Food Tank hosted a special discussion with Patrick Holden, founding director of the Sustainable Food Trust.
“There is the illusion that the most intensively produced food is the cheapest and the most sustainably produced food has to be more expensive,” opened Holden.
His personal experience as a farmer in Wales, United Kingdom led him to question, “Why is that if you are a farmer, it is the best business case to produce intensively, while the worst business case is for sustainable production?”
Holden said, “It is dishonest to have an economic system where damage to health and the environment are not reflected into the price of food.”
He spoke about the different categories of external costs including; emissions, pollution, biodiversity, natural capital, human health, animal welfare, jobs, and more.
Holden firmly believes, “It should be the right of every person to consume healthy food.”
And since the increased prevalence of obesity and diabetes is directly related to changes in farming practices, specifically the misuse of antibiotics, this has painted a completely false picture that sustainable production is the most expensive.
The environmental and health “impacts are not priced into the tag that we pay, nor have they been reflected into the price farmers receive. If you factor in the true cost, the picture will be reversed,” said Holden.
He suggested several solutions including; taxing nitrogen fertilizers and recycling the tax to farmers who are carbon stewards; redirecting subsidies through the farm bill from soy and corn to mixed farming operations; paying a proper price for resources that would incentivize less water usage; incentivizing farmers to produce healthy food; and educating people. “If people have enough information they will make informed choices on what they buy and can put pressure on the electorate,” explained Holden.
“In the end it will be the power of informed public opinion which will drive politicians into reallocating the farm bill to switch in favor of sustainable farming practices.”
Holden encouraged listeners to “buy food with a story you know. And talk about it, it’s interesting. Think about it. An educated citizen is a citizen that is empowered to help change the world.”