Kathleen Merrigan, Arizona State University
President Joe Biden called for a whole-of-government response to climate change that seeks solutions and opportunities across all sectors of the US economy. This includes agriculture, which emits over 600 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, more than the total national emissions of the UK, Australia, France or Italy.
Recent polls show that a majority of Americans are concerned about climate change and ready to make lifestyle changes to deal with it. Other surveys show that many American consumers are concerned about the potential health risks of eating foods produced with pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones.
One way to address all of these concerns is to expand organic farming. Organic production generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional agriculture, largely because it does not use synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. And it prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and the giving of hormones or antibiotics to livestock.
But the United States is not currently setting the bar high for growing its organic food industry. Across the Atlantic, Europe has a much more targeted and aggressive strategy.
The farm-to-fork EU plan
The European Union’s farm-to-fork strategy, often described as the heart of the European Green Deal, was adopted in 2020 and strengthened in October 2021. It sets ambitious targets for 2030: a reduction of 50 % of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, a reduction in the use of pesticides and a 20% reduction in the use of fertilizers.
Recognizing that organic production can make an important contribution to these goals, the policy calls for increasing the percentage of EU farmland under organic management from 8.1% to 25% by 2030. The European Parliament adopted a detailed biological plan to achieve this goal.
Today, the United States is the largest organic market in the world, with $ 51 billion in sales in 2019. But the EU is not far behind, with $ 46 billion, and if it meets its targets from farm to fork, it will likely become the world leader.
And this ambition is reflected in national food policies. For example, in Copenhagen, 88% of the ingredients for meals served in the city’s 1,000 public schools are organic. Likewise, in Italy, school meals in more than 13,000 schools across the country contain organic ingredients.
US strategy is technology driven
Unlike the EU, the US does not have a national plan to develop organic production, nor even a plan to develop a plan.
Less than 1% of U.S. farmland – about 5.6 million acres (2.3 million hectares) is cultivated to national organic standards, compared to 36 million acres (14.6 million hectares) hectares) in the EU. This small industry does not produce enough organic food to meet consumer demand, so much of the organic food consumed in the United States is imported from nearly 45,000 foreign operations. While the U.S. government tracks imports of just 100 organic food items – a small chunk of what goes in – spending in 2020 on these items alone topped $ 2.5 billion.
I see this gap as a huge missed opportunity. President Biden called for a ‘Buy American’ strategy to support the US economy, but today consumers are spending money on organic imports without reaping the environmental or economic benefits of having more land under management. biological. Increased domestic production would improve soil and water quality and create jobs in rural areas.
As the US and the EU work together to address the contribution of agriculture to climate change, they have very different views on the role of organic farming. At a United Nations Food Systems Summit on September 23, 2021, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack launched a new international coalition on sustainable productivity growth, calling on countries and organizations to join with states United to increase yields to feed a growing world population. In his press briefings, Vilsack promoted voluntary, incentive and technological approaches to producing more food, such as gene editing, precision farming and artificial intelligence.
Vilsack says the European Union’s focus on organic production will reduce production and push up food prices. This argument reflects a long-standing debate about whether organic farming can produce enough food to meet demand while using fewer chemical inputs.
The strongest support for the USDA strategy comes as no surprise. It comes mainly from mainstream farm groups, including Syngenta, Bayer and Corteva – three of the world’s four largest agrochemicals – as well as their lobbying arm, CropLife America.
Patrick Barbour, winner of a climate-friendly agriculture competition sponsored by the National Farmers Union of Scotland, explains the steps he is taking on his organic sheep and beef farm to reduce carbon emissions and provide environmental benefits.
More organic food doesn’t mean turning back the clock
In my opinion, these American talking points are outdated. The world’s farmers are already producing enough food to feed the world. The question is why so many people still go hungry as production increases year after year.
At the United Nations Food Systems Summit, many world leaders called for reforms to end hunger, poverty and inequality, and tackle climate change. Food systems experts understand that global nutrition security depends on empowering women, eliminating corruption, tackling food waste, preserving biodiversity and embracing production. environmentally friendly, including organic farming. Not on the list: increase yields.
Addressing the role of agriculture in climate change means changing the way nations produce, process, transport, consume and waste food. I believe that when leaders call for cutting-edge science-based solutions, they must embrace and support a wide range of sciences, including agroecology – sustainable agriculture that works with nature and reduces reliance on external inputs like fertilizers and pesticides.
The Biden-Harris administration could do this by developing a comprehensive plan to realize the untapped potential of organic farming, with clear goals and strategies to increase organic production and, with it, the number of organic farmers. Consumers are ready to buy what American organic farmers harvest.
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Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director, Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, Arizona State University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.