Environment Picture

Personal choices and Sen. Stabenow: Both factors in how farms protect or destroy our environmental values

I’m ashamed to admit it, but at dinner time I’m a pretty lousy environmentalist. I still eat too high on the food chain (environmental-speak for red meat and other animal flesh); and I seldom organize my weekend around getting to our farmers’ market. At least I buy organic when I can. And I recognize those of us just catching on to ways we can eat healthier and put environmental values in our shopping baskets owe a debt of gratitude to the food pioneers who’ve long been fighting for locally grown, pesticide-free food.

Old habits die hard. My father was a butcher in Scottville, and my husband’s father fattened cattle on corn before they were shipped to Omaha’s stockyards. Of course that was a long time ago. Today, both my father’s main street grocery store (which sold lots of local farm products) and the local stockyard where he bought his cattle are closed, victims of Wal-Mart and the long reach of bigger operations. The Omaha stockyards were also shuttered when meatpackers realized they could save money by regionalizing their operations and opened a number of smaller operations closer to corn and cattle farmers.

But public policy, even more than individual actions, affects agriculture’s environmental impacts.

While agriculture holds promise for mitigating climate change and is a major contributor to Michigan’s economic future, it also presents some of our greatest environmental threats.

Agriculture is the leading threat to endangered species, the most commonly cited source of water pollution and the nation’s largest consumer of fresh water. Agricultural water runoff does much more damage to water quality than urban runoff. It can have a huge (and around CAFOS, horrible) impact on air quality.

At the Michigan Environmental Council we’ve long been engaged in leveling the policy field for environmentally sound agriculture on a number of fronts by:
  • Fighting for farmland preservation;
  • Backing more focused agricultural tax incentives for better returns for both the public and committed farmers;
  • Leading calls to control dangerous pesticide practices;
  • Supporting the Sierra Club in its battle against CAFOS, the mega-contaminating factory farms;
  • Facilitating work of Michigan’s organic food advocates;
  • Promoting urban gardens and local farmers’ markets;
  • Working with child advocates on healthier food options;
  • Advocating passage of state and federal standards for renewable energy (where farmers stand to realize income from farm-based wind turbines);
  • Cooperating with academics and industry for better bio-fuel science and economics;
  • Backing sensible forestry management practices; and
  • Collaborating on efforts for stronger water conservation legislation.
This year the federal Farm Bill is up for renewal. At stake are billions of dollars in tax subsidies (as high as $21 billion in 2005), water quality, conservation and food quality issues. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the only member of Michigan’s delegation with a seat on an agriculture committee, can best shape the farm bill to advance farmland protection and critical conservation measures. It is important that Sen. Stabenow hears from people who support strong conservation protections in the Farm Bill.

Admittedly, we should all do what we can to protect the environment with our personal food choices. But it’s the powerful people like Sen. Stabenow who could really make a difference.
-Lana Pollack, President, Michigan Environmental Council
RELATED TOPICS: food policy, legislation
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