of the customer today that is growing increasingly more interested in sustainability, more increasingly interested in knowing how their food is produced, where it is produced, the mechanisms by which it is produced?
“And I think we’re at a crossroads.
“I think we’re at a critical point in terms of figuring out exactly how we are going to provide that alternative story.
-Tom Vilsack in September, 2020 at the Ag Outlook Forum in Kansas City.
Vilsack said this while he was president and lobbyist for the US Dairy Export Council. Just months later he would once again become the USDA Secretary of Agriculture, proclaiming at his Senate confirmation hearing, “This is a different time, and I am a different person, and it is a different department.”
But not a different time when it comes to how we will grow food.
Since becoming Secretary of Ag, Vilsack has continued to fight the Farm To Fork effort every inch of the way, seeing it as a mortal threat to chemical agriculture.
“Vilsack’s disdain for the EU’s plan—which dates to last year, when he worked as a dairy industry executive—cannot arise from a sense of US superiority. Our diet-related public health troubles are deeper than Europe's; and climate change and widespread water pollution are ravaging our two most important farming regions, California's Central Valley and the Midwestern corn belt. So what is it about the plan that so repels Vilsack?”
Tom Philpott in Mother Jones magazine
We are left with the grim knowledge that our government is once again on the wrong side, aligned with the biggest and most heedless multinationals in the world against…us.
The note of hope in this is that the EU shows that not ALL governments are giving in to these huge financial pressures. It is possible for an elected government to take a longer view of the problems that we all face, and the proven solutions that we have learned.
This is a fight that is invisible to most of us, but one that deeply concerns us. How will the world feed its citizens? How will food be grown. There is a battle going on, and we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and say, “I didn’t know.”
Yours in the dirt,
Please listen to our interview with David Grinspoon. As an astrobiologist, David is an unlikely voice in a conversation about farming. But he had us on the edge of our seats as he described Big Time. And his words have tremendous resonance as we try to take our place as Terra Sapiens, his name for the next step in our evolution as responsible citizens of Planet Earth.
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