NRDC Broadens Fight to Make U.S. Food Supply Safer,
“Farm to Table” Campaign Takes On Bad Farming, Toxic Chemicals, Massive Food Waste — and More
Farm © Ed Callaert; school lunch © Emily Hart; farmer’s market © Barrie Fanton/Omni-Photo Communications; poultry farm © Edwin Remsberg;
ood: Not a day goes by that we don’t think about it. But how many of us think about it as a major environmental issue? “Few things impact our health and our planet more than food,” says Jonathan Kaplan, director of NRDC’s fast-growing Food and Agriculture Program. “Hundreds of millions of acres in the U.S. alone are devoted to agriculture, and chemicalintensive farming has been a disaster for the environment. NRDC is now working at every stage along the supply chain — literally from farm to table — to help those farmers who are making sustainable choices and to challenge agricultural practices that pose the greatest risk.”
Today, the organic agriculture business is booming. Sales of organic food and beverages reached $26.7 billion in 2010, an increase of almost 8 percent over the year before. The word locavore has entered the popular lexicon, and farmer’s markets have sprouted up across the country. Yet as Kaplan points out, even as consumer interest in sustainably produced food has surged, just a scant fraction of farmland in the United States — less than 1 percent — is devoted to organic farming. While many farmers have made important gains in adopting environmentally friendly practices, the vast majority of farmed acres remain dependent on pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, fossil fuels and ever-scarcer water supplies. Approximately 880 million pounds of pesticides are sprayed on crops each year, and the agricultural sector is responsible for 7 percent of America’s total global warming pollution, having increased 13 percent since 1990.
Massive amounts of fertilizer runoff have contaminated precious water resources from coast to coast and created a fish-killing “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico that can swell seasonally to more than 6,000 square miles. Sustainable farming practices — such as greater irrigation efficiency, conser vation of biodiversity and a reduction in the use of chemicals — can signifi cantly ease these environmental impacts. But making such changes can be financially risky for farmers, which is why NRDC is working to grow the market for sustainably produced foods by tapping into the purchasing power of large food buyers. Almost half of all the food consumed in the U.S. flows through a relatively small number of large retailers and food service providers. “If you can convince these big middle
took a decisive step in this direction by adopting the Good Food Purchasing Policy, which encourages food providers to purchase from local farms and from farms that use environmentally sustainable practices. NRDC played a key role in the broad coalition of groups that developed the policy. Likewise, we are working to improve the sustain ability of New York City’s food supply by supporting sustainable farms, creating new wholesale distribution hubs for local farmers, increasing access to healthy food and leveraging the enormous purchasing power of city and state institutions. By reforming the food system of the nation’s largest metro politan area, we are creating a model for more sustainable food systems in other regions of the country.
Above: Each year, 880 million pounds of pesticides are sprayed on crops in the U.S. Right: A poultry factory farm.
men to consider the environmental impacts of the food they’re supplying, then you start to shift the market,” Kaplan says.“Farmers will know they have a large buyer to sell to.” With NRDC’s help, the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District (which serves 650,000 meals to students each day) recently
We’re also collaborating with stake holders from across the food industry to develop a Stewardship Index for fruits, vegetables and specialty crops. This will allow farmers and food retailers to better assess the overall environmental footprint of the produce they’re growing and selling, taking into consideration such factors as soil conservation, energy use and the