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THE NATURAL LAW PARTY ENVISIONS a time when American farmers will farm in full accord with the laws of nature, fully utilizing nature’s creativity to yield abundant, healthy food, while protecting the environment and ensuring a vigorous, diversified, sustainable agricultural economy.

THE PROBLEM

The future of agriculture depends on its sustainability -- that is, the ability of agricultural policies and practices to preserve and strengthen the farming economy, ecology, and community for future generations.

The recently passed Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (FAIR) has been heralded as a major change of direction for U.S. agriculture. But it has left many wondering whether crucial, fundamental changes have really been made in agricultural policy, and whether FAIR is fair -- especially for small family farms and for the environment. FAIR does not go far enough to ensure agricultural practices that are sustainable -- financially, environmentally, and socially.

1. Financially unsustainable

  • Recent projections of increasing international demand for food, coupled with rapidly shrinking global food reserves, suggest that consumers will pay even more for food in the future and that poor countries will receive less U.S. food aid. Despite these realities, current U.S. farm programs restrict America’s agricultural production (for example, 36 million acres have been taken out of production) while encouraging competitor nations to plant more [1, 2].

  • The new farm subsidy program of FAIR, although formalizing the phasing out of government subidies over seven years, continues to unduly favor the nation’s largest farms.

  • The growing consolidation and control of food production by a few very large corporations jeopardizes the survival of small family farms. U.S. Department of Agriculture policies and regulations are biased against small farm operators and enforce a form of corporate welfare that drives small farms into bankruptcy so that they can be bought by huge agribusinesses.

  • From 1988 to 1993, even the most economically profitable farms averaged only a 3-5% return on stockholder equity; food manufacturers, on the other hand, averaged 16.5% [3]. Clearly, farmers receive little of the "value-added" profit accruing to food manufacturers that process farm goods for the market. Farmers -- especially those working small family farms -- and their surrounding communities cannot survive without diversification of farm activities that keeps more of these profits close to home.

2. Environmentally unsustainable

  • Conventional agriculture erodes and degrades soil; it requires large-scale use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that pollute groundwater and are unhealthy for consumers and farmers. These agrichemicals pose real threats to water quality, wildlife, and human health. Recent scientific research indicates that common pesticides are estrogen mimicking and implicates them in the high incidence of breast cancer and prostate cancer in America and in the striking decline in male sperm count. Yet FAIR continues to support chemically intensive cropping practices.

  • Federal agencies have decided that some genetically engineered plant and animal products (such as recombinant bovine growth hormone -- rBGH -- which boosts milk production) are safe, despite the growing concerns of many scientists and the fact that the Canadian government has outlawed rBGH due to health concerns. Virtually all European nations have banned rBGH and other hormone treatment in livestock. Many products similar to rBGH are under review. In addition, many foods that have been genetically engineered with pig, insect, virus, or bacteria genes are already being sold in supermarkets. Yet these genetically altered foods are not labeled as such -- despite well-documented health risks from some genetically engineered foods, including:

    • Toxic tryptophan -- this genetically engineered food supplement killed 37 people and permanently disabled 1,500 more.
    • Allergenic soybean -- this soybean, genetically altered with a Brazil nut protein, caused a marked reaction in many people allergic to Brazil nuts.

  • Some leading scientists believe that alteration of DNA -- the most fundamental level of plant and animal physiology -- is likely to have profound negative impacts on the environment and human life [4]. For example, altered genes from cultivated food crops may be released to wild relatives, thus compromising the “gene pool” upon which breeders of domestic crops must draw to enhance resistance to pests and disease. Unlike other products, a genetically engineered organism that has been released into the environment can never be recalled.

  • The explosion of factory hog farms, cattle feedlots, and poultry operations during the last few years has increased livestock concentrations, confinement housing, and separation of animals from their natural environments. As a result, these animals are more prone to disease; therefore, they need more antibiotics; and consequently, their wastes become a health hazard instead of a natural aid to soil fertility.

  • In addition, to ensure maximum weight gain in their livestock, farmers commonly inject antibiotics into healthy animals. Many scientists suspect that this practice helps create bacteria and viruses that are resistant or immune to antibiotics. Since antibiotic-resistant germs have become a major health problem in America, this practice should be stopped immediately.

3. Socially unsustainable

  • Experts feel that conventional agriculture has led to “decaying communities [in] rural America that continue to lose population, business, and even their reason to exist as farms consolidate into larger units and farm families leave” [5]. Small towns are a reservoir of enterprise and traditional values that Americans cherish, and they should not be lost.

  • Corporate-owned factory hog farms, cattle feedlots, and poultry operations, as well as the corporations that supply them, are becoming increasingly vertically integrated, pushing family farms and rural agribusinesses out of business and reducing farmers to corporate laborers.

  • The challenges of farming today are making new demands on farmers and their families. The farmer must take into account many complex factors in making production decisions, including the weather, quality of the soil, threat of pests, available financial resources, and changing agricultural markets. Economic pressures cause stress, which affects health and well-being. Research has found that farmers are also at high risk from exposure to chemical pesticides [6].

THE SOLUTION

Agriculture is more than a business; it is a cornerstone of our national life. The food produced by farmers is basic to our health and national security, and farmland itself is an irreplaceable resource vital to sustenance of life. Therefore, government must help ensure the long-term viability of agriculture.

The Natural Law Party supports legislation that will ensure social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture while balancing the following goals: (1) ensuring an economical and healthful supply of high-quality food for consumers; (2) promoting health and longevity in farmers and in the population as a whole; (3) protecting natural resources and the environment; (4) cushioning farmers from the natural and financial instability unique to agriculture; (5) enabling farmers to better pursue financial profitability; and (6) restoring the vitality of rural communities.

The Natural Law Party has identified solutions to the problems faced by U.S. agriculture:

1. Given the far-reaching ecological and health impacts of genetic engineering, a moratorium should be imposed on the release of genetically engineered organisms until the safety of such organisms can be firmly established. In addition, to protect the public’s right to know, labeling of genetically engineered foods should be mandatory.

2. Farm policies should be redirected to expand opportunities for new and existing farmers to prosper using sustainable systems that will enhance the health of the farmers and the population as a whole. Training and apprenticeship programs, loans, grants, and other incentives should be devised to assist conventional and entry-level farmers to adopt organic or more sustainable systems. Demonstration farms, farmer-to-farmer networks and field tours, and studies of successful alternative farming systems should be used to hasten the adoption of more sustainable practices.

3. The U.S. should change its policy focus from “cheap (and unsafe) food for the consumer” to “quality food for the consumer on a sustainable basis.” Through research and education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is in a unique position to influence (a) practices of farmers and the food-production industry, and (b) the food choices and demands of consumers:

(a) Field-tested techniques supported by scientific research, such as integrated pest management, integrated crop management, and organic farming, already exist for farming profitably on a low-input, sustainable basis [7]. On this basis, agrichemical use could be reduced 50% by the year 2002. The USDA should initiate and fund research into further development of alternative and chemical-free sustainable agricultural practices, with an emphasis on the development of systems and technologies that can be integrated economically and completely into all agricultural production. In addition, economists have developed accounting techniques that incorporate the costs of pollution and natural-resource depletion into agriculture’s balance sheet [8]. Government legislation should make it a priority to disseminate these practices and techniques to the entire food production industry, showing farmers, producers, and consumers that sustainable food production practices are more cost-effective in the long run.

(b) Consumer demand drives agricultural supply. Changes in consumer preferences will create a shift toward less resource-intensive food production and a healthier food supply. (Today, the organic food market is the fastest growing segment of the food industry, increasing by 20% each year.) The USDA should initiate and fund research investigating the impact of dietary change on health and longevity, and then launch campaigns to educate the public. For example, government should fund vigorous programs to inform consumers that chemical-free food is possible now, at a reasonable price. Moreover, scientists have recently concluded that substantial public health and environmental benefits would likely result from more widespread use of vegetables, fruit, and plant-based protein in the diet [9]. The government should educate the public about the health and environmental value of these foods in the diet.

Land-grant universities and extension services should also take the initiative to develop and disseminate sustainable agricultural practices and healthier dietary approaches.

4. Farm communities should seek new ways to keep “value-added” processes and profits as close as possible to the farm. Public policy should promote cooperative development of local processing facilities and diversification into the production of higher-value, specialized crops -- including chemical -- free production.

5. Family-sized farms should be protected and strengthened through more programs such as FAIR’s Fund for Rural America, which supports value-added incentives, assistance for minority and beginning farmers, and other initiatives to empower farmers and rural communities to work towards revitalizing rural life. Even removing farm payment loopholes for large corporate agribusinesses would favor the viability of family-sized farms. Programs such as the Fund for Rural America should be given high priority and full funding.

6. For the above recommendations to be successful, however, it is necessary -- for the individual farmer and society as a whole -- to develop consciousness and gain more support of natural law. The Natural Law Party therefore recommends educational programs to develop the consciousness of the farmer and thereby reduce stress, improve the farmer’s health and well-being, and promote the skills to meet new management challenges. Such programs will enable farmers to spontaneously make better decisions and better use of the environment, and will bring them greater support of natural law in all their activities. Similarly, the reduction of stress in the collective consciousness of society, combined with the Natural Law Party’s focus on education, will influence consumer choices toward higher-quality food, better health, and more life-enriching behavior -- life in accord with natural law . These programs will help ensure that the natural resources upon which agriculture depends will be available far into the future.

NOTES

  1. "Grain Prices Head Higher," Business Week, November 20, 1995, p. 38.
  2. "Another Crisis in World's Future?" Des Moines Register, November 12, 1995, p. 1J.
  3. Heffernan, W., cited in "U.S. Ag Called Feudal System," Des Moines Register, November 27, 1994.
  4. One is Dr. John Fagan, discussed in "Biologist Returns US Grants to Protest Genetic Research," The Boston Globe, November 16, 1994.
  5. Northwest Area Foundation, A Better Row to Hoe: The Economic, Environmental, and Social Impact of Sustainable Agriculture (Dec. 1994), 1; see also USDA/ERS, 18.
  6. Scandinavian Journal of Work and Environmental Health 18:209-215, 1992; Journal of the American Medical Association 256(9):1141-1147, 1986; Zahm, S.H., et al., Annual Meeting of the Society for Epidemiological Research, Vancouver, Canada, June 15-17, 1988.
  7. National Research Council, Board on Agriculture, Alternative Agriculture (1989); Northwest Area Foundation, 2.
  8. Paying the Farm Bill: U.S. Agricultural Policy and the Transition to Sustainable Agriculture, World Resources Institute, 1991.
  9. "Health Effects and Prevalence of Vegetarianism," The Western Journal of Medicine, 160: 465-471, 1994.

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