I don’t really care what you think about climate change; to be honest I barely care what I think about climate change. My reasons are simple enough, we can easily document the massive amounts of smaller environmental damage that has been caused by industrialization. Even more importantly, if we fix the things that we can easily prove are happening we also fix the larger situation that theoretically is causing climate change.
The question then becomes, “What do we do about it?”. For my part I believe we have to go after our agricultural problems first. The entire world is currently tottering on the brink of starving to death, primarily because of dependency on industrial farming. The damage we have done to the world’s farmland is so extensive that we could easily see a massive downward movement in food production at any moment. We have only been able to keep production as high as we have by pumping in more and more artificial pesticides and fertilizers every year.
The good news is there is a farming revolution taking place. Farmers like Joel Salatin are taking back our nations food supply and reintroducing the idea of the family owned, sustainable farm. They have found a model that creates high quality, nutritious foods in a way that is good for the environment and provides for the farmer. In short this method is wholistic it takes care of the soil, the animals, the people, and pretty much all other involved parties. Many are concerned, however, that this change is not taking place fast enough. They are arguing that for the sake of human health, animal rights, soil erosion, etc. the government needs to step in and use regulation to force the issue in the right direction.
Those who advocate such changes have a fundamentally flawed understanding of the nature of government regulations. We have a top down, government lead agricultural infrastructure now and it isn’t taking us anywhere good! In other words, we are calling on those who created the problem to now take the lead in fixing the problem. The problem is that regulation is fundamentally unable to improve the situation, because to do so is in direct opposition to basic the nature of government.
There are 2 very fundamental problems with regulation that contribute to its failure to create the kind of positive change that we are looking for:
1. Regulations are ALWAYS created by the industries they regulate. Regulations go into effect when members of an industry use “the common good” as a pretense for keeping their competition out of the market. Look at the key policy makers in the USDA, FDA, etc. pretty much all of them are former employees of companies like Monsanto, ConAgra, Tyson, etc. They can’t regulate agriculture in a way that damages their former employers, otherwise they won’t have anywhere to go back to when they get tired of being in government. In addition they are in government, precisely to aid their employers interests. Think about it, who else could claim to be qualified to regulate the agriculture industry? What’s more, any legal change has to come from Congress. Congress likes to get re-elected which means that they like campaign donations. The result is that Congress only passes laws that favor large campaign donors. Since the multi-national agribusinesses are loaded with cash and the small farm movement has only small cash reserves, all regulation is going to favor the industrial agriculture model. These causes exist in pretty much all government agencies but the results are always the same, regulations are used pretty much exclusively by the industries they regulate to keep out undesired competition. For this reason, regulation cannot bring in substantial change to an industry.
2. The government always reflects the majority opinion. The government cannot causes substantial change because it always reflects the view of the majority. No politician can push for substantial changes, unless the majority of voters approve, because in doing so he risks his political future. This is a simple, inherit fact in all representative forms of government. As a result, when the government is entrusted with care for an area like agriculture regulation, the industry will remain unchanged until a large enough majority of the American people care enough to make things change. In fact, the government will fight to protect the status quo in the name of protecting “democracy”. Only in a free market are minor innovations constantly created and then tested based upon their success. The result is that only the best innovations are brought to the forefront and the system gradually becomes the best it can possibly be.
The best course of action for the government to take, if we want to restore America’s ecological resources and food security, is to get out of the way.
Let me give some examples of how the government is currently contributing to America’s failed industrial model of agriculture:
Farm subsidies are used to coerce farmers to pursue certain courses of action. Money is a powerful tool, and it is frequently given with strong stipulations. In many cases these stipulations force the farmer to pursue an ecologically flawed method of agriculture because of the need for government money. They also create an economically flawed method, by encouraging farmers to put large amounts of capital into single use, capital heavy equipment.
Zoning and food safety laws are being used to keep American’s from growing their own food. The government has consistently used “food safety” and zoning laws to keep people from providing food for themselves, or from making food choices for themselves. It has become extremely common recently for homeowners to have food gardens removed by force in the name of zoning. It has also become difficult to buy, sell, or even grow food that doesn’t have government approval. In the recent food safety act, even home canning equipment got defined as “food processing equipment”, with the government giving itself regulatory control over all “food processing equipment”.
Regulations are used to make it prohibitively expensive to be small, local producer. The mandatory purchase of $20,000 piece of equipment in the name of “food safety” is much more manageable for a producer that produces millions of chickens every year than it is for one who produces hundreds. This clever type of legislation appears to create innovative food safety solutions, but it is actually being used to lock small operators out of the marketplace.
This is just a small sampling of how regulations are used directly to benefit the large agribusinesses that have created the crisis we face today. Only a return to an individually run, small scale, grass based system will bring us back to where we need to be. This will only happen if thousands of people begin making small decisions for themselves that push us back from the edge of the cliff and towards a more sustainable future.
One final objection rebutted: Don’t subsidies make food cheaper? Some have advocated the need for farm subsidies in the name of keeping food prices lower for those who have lower incomes. As a the head of a single income family of 4, I certainly understand this sentiment; however subsidies are making your food more expensive. Those who, like myself, have to keep up with grocery prices will have noted a substantial increase in the price of food every year for quite some time. The cause of this increase is inflation, inflation caused by the government printing more money to keep up with its growing debt burden. Since subsidies are one heavy contributor to Federal spending, you could say they are responsible for the inflation that is driving the prices up.
Beyond this, it should be noted that American’s spend a much smaller percentage of their income on food than has been historically noted, and instead spend a great deal more on healthcare. If American’s were actually spending as much as they should on food, perhaps they wouldn’t have such high healthcare costs. In addition, it has been historically normal for most of society to produce some of their own food. A better price control would be to teach those who are not financially well off how to produce their own food, rather than trying to artificially reduce the price of food.
At the end of the day the ultimate problem with any argument that we need a top down, centralized, government run food system is that we already have one. Any attempts at advocating for such a system are going to have to explain why over the last 100 years the system they are advocating for has done more extensive damage to our environment and the farming culture of America than any other farming method ever tried.