You Choose: Do You Want to Eat Food Produced by Degenerative or Regenerative Agriculture?
On Oct. 26, the paywalled site PoliticoPro reported that the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture wants “farmers and agricultural interests to come up with a single definition of sustainability in order to avoid confusing the public with various meanings of the term in food and production methods.”
We agree with Secretary Tom Vilsack that the word “sustainability” is meaningless to consumers and the public. It’s overused, misused and it has been shamelessly co-opted by corporations for the purpose of greenwashing.
As a way of helping food consumers make conscious, informed decisions, we suggest dividing global food and farming into two categories: regenerative and degenerative. Photo credit: Shutterstock
But rather than come up with one definition for the word “sustainable” as it refers to food and food production methods, we suggest doing away with the word entirely. In its place, as a way of helping food consumers make conscious, informed decisions, we suggest dividing global food and farming into two categories: regenerative and degenerative.
In this new paradigm, consumers could choose food produced by degenerative, toxic chemical-intensive, monoculture-based industrial agriculture systems that destabilize the climate, and degrade soil, water, biodiversity, health and local economies. Or they could choose food produced using organic regenerative practices based on sound ecological principles that rejuvenate the soil, grasslands and forests; replenish water; promote food sovereignty; and restore public health and prosperity—all while cooling the planet by drawing down billions of tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil where it belongs.
"Sustainable," is That All We Want?
The dictionary defines “sustainable” as: able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; able to last or continue for a long time
In other words, sustainability is about maintaining systems without degrading them. And it is about keeping things much the same without progressing.
Industrial agriculture today, with its factory farms, waste lagoons, antibiotics and growth hormones, GMOs, toxic pesticides and prolific use of synthetic fertilizers, doesn’t come close to “not using up or destroying natural resources.” And even if it did, is that all we want, or need, to achieve?
Or do we want to grow our food in ways that restore climate stability and regenerate—soil, health, economies—rather than merely maintain the status quo?
Greenwashing and the Labeling Game
Corporations love to brand themselves, and label their products, as “sustainable.” The hope is that consumers will view “sustainable” products as superior to mere “conventional” products, or better yet, equate the word “sustainable” with “organic.”
But when a widely discredited and despised company like Monsanto co-opts the word “sustainable,” the word loses all meaning for consumers. On its website, Monsanto says:
Our vision for sustainable agriculture strives to meet the needs of a growing population, to protect and preserve this planet we all call home, and to help improve lives everywhere. In 2008 Monsanto made a commitment to sustainable agriculture—pledging to produce more, conserve more and improve farmers’ lives by 2030.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready, chemical-intensive GMO crops now dominate agriculture, on a global scale, poisoning soil, water, air, farm workers and consumers. The words on their website fool no one—the agriculture they promote is anything but “sustainable.”
U.S. Workers Sue @MonsantoCo Claiming Herbicide Caused #Cancer! https://t.co/kypK9GZ7Gd #MonsantoMakesUsSick https://t.co/5lnIZXNnva— Organic Consumers (@Organic Consumers)1445603127.0
It is the same with the certified “sustainability” labels promoted by corporations such as Cargill, Heinz Benelux, Mars, Nestlé, Unilever and Cadbury. These labeling schemes, such as Rainforest Alliance, Sustainable Agriculture Network and UTZ, can be congratulated for promoting the planting of trees on farms, for improving the farm environment and for requiring compliance with minimum labor standards. But they do nothing to curtail the use of soil-destroying, climate-destabilizing chemical fertilizers and the thousands of toxic pesticides that are known to cause both environmental and health damage.
A “sustainability” label may mean the production methods behind a product inflicted somewhat less damage on the environment. But it doesn’t mean the product will cause less damage to human health. Numerous published scientific studies link exposure to the smallest amounts of these “approved” pesticides to cancers, birth defects, endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, developmental neurotoxicity, ADHD, autism, obesity, type 2 diabetes, reproductive problems, immune system damage, epigenetic mutations, kidney, liver and heart disease and numerous other non-communicable diseases that are currently in epidemic proportions.
Most of the farmers enrolled in these “sustainability programs” used to grow crops or graze animals traditionally, with little or no chemicals. The same is true for the many thousands of certified organic coffee and cacao farmers who have been hijacked by these schemes—schemes which allow them to charge a premium without meeting the more rigorous organic standards. How can the promoters of these “sustainability” labels claim that they are reducing chemical use when they have converted thousands of low-input traditional farmers to the use of chemicals that they never used before?
A Global ‘Regeneration Revolution’ is Under Way
In the 1970s, Robert Rodale, son of American organic pioneer J.I. Rodale coined the term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’ to distinguish a kind of farming that goes beyond simply “sustainable.”
According to the Rodale Institute:
Regenerative organic agriculture improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them. It is a holistic systems approach to agriculture that encourages continual on-farm innovation for environmental, social, economic and spiritual well-being.
Regenerative organic agriculture “takes advantage of the natural tendencies of ecosystems to regenerate when disturbed. In that primary sense it is distinguished from other types of agriculture that either oppose or ignore the value of those natural tendencies.” Regenerative organic agriculture is marked by tendencies towards closed nutrient loops, greater diversity in the biological community, fewer annuals and more perennials, and greater reliance on internal rather than external resources. Regenerative organic agriculture is aligned with forms of agroecology practiced by farmers concerned with food sovereignty the world over.
We opened this piece by stating that we agree with Vilsack—the word “sustainability,” in the context of food and food production, has led to consumer confusion.
But we don’t like where Vilsack is headed. He told PoliticoPro:
“In recent years, Consumers have raised concerns about conventional agricultural practices, which has led to the growth of organic, GMO-free foods and ‘natural’ products, often at the expense of the reputation of conventional products. I think it’s going to be incumbent on us to have a common understanding of what [sustainability] means to better serve the interests of agriculture as a whole and consumers.”
At the “expense of the reputation of conventional products?” Is Vilsack referring to the well-earned bad reputation of products (those containing GMOs and toxic pesticides, perhaps?) produced using degenerative, rather than regenerative, practices?
A “common understanding” of what sustainability is might better serve the interests of Monsanto and the agribusiness corporations—but it will do little to serve the interests of small farmers and consumers.
The number one driver behind rising sales of organic foods is consumer concern about health, especially pesticides, growth hormones and GMOs. But as scientists issue increasingly dire warnings about the climate, and people throughout the world connect the dots between industrial agriculture and global warming, there is a growing contingent of farmers and consumers who want to do more.
An increasing number of farmers want to grow food and raise animals using organic and regenerative farming and grazing practices that are not only better for human health, but that also cool the planet, feed the world, heal the soil, foster food sovereignty and strengthen communities.
And consumers want to purchase those products, knowing that their production generated healing, not harm.
It’s a Regeneration Revolution. And it goes well beyond “sustainability.”
Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association, and on the steering committee of Regeneration International.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
By Gudrun Heise
Just as scientists are scoring successes in coronavirus research, new problems are on their way. Fall is with us and winter is around the corner, so the season for colds and flu has begun — joining COVID-19.
Influenza Vaccination<p>A flu vaccination may thus be able to narrow down the diagnostic options when flu-like symptoms occur, but whether such a vaccination also has an influence on the behavior of the dangerous new virus is — like so much else — not clear. "It is conceivable that there is an indirect effect. But it is, I believe, a matter of speculation whether it has an immunological effect in the narrower sense," says Krause.</p><p>Every winter, doctors' waiting rooms are full of people who are coughing and sniffing but who mostly turn out to have only a severe respiratory infection. According to current knowledge, the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is also likely to be subject to seasonal fluctuations. </p><p>In winter, cold viruses, at least, flourish because cold and dry air offers ideal conditions for their spread. In addition, it becomes more difficult to air rooms regularly and intensively — an important further measure to counteract the coronavirus and contain to some extent the danger posed by aerosols.</p><p>According to the <a href="https://www.rki.de/DE/Home/homepage_node.html" target="_blank">Robert Koch Institute, Germany's public health agency</a>, between 5% and 20% of people in Germany become infected with flu viruses every year. These viruses are also dangerous and can be fatal. The flu vaccination must be adapted to the influenza viruses every year, because they mutate. But at least there is a vaccination.</p><p>Most experts agree that there is unlikely to be a vaccine against the coronavirus by the time the next wave of influenza comes around. And even if a vaccine were to be approved, many unknowns remain.</p>
COVID-19 and Flu Simultaneously<p>For example, there is a lack of practical experience in dealing simultaneously with SARS-CoV-2 and influenza. It is possible to speculate that having influenza could facilitate the entry of the coronavirus into the human body. "The general weakening of the immune system during an influenza infection could increase the susceptibility of a patient to a SARS-CoV-2 infection," Krause says.</p><p>However, it is uncertain how dangerous this double infection could ultimately be and what can be done about it. Krause is of the opinion that we must arm ourselves against all three diseases — colds, flu and COVID-19. If we have a cold, bed rest, hot tea and cough medicine usually help. We can get vaccinated against flu. But how do we deal with COVID-19?</p><p><span></span>Probably people can only hope that if they get the illness, they will have a mild form with as few after-effects as possible. Here, it will certainly help to stick to suggested rules on hygiene to reduce or prevent our exposure to the virus. In an interview with DW, Bonn-based virology professor Hendrik Streeck made it clear that COVID-19 usually takes a more severe course when there is a high viral load at infection.</p>
Hygiene, Hygiene, Hygiene<p>The same hygiene measures with which we are trying to get at least some kind of grip on COVID-19 also apply to influenza. The less we come into contact with viruses, the greater the chance that we will be spared an infection or that it will be mild.</p><p>These measures include general hygiene precautions such as frequent hand washing and the wearing of protective face masks. "The various hygienic measures against COVID-19 will also reduce the spread of influenza," says Krause. "Possibly, further connections of a more immunological nature will be discovered."</p><p>Let us hope that is the case, because the flu season hasn't even started.</p>
- Fauci Warns Bad Second Wave of Coronavirus Could Hit U.S. ... ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Tops 170,000 Ahead of Flu Season ... ›
- COVID-19 Makes Getting a Flu Shot More Important Than Ever ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Rising temperatures in the air and the water surrounding Greenland are melting its massive ice sheet at a faster rate than anytime in the last 12 millennia, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
- Greenland and Antarctica Already Melting at 'Worst-Case-Scenario ... ›
- Warmer Current Is Carving Away Greenland Ice Sheet From Below ... ›
- Greenland's Ice Sheet Is Melting at Rate That Surpasses Scientists ... ›
- Greenland's Ice Sheet Has Reached 'Point of No Return' - EcoWatch ›
- Record Shrinking of Greenland's Ice Sheet Raises Sea Levels ... ›
- Greenland Ice Sheet Melt Creates Huge Waterfalls, Increasing ... ›
A grim new assessment of the world's flora and fungi has found that two-fifths of its species are at risk of extinction as humans encroach on the natural world, as The Guardian reported. That puts the number of species at risk near 140,000.
- Climate Crisis Could Cause a Third of Plant and Animal Species to ... ›
- World Leaders Urged to 'Act Now' to Save Biodiversity - EcoWatch ›
- Bumblebees Face Extinction From the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Plant Extinction Is Happening 500x Faster Than Before the Industrial ... ›
As human activity transforms the atmosphere, flowers are changing their colors.
- The Best Plants to Attract Pollinators, by Region - EcoWatch ›
- Corals Turn Bright Neon in Last-Ditch Effort to Survive - EcoWatch ›
- Hummingbirds Live in a More Colorful World, Study Confirms ... ›
By Sharon Zhang
Back in March, when the pandemic had just planted its roots in the U.S., President Donald Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do something devastating: The agency was to indefinitely and cruelly suspend environmental rule enforcement. The EPA complied, and for just under half a year, it provided over 3,000 waivers that granted facilities clemency from state-level environmental rule compliance.