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Agriculture Is One of the Most Polluting and Dangerous Industries

Industrial ag supplies most of our food, yet its lack of regulation may be more of a threat than Wall Street's.

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At this critical juncture, we should see these factory farm problems and their solutions as an opportunity. This is an opportunity for us to demand that Washington regulate our food supply. It is a chance to make real changes in our own diets by eating safe foods, supporting local organic farms, and frequenting farmers markets. Additionally, each of us can grow chemically free vegetables and fruits in our own yards, like the Obamas are doing at the White House.

It is also a time of opportunity to assist farmers and merchants in converting U.S. farming and the food system. To do this, we need much more government investment in the reinvigoration of our agricultural extension service. These new or retrained extension agents would help farmers make the transition to sustainable and organic agriculture (as some currently are). We also need access for young and not so young farmers to financial aid and government held farmland. Clearly, we also need lots more regulators. Only the government can address these issues. But, we must pressure the Obama run EPA, USDA, and FDA to address them as if they were urgent.

U.S. organic farmers developed a set of standards in the 1970s and 1980s to regulate farms and farmers with third party inspections. They did this to assure a suspicious public that the food they produced was really organic. The standards they enforce require crop rotation, an organic fertility and pest control program and prohibit the use of toxic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, genetic modification, sewage sludge, irradiation, and the feeding of animal protein to animals.

"Conventional" food in the U.S can be grown with all the farming practices outlawed in organic. Conventional is a semantic ploy to avoid calling the food "chemical," or "poisonous." Whatever you call it, it should be regulated and the most damaging practices should be made illegal.

Finally, we need to internationally harmonize our regulations, so that there is as much unanimity to the rules as possible and the enforcement is transparent. This is just as important in food as it is in finance. We are all too connected globally to pretend that we should not worry about another culture's food regulations or health concerns. Ideally, we should all embrace a more rigorous international REACH-like program that would protect farmers, farmworkers, processors and consumers.

Hopefully, the Obama administration attitude toward regulation will extend to U.S. agriculture. If it doesn't, we are in deep shit! And, I'm not talking manure.

Will Allen is the author of The War on Bugs. He has been farming organically since 1972 in Oregon, California, and Vermont, where he now co-manages Cedar Circle Farm.

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