Food inspection

A new report says there may be something to this sustainable, natural foods movement after all. The National Research Council’s 570-page report noted that while industrial farming has lowered the cost of food and sped its production, it’s done so at expense to the environment, water and air quality, human health, farm workers and animal welfare. The report noted that “the agricultural sector also is the largest contributor of two greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide and methane, in the United States.”

Meanwhile, reported the San Francisco Chronicle, “There are now twice as many farmers—30,000 to 40,000—selling local meat and produce in farmers’ markets than there are growing cotton, a major industrial crop.”

The sustainable foods movement has been criticized for being a pie-in-the-sky, romanticized approach to farming that could lead to starvation rather than holistic well-being. However, the report, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, provides a framework toward achieving a sustainable agricultural system that places producing enough food for human needs first among four goals to be considered simultaneously. The other three: enhance the environment and its resources, maintain agriculture’s economic viability, and improve the quality of life for farmers, farm workers and society as a whole.

“If farmers are going to meet future demands, the U.S. agriculture system has to evolve to become sustainable and think broadly—past the bottom line of producing the most possible,” Julia Kornegay, chair of the committee that wrote the report, said in a prepared statement.