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Natural Farming Solutions Could Reduce Food Sectors' Climate Impact

The global food system could be the cause of more than a third of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. (Steve/Adobe Stock)
The global food system could be the cause of more than a third of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. (Steve/Adobe Stock)
October 3, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. – As climate change takes center stage, a Minnesota-based think tank, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says we should take a hard look at how our food system is driving the crisis.

According to a report last year from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global food system could be responsible for as much as 37% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

Shefali Sharma, director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's European office, says governments subsidize products such as feed for factory farms, driving up emissions and forcing farms to get big or get out.

She notes recent government aid to struggling farmers is due to trade policies and the low cost of production set by big agriculture.

"The reason the subsidy system is in place in the first place is because very few companies set a price at artificially low costs, and so if we stopped doing that, we wouldn't have to have the subsidies,” she explains. “And I think most farmers would say, 'We'd rather be paid the cost of production plus a reasonable profit rather than having to take this.'"

Shefali says the recent Farm Bill subsidized feed such as corn and soy, which benefits industrial farms.

She notes that just nine countries, including the United States, produce and export the vast majority of the world's beef, pork, chicken and dairy and that these countries could redirect public resources away from farm corporations to natural solutions to climate change, such as regenerative agriculture.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy also says governments should better regulate meat and dairy corporations' supply chain emissions, including hazards such as the overabundance of nitrates, and that those corporations should shoulder the costs.

Shefali says ultimately what is needed to empower farmers, workers and consumers is a just transition to regenerative agriculture, which rejuvenates soil and reduces emissions.

"The climate emergency is requiring us to decentralize – to have decentralized solutions, which means local food hubs, and we see the rise of that movement in the United States," she states.

While these solutions are straightforward, Shefali says big agriculture has an outsized influence on policymaking.

But she maintains a shift in policies is coming and has been inspired by young people's commitment to tackling climate change.

Disclosure: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment, Health Issues, Rural/Farming. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MN