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Daily News Blog

19
Jul

Report Calls for Radical Transformation of Food and Agricultural Production System

(Beyond Pesticides, July 19, 2019) A high-level, nongovernmental commission in the United Kingdom (UK) — the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) Food, Farming and Countryside Commission — has just released an important report: Our Future in the Land. As reported by The Guardian, “The true cost of cheap, unhealthy food is a spiralling public health crisis and environmental destruction.” The commission’s report calls for radical transformation of the UK food and agricultural system, by 2030, to sustainable, agroecological farming, and establishes steps to launch the process.

A notable one of those steps is the creation of a nonprofit National Agroecology Development Bank to hasten and enable a fair and sustainable transition of a complex system. The commission also published a Field Guide to the Future, which it describes as a “practical guide, with interviews and stories from the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission’s work across the UK, [including] case studies of good practice and stories of change [that] hint at a better future.”

Our Future in the Land declares, “Our future depends on the land. The land nourishes and supports us. It provides for our nutrition, our health and our wellbeing. Food and farming depend critically on the fate of the countryside. Those who live and work here are the stewards of this relationship but the responsibility for it rests with us all. Our own health and the health of the land are inextricably intertwined. In the last 70 years, this relationship has been broken. Driven by poor policy and perverse incentives, the food and farming system has become one of the main drivers of human and ecosystem crisis. From deforestation, loss of wildlife and soil degradation, to widespread pollution and spiralling diet-related ill-health, people and planet have suffered alike. Far from being the sector that nourishes us, and the land on which we all depend, the system has damaged and depleted our precious and finite resources.”

The 80-plus page report is chock full of context, analysis, and ideas for ways forward. An RSA website page offers a top-level look at the report’s major recommendations, and introduces them with this: “The actions we take in the next ten years, to stop ecosystems collapse, to recover and regenerate nature and to restore people’s health and wellbeing are now critical. In this final report, the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission sets out radical and practical ways for policymakers, business and communities to respond to the challenges.” The report identifies 15 different recommendations across three concept areas:

• Healthy food is everybody’s business.

Levelling the playing field for a fair food system: good food must become good business; committing to grow the UK supply of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and pulses, and products from UK sustainable agriculture, and to using them more in everyday foods; implementing world-leading public procurement, using this powerful tool to transform the market; establishing collaborative community food plans to help inform and implement national food strategies and meet the different needs of communities around the UK; reconnecting people and nature to boost health and wellbeing.

•  Farming is a force for change, unleashing a fourth agricultural revolution driven by public values.

Designing a 10-year transition plan to achieve sustainable, agroecological farming by 2030; backing innovation by farmers to unleash a fourth agricultural revolution; making sure every farmer can get trusted, independent advice by training a cadre of peer mentors and a farmer support network; boosting cooperation and collaboration by extending support for producer organizations to all sectors; establishing a National Agroecology Development Bank to accelerate a fair and sustainable transition.

•  A countryside that works for all, and rural communities are a powerhouse for a fair and green economy.

Establishing a national land-use framework in England inspires cooperation based on the public value of land, mediating and encouraging multipurpose uses; investing in the skills and rural infrastructure to underpin the rural economy; creating more good work in the regenerative economy; developing sustainable solutions to meet rural housing need; establishing a National Nature Service that employs the energy of young people to kickstart the regenerative economy.

The report involved leaders from the agriculture, health, governance, and food system–business sectors. The commission concluded that most UK farmers believe that they could achieve transformative changes in their practices if they received sufficient financial and technical support. Organic Wales farmer and director of the RSA commission, Sue Pritchard, commented, “Farmers are extraordinarily adaptable. We have to live with change every single day of our lives. . . . We [on the commission] are really keen that farmers feel they are in the driving seat and that they can be a force of change. At the moment, a lot of farmers feel beleaguered and that they have become the bad guys. But without sustainable, secure and safe farming in the UK, we will not survive.” UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove welcomed the report, and said, “This report raises issues that are hugely important. We know that it is in the interests of farmers and landowners to move to a more sustainable model.”

The RSA Food, Farming & Countryside Commission called out many years of government policy — which has influenced the food system to generate cheap, processed food — as bearing responsibility for growing rates of obesity, diabetes, and other health issues, and degraded environment, atmosphere, and biodiversity. Ms. Pritchard notes that the UK has the third cheapest food prices among “developed” countries and the highest European rate of “food poverty” — the ability of people to afford a healthful diet. She also noted that Type 2 diabetes costs the UK £27 billion a year; agriculture generates more than 10% of the UK’s greenhouse gases; and farming is the largest destroyer of wildlife, with populations of key species having plummeted by 67% since 1970, and 13% of species now nearing extinction.

To solve these crises, the report says, “agroecology” practices must be supported. The RSA report defines the term this way: “Agroecology means farming in ways that learn from, work with and enhance natural systems. Integrated pest management, organic farming, conservation and regenerative agriculture, and agroforestry are all examples.” The commission says, in its report, that it has “followed the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN’s definition of agroecology as ‘an integrated approach that applies ecological and social principles to the design and management of food and agricultural systems. It seeks to optimise the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment and the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system.’ It applies the principles of the regenerative economy to agriculture.”

Here in the U.S., people are likely more familiar with the terms and concepts of organic and regenerative farming than with “agroecology.” There is significant overlap among all three, with each term centering a somewhat different emphasis. Regenerative agriculture, according to Regeneration International, “not only ‘does no harm’ to the land but actually improves it, using technologies that regenerate and revitalize the soil and the environment. Regenerative agriculture leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high quality, nutrient dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading land, and ultimately leading to productive farms and healthy communities and economies.” Organic is the only comprehensive food production category that has a legal standard and a label.

The use of pesticides has demonstrably harmful effects on human health, biodiversity, and the functioning of natural ecological systems, as Beyond Pesticides has chronicled for decades. Among the steps the RSA report sets out is creation of a timetable for more-stringent control of the use of pesticides, “anticipating that the scientific case for this will continue to grow.” The report adds, “The pesticide registration process needs re-evaluation, as too many are approved which, years later, are shown to be harmful. This should include the ‘chemical cocktail’ effect. Much more stringent regulation is needed of spraying near water courses and residential areas, and prophylactic use of antibiotics.”

As Beyond Pesticides has long promoted, organic practices, which are codified in the federal National Organic Standards (NOS), comprise a big part of the ultimate solution to the problems this UK report addresses. Organic eschews the use of toxic, synthetic pesticides and soil inputs (e.g., fertilizers), and endorses practices that improve soil health and biodiversity, and generally depend on mechanical and some biological controls for pest problems, rather than on toxic chemicals. Organic practices may include conservation tillage, cover cropping, composting, and crop rotation, among other techniques — all with the aims of increasing production of healthful food, feeding and improving the soil, and making farming economically viable. Keep abreast of developments in organic, regenerative, and agroecological approaches to health and environment through Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News Blog and its journal, Pesticides and You.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/projects/psc/ffcc/reports-2/1.-our-future-in-the-land_executive-summary_july19.pdf and https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/16/true-cost-of-cheap-food-is-health-and-climate-crises-says-commission

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