My students created a long list of policies they would like to see implemented, with the goal of encouraging a shift in the food system. A dominant theme was related to changing farm policy, through a mix of “carrots and sticks.” Some suggested that instead of making direct payments (such as those currently part of farm policy), the funds should instead be used to:
- provide financial incentives for adopting farming technologies that use resources (inputs and nitrogen, for example) efficiently (ie, green payments)
- subsidize the use of sustainable farming methods (another green payment)
- develop infrastructure for regional food hubs
In addition to the carrots mentioned above, several sticks were suggested:
- Penalize farmers (through a fine or tax) for using systems that are damaging to the environment or other social goals, such as monocropping or confined animal operations
- Tax agricultural pollution, and use revenues to support research into developing transformative technologies
- Cap and trade on pollution from animal operations
While there are many obstacles to making these types of policy changes, I feel they have come up with some excellent points that can be used to begin a discussion.
My opinion – which is completely separate from the list above – is that we (as a society) need to place weights indicating relative importance on the following characteristics of our food supply: (1) environmental quality, (2) farm worker wages, (3) farm prices and farmer income, (4) farm size, (5) variety of food available, (6) retail cost of food, (7) wages paid to workers along the supply chain, (8) use of documented/undocumented workers in food system, (9) quantity of food produced – that is, yields, (10) food quality, (11) geography of our food production, and (12) access to food for low income people.
When we discuss our opinions on the food system, we are implicitly placing weights on the different characteristics – the “feed the world” argument places most of the weight on yields, while the “locavore” movement places the most value on geography. Explicitly considering which characteristics matter, and how much, is another needed first step in our thoughts about transforming the food system.