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Sustainable food, defined

What does “sustainable agriculture” mean, anyway?

By
June 22, 2007

Everywhere in the media, including on this website, there’s talk of “sustainable food,” but what does that term mean exactly? By its very definition, food is sustaining, but sustainable agriculture is something different. It’s not surprising that the group known as Sustainable Table has a description most people using the term would like:

Sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities.

It’s a wide-ranging definition, and as Sustainable Table points out, not everyone agrees what all these things mean, but it is nice to know the federal government actually has signed a definition for sustainable agriculture into law:

In 1990, the US government defined sustainable agriculture in Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1683, as “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term, satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends; make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

So the next time you hear someone touting the merits of sustainable food, you’ll have an idea what he’s talking about.