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A Green Agenda for Our Food System

by MARK A. DUNLEA

A Green Shadow Cabinet (greenshadowcabinet.us) is being launched on Earth Day to provide an alternative to the corporate policies promoted by the Obama administration (Democrats) and the Republican Party.

The Cabinet includes a Bureau of Food Sovereignty. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally meaningful food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. Our current federal policies put national food sovereignty at risk.

Food is a necessity and a fundamental human right. And those who grow it have a right to a fair return for their labor and safe working conditions.

The Green Shadow Cabinet will promote a green food system that provides a high quality of life for farmers and food workers, nutritious and safe food for consumers, and reward farming methods that enhance the quality of water, soil, and air, and the beauty of the landscape.

We need to reduce the carbon foot print of our food system, including supporting local food sourcing. We need to phase-out man-made pesticides and artificial fertilizers, using organic and Integrated Pest Management techniques as an alternative to chemical-based agriculture. We need to promote energy and fuel conservation through rotational grazing, cover-crop rotations, nitrogen-fixing systems, and fuel-free, clean renewable energy development on the farm. We need to support community agriculture such as urban farms, Community Supported Agriculture, farmers markets (wholesale and retail), food cooperatives, and community gardens. We need to protect community ownership and control of water. We need to preserve farmland, especially close to urban areas. We need to provide financial support to young and disadvantaged farmers. We need to incentivize fruits and vegetables, and correct the problem of food deserts in many low-income communities. We need to promote sustainable water uses in agriculture and avoid threats to water quality including hydrofracking for natural gas.

Many of the problems with the American food system can be traced to the Farm Bill, currently up for reauthorization. Current subsidies support the overuse of water, pesticide and nitrogenous fertilizer. Its financial support for commodities such as corn (sugar) and soy (fat) contributes to overly processed unhealthy foods being the staples of the American diet, resulting in massive public health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. It promotes monoculture crops rather than diversified sustainable farming. The subsides overwhelming goes to corporate agribusiness rather than family farms. The farm bill supports genetic engineering of our food system while discriminating against organic farming. It subsidizes the conversion of crops to ethanol, which is not energy efficient and contributes to increasing world hunger and higher food prices.

The Farm Bill also undermines the food sovereignty of other nations. Around the world, particularly in the global south, family farmers and local food self-sufficiency are disappearing, in part, because of their inability to compete with our subsidized commodity crops.

And while the food stamp (SNAP) program is the biggest part of the farm bill, the benefits are too low and the program is too restrictive to end hunger in America.

America’s present agriculture system is not ecologically sound. Our so-called cheap food comes at the expense of the exploitation of our farmers along with the oppression of third world peoples, inhumane treatment of animals, pollution of air and water, and degradation of our land. Its reliance on chemicals, fossil fuels, vast amounts of water, and long distance transportation is bad for our environment and contributes to climate change. Runoff from agriculture uses – farm fields and animal corporate farms (CAFOs) – is the largest source of water pollution. Agriculture accounts for about 20% of our energy consumption and 8 to 10% of our greenhouse gases.

A relatively small number of corporations increasingly control food production, availability, and cost. Livestock farmers are forced to sell to a handful of processors, making them little more than contract serfs who are forced to utilize farm practices that are abusive to animals and unhealthy to consumers. Unsound public policies have resulted in corporate consolidation of the food chain making it increasingly difficult for small and mid-sized farms to continue operation. The Obama administration failed to adequately implement the reforms enacted in the Farm Bill five years to provide fairer competition for farmers and livestock producers, and these minor reforms are under attack in the present reauthorization.

The Green Shadow Cabinet supports eliminating patent rights for genetic material, life forms, gene-splicing techniques, and biochemicals derived from them. Food and life belongs to all of us; it should not be turned into another commodity to be exploited for corporate profit.

Mark A. Dunlea is Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of NYS and a member of the Executive Committee of the Green Party of NY. He is author of Madame President: The Unauthorized Biography of the First Green Party President.

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