Friday, December 4, 2009

Rethinking Animal Agriculture

"Sustainability is not a passing fad...
 and we can't lose track of the fact that we still have to feed people."
Roger A. Cady, Ph.D.

Yesterday I attended the CFANS Solution-Driven Science Symposium Sustainable Animal Agriculture in the 21st Century. Speakers articulated some of the questions that have been swimming in my head. There are trade offs that consumers are often not aware of. What are the total emissions from a local farmer who loads her small truck for daily trips to the farmers market versus an agri-business packing mega food loads (specifically packaged to fit more in a load) for bi-weekly treks upstate? Are organics practical when we attempt to feed a growing population?  Still, maximum productivity is not always optimal productivity.

Consumption and food are emotional, yet ag industries rely on science to educate consumers about food choices. Meanwhile, global populations are exploding, climates and regions are changing (Korea will become subtropic within 10 years). Where on the planet will be the optimal place to grow the planet's food? And can we trust other nations to grow our food?

We must question the environmental impacts of every agricultural decision. We need to determine which trade offs we are willing to make. Because successful brands are so valuable, corporations will stop at no cost to protect them. Consumers have the power to force corporations to provide cage-free eggs and grass-fed beef. But consumers must understand the trade offs of each demand.

What are the trade offs for those of us who have turned local and avoid corporate big boxes? For me it becomes a question of trust. I trust my local farmer more than I trust McDonald's. My butcher and I look each other in the eye when he tells me where the salmon came from. The food choices I make are not available and affordable for a majority of the population. We must listen to those who understand the science of things.  Personally, I am demanding that we address climate and ag issues on a global level and I was pleased yesterday to hear so many voices that are making the same appeal.

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