Policy is a collaborative process. It is the agreements we make as
a public. But what happens when it no longer feels that the public is involved
in these decisions? Even more, what do we do when these policies seem to
incentivize less-sustainable and immediate practices that are not keeping an
eye to the future. Usually policies must have incentives for change, especially
when considering environmental changes. Our government has instilled such
incentives with cap and trade and subsidies. There are many types of policy
instruments and lately I’ve been reading articles in which the food system is
being asked how we couldn’t incorporate these types of instruments to help
instill positive changes.
What could this look like?
Currently corporations receive tax credits for donating food to the
emergency food system and in many states farmers also receive tax credits for
donations. This is an example of an incentive to not waste food. Another example of current regulations are anti-trust laws where policies are
only as good as their implementation. If
these were fully enforced and implemented, the monopolies within the food
system would be divided once again. Or better yet, they would have been
prevented from the very start.
Yet another example of government support is with subsidies within
our food system. There are generally two categories of support: price and
income. Under income support we have subsidies, deficiency payments, direct
payments, and market-oriented policy. Under price supports we have parity, cost
of farming internalized instead of externalized as in the other with price
floors and grain reserves. Currently the government supports provide incentives
in the wrong direction where growers continually expand using marginal land.
Under price supports, we are looking at a system that is not just about equity
for farmers, but also about protecting the commons (land, water, air and food).
It’s about supporting price, reservation, and supply management. There are also many
environmental regulations that would help support the commons within the farm
system, however the agriculture industry has not been held accountable to these
same regulations as other industries have. This is one place where reform can
begin and is a great example of how we can have the best policies in place but
if they are not fully enforced or implemented they are meaningless.
Perhaps we could take it even further by creating input
charges on dangerous pesticides or effluent charge for the CAFO’s (confined
animal feedlot) waste. We could create more land trusts and usage rights. We
could have performance standards and limits applied to the inputs used in
farming as well as how animals are raised. We could provide subsidies to those
growers that are upholding sustainable farming/ranching practices to promote
those practices. We could also provide subsidies for growers maintaining
heirloom fruits and vegetables because they are maintaining diversity for our
There could also be training programs for growers wanting to practice
more sustainable farming methods. There are even certification methods. Some of
these are already being used in various ways and with limited application. The problem with the latter is that the
standards begin to get muddied as corporations come onto the managing
certification boards and find ways to expand the definitions so that they have
more flexibility in their farming practices deemed organic.
The other positive to using price instead of income supports is
that over time food waste could be reduced. Currently, we seem to apply
band-aids within our food system to fix issues or challenges such as excess
food. Instead of looking at why we may have excess food in the first place and
trying to prevent that from happening, or atleast reduce it, we simply offer
credits to those who donate the food. Because now we can’t be called wasteful.
We are finding a use for it. This is not a sustainable answer.
Without strong policies in place to encourage the spread of some
of the practices mentioned here, these strategies will only be used on a small
scale. Policy is an important component to change. Policies can be aspirational.
They are also incremental, building on the past and towards the society we
would like to have. Let’s start building these policies for our food system
today so that we may have what we aspire towards tomorrow.