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Wednesday January 17, 2018

Our food system is still "broken," apparently, at least according to multinational food corporations Unilever and Danone, celebrity chef Alice Waters, global environmental activist network Greenpeace and, at last count, about 13 million internet sites, among others.

As Farmer Goes to Market reported previously, the gloom is best summarized by a quartet of high-profile food-system activists in a Washington Post editorial from three years ago, titled "How a national food policy could save millions of American lives." Former New York Times columnist turned professional gardener Mark Bittman, Berkeley journalism professor and Omnivore's Dilemma author Michael Pollan, Union of Concerned Scientists senior scientist Ricardo Salvador and former U.N. human-rights lead Olivier De Schutter wrote in the Post:

“Because of unhealthy diets, 100 years of progress in improving public health and extending lifespan has been reversed. Today’s children are expected to live shorter lives than their parents. In large part, this is because a third of these children will develop Type 2 diabetes, formerly rare in children and a preventable disease that reduces life expectancy by several years. At the same time, our fossil fuel dependent food and agriculture system is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector of the economy but energy. And the exploitative labor practices of the farming and fast-food industries are responsible for much of the rise in income inequality in America.”

To be sure, writes head of the ag economics department at Purdue Jayson Lusk in the September issue of the scholarly journal Applied Economic Perspectes and Policy, America still faces some pressing problems in food and agriculture. But, is the worrisome and pessimistic picture about the state of food and agriculture painted by Bittman et al really that dire?

Lusk lists the following counter conventional-wisdom statistics about the health of the U.S. food system (along with sources):

  1. Agriculture's productivy growth rate is one of the fastest of any sector in the U.S. economy. Meanwhile, on a global scale, increasing agricultural output has increasingly come from improved productivity rather than putting more land under the plow. (Source, Source, Source)
  2. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture only accounts for about 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, far fewer emissions than the electrical generation, transportation and industry sectors. (Source)
  3. Technological improvements and better production practices have substantially lowered the energy use, water use and greenhouse gas impacts of food production per unit of output over time. (Source, Source, Source)
  4. Compared to the 1950s, the amount of land needed to farm has fallen 26 percent, even as the ouput generated by those farms has grown 180 percent. (Source)
  5. The amount of weedkiller used by American farmers has remained relatively steady for the past 35 years, and the use of bugkiller has dropped by 77 percent since 1970. Meanwhile, the average toxicity of those pesticides has significantly fallen. (Source)
  6. Soil erosion has declined substantially since the 1980s, falling more than 40 percent. (Source)
  7. Farms today are increasingly using cover crops and practice more no-till farming, thanks in part to biotechnology, and the vast majority of corn, wheat, and soybean farmers practice crop rotation (Source, Source, Source, Source)
  8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show the average hourly earnings of all employees working in food services and drinking places for 2016 was up 31 percent since 2006, to $13.26 per hour. To get an accurate picture, any discussion of inequality in wages must consider not just the wage rate, but also government support, non-wage benefits and inequality in consumption, not simply wages. (Source, Source)
  9. The prevalence of obesity is high, but the rate of increase has slowed and even reversed among some subgroups in the US population (Source, Source)
  10. While the prevalence and new incidences of diabetes rose from 1990 to 2008, there has been no significant change from 2008 to 2012, and if anything new incidences appear to be falling; only 0.71% of the adult population was newly diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes in 2012. (Source)
  11. Age adjusted cancer deaths and incidence rates have been falling in recent decades. (Source, Source)
  12. Death rates attributable to cardiovascular disease declined more than 30 percent from 1998 to 2008. (Source)
  13. Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate US life expectancy overall continues to increase; small declines observe in some subgroups (e.g., white women) are primarily explained by issues related to drug and substance abuse, which are largely unrelated to food and agriculture. (Source, Source)
  14. The quality of diets in the US significantly improved from 1989 to 2008. (Source)
  15. Globally, the percent of the world population living in absolute poverty declined from 44% in 1981 to under 10% today. The share of the word population that is undernourished fell by half since 1990, and reductions in hunger are strongly, positively correlated with agricultural industrialization as measured by agricultural labor productivity (Source, Source)

Partners

Supported by the Nebraska Corn Board

The Nebraska Corn Board, on behalf of 23,000 corn farmers in Nebraska, invests in market development, research, promotion and education of corn and value-added products. The board aims to work closely with the farmer-to-consumer food chain, to educate everyone about the role corn has in our everyday healthy lives. The Nebraska Corn Board is proud to sponsor the Farmer Goes to Market program to help bring its mission of expanding demand and value of Nebraska corn to the consumer, through the strongest touch point in that chain: the Nebraska retail grocer.


In patnership with the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

The Nebraska Grocery Industry Association was formed in 1903 by a group of Omaha grocery store owners, wholesalers and vendors to allow them to promote independent food merchants and members of the food industry, and to promote education and cooperation among its membership. NGIA continues to represent grocery store owners and operators, along with wholesalers and vendors located throughout Nebraska, by promoting their success through proactive government relations, innovative solutions and quality services. NGIA offers efficient and economical programs. NGIA also lobbies on both a state and national level, ensuring that the voice of the food industry in Nebraska is heard by our representatives.


Supported by the Nebraska Farm Bureau

The farm and ranch families represented by Nebraska Farm Bureau are proud sponsors of the Farmer Goes to Market program. We take great pride in supporting Nebraska's agricultural foundation. A key part of that effort is to make sure we produce safe and affordable food. This newsletter is an important part of our effort to connect the two most important parts of the food chain -- the farmer and the grocer -- with the goal of increasing consumer awareness and information about how their food is raised in Nebraska.


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