What Does 'Sustainable Food' Mean, Anyway?

By Marion Nestle
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Peter Blanchard/flickr


The National Academies have just released Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century. You can read it online, one page at a time. Otherwise, you have to come up with the $76.50 it costs in print (electronic versions are somewhat cheaper).

Sustainability, it says, has four goals:

    • Satisfy human food, feed, and fiber needs, and contribute to biofuel needs
    • Enhance environmental quality and the resource base
    • Sustain the economic viability of agriculture
    • Enhance the quality of life for farmers, farm workers, and society as a whole

To get there, the report proposes "two parallel and overlapping efforts":

The incremental approach would be directed toward improving the sustainable performance of all farms, irrespective of size or farming system type ...

The transformative approach would apply a systems perspective to agricultural research to identify and understand the significance of the linkages between farming components and how their interconnectedness and interactions with the environment make systems robust and resilient over time.

The report's main conclusion:

If U.S. agricultural production is to meet the challenge of maintaining long-term adequacy of food, fiber, feed, and biofuels under scarce or declining resources and under challenges posed by climate change ... agricultural production will have to substantially accelerate progress toward the four sustainability goals.

Take that, industrial agriculture!

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/07/what-does-sustainable-food-mean-anyway/59067/