Reprinted from www.organicconsumers.org
by Andr e Leu and Ronnie Cummins
This week (October 26, 2015), the paywalled site PoliticoPro reported that the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture wants "farmers and agricultural interests to come up with a single definition of sustainability in order to avoid confusing the public with various meanings of the term in food and production methods."
We agree with Secretary Tom Vilsack that the word "sustainability" is meaningless to consumers and the public. It's overused, misused and it has been shamelessly co-opted by corporations for the purpose of greenwashing.
But rather than come up with one definition for the word "sustainable" as it refers to food and food production methods, we suggest doing away with the word entirely. In its place, as a way of helping food consumers make conscious, informed decisions, we suggest dividing global food and farming into two categories: regenerative and degenerative.
In this new paradigm, consumers could choose food produced by degenerative, toxic chemical-intensive, monoculture-based industrial agriculture systems that destabilize the climate, and degrade soil, water, biodiversity, health and local economies. Or they could choose food produced using organic regenerative practices based on sound ecological principles that rejuvenate the soil, grasslands and forests; replenish water; promote food sovereignty; and restore public health and prosperity--all while cooling the planet by drawing down billions of tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil where it belongs.
'Sustainable'--Is that All We Want?
The dictionary defines "sustainable" as: able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; able to last or continue for a long time
In other words, sustainability is about maintaining systems without degrading them. And it is about keeping things much the same without progressing.
Industrial agriculture today, with its factory farms, waste lagoons, antibiotics and growth hormones, GMOs, toxic pesticides and prolific use of synthetic fertilizers, doesn't come close to "not using up or destroying natural resources." And even if it did, is that all we want, or need, to achieve?
Or do we want to grow our food in ways that restore climate stability and regenerate--soil, health, economies--rather than merely maintain the status quo?
Greenwashing and the Labeling Game
Corporations love to brand themselves, and label their products, as "sustainable." The hope is that consumers will view "sustainable" products as superior to mere "conventional" products, or better yet, equate the word "sustainable" with "organic."
But when a widely discredited and despised company like Monsanto co-opts the word "sustainable," the word loses all meaning for consumers. On its website, Monsanto says:
Our vision for sustainable agriculture strives to meet the needs of a growing population, to protect and preserve this planet we all call home, and to help improve lives everywhere. In 2008 Monsanto made a commitment to sustainable agriculture -- pledging to produce more, conserve more, and improve farmers' lives by 2030.