Food & Agriculture
Agriculture remains a major part of the American economy. More than 21 million Americans rely on agriculture for jobs, and American exports of agricultural products totaled $115 billion in 2010, creating a positive agricultural trade balance. In addition to crops that feed humans and livestock and create fabrics and furniture, crops such as corn and soy have great potential as alternative sources of energy for transportation.
The future of a vibrant agricultural sector, and by extension healthy rural economies, is however under stress. The average age of a farmer today in America is 58. In the next 20 years, 70 percent of our nation’s privately owned farmland will change hands. The health of the nation’s topsoil is threatened by overgrazing, pesticides and industrial farming. A new generation of American farmers needs help from Congress and the USDA to support programs that encourage better land stewardship, provide greater access to capital and promote organic certification.
Agriculture is essential to America’s wellbeing, but efforts to maximize farm productivity have had serious unintended consequences (negative externalities) that harm all Americans on some level. Our system currently promotes large factory farms over local, community-based farms, which requires use of harmful animal husbandry practices, threatens public health, limits consumer choice and undermines farming as a job and lifestyle. Our dependence on chemical-based pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers not only poisons wildlife but leads to such contaminated water runoff that the Environmental Protection Agency has labeled agriculture the leading cause of impaired water quality.
Our system further encourages transporting food to market by burning far more fossil fuels than are necessary to get food to the places it is needed. Globally, the food system is responsible for a third of all carbon emissions, including those coming from transportation. As well, our agricultural policy subsidizes industries that provide over-processed foods high in fat, sugar, and salt, while leaving little support for specialized crops such as fruits and vegetables. This policy has led to increased rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, which hike health care costs.
Sustainable agriculture policies can alleviate these problems, protecting the environment, improving public health, and ensuring that farming will once again be a viable lifestyle for Americans. ASBC advocates for initiatives that reduce subsidies to agribusinesses, preserve topsoil, reduce the use of harmful chemicals, and conserve clean air and water. These policies will allow us to safely rely on the farms that feed Americans and the world for years to come.