Tuesday, October 20, 2009

(Sustainable) Food For Thought

When we think of sustainable food production, we may often think about niche markets like local or organic, although there is some bickering among producers about which is more sustainable. See the Marginal Revolution: for a look at this in terms of food miles, or here from Environmental Science and Technology, with more discussion about this research here in National Geographic.

While niche markets are emerging as one way to address the general public's concerns about sustainable food choices, we often forget about the technological improvements that family farmers depend upon for their livelihood, but also make our foods more sustainable. We often get the idea from the media that our food industry has been taken over by industrial farms, but the numbers just don't support those notions. Family farms make up 98% of all farms in the U.S. and according to the USDA ERS (2007) non family corporations make up less than 1% of the total number of farms in the U.S. and have accounted for only 6-7% of farm product sales in every census since 1978.

Family farms probably rely most heavily on products like biotech Bt corn and glyphosate resistant corn and soybeans. A good review of the environmental benefits of biotechnology in crop production can be found here. Many niche local and organic producers are catching on and are pushing for adoption of exceptions for biotechnology to be included in organic production ( See Science and the Boston Globe for more)

We've also seen great strides in the improved sustainability of milk ( video) and beef ( video). With a little better understanding at the farm gate level,I think many people will be surprised just how many sustainable food choices we really have!

Additional Information:

Structure and Finances of U.S. Farms: Family Farm Report, 2007 USDA ERS

The Environmental Safety and Benefits of Growth Enhancing Pharmaceutical Technologies in Beef Production
By Alex Avery and Dennis Avery, Hudson Institute, Centre for Global Food Issues.

Capper, J. L., Cady, R. A., Bauman, D. E. The environmental impact of dairy production: 1944 compared with 2007. Journal of Animal Science, 2009; 87 (6): 2160 DOI: 10.2527/jas.2009-1781

New York Times Don't Cry Over rBST Milk June 29, 2007

MSN Health and Fitness Bovine Growth Hormone

Dr. Harlan Ritchie, Michigan State University. How safe is our product Beef?

Doyle et al., Institute of Food Technologists, “Antimicrobial Resistance: Implications for the Food System” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, Vol.5, Issue 3, 2006

Sandiego Center for Molecular Agriculture Foods from Genetically Modified Crops ( pdf)

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