Fruits of Thought
First Priority For Produce
Increasing food production is a key element of sustainability. It has to be. It is the prime directive when it comes to the social responsibility of the food industry. This point may yet startle environmentalists who soon will learn sustainable development is about the balance between environmental, financial and social responsibilities — and, sometimes, social responsibilities are going to come first.
Already we are seeing a backlash against biofuels, as it begins to sink in that all these government mandates and subsidies are designed to encourage farmers to switch from growing human food and animal feed to fuel — and that resources devoted to biofuels are not available to increase food production. One need not be a skeptic on global warming to realize it is unsustainable to divert food to fuel in a world still increasing in population and with many populations finally able to eat at a level above subsistence.
All over the world, food prices are going up. In rich countries, it is putting pressure on politicians. In poor countries, it is causing riots and threatening the progress of a generation in poverty reduction.
The solutions governments are promoting will mostly make the problem worse and ensure it continues. Among these “solutions”:
The real solutions are not obscure:
As farmers react to high prices by planting fence post to fence post and apply new technology, we will see this problem mitigate. Yet it is crucial to use this moment to remind the world and the non-governmental organizations about the purpose of our industry — to feed the world.
Cutting energy use, reducing our carbon footprint, etc., may all be great ideas — but only if we have first taken care of job one: feeding the world.
In Salinas, we are seeing actual reductions in acreage and production; in tree fruit and grapes, we see consolidation in packing and marketing, but, so far, the long-term nature of planting trees means we are not seeing any drops in production.
Yet with a growing population both in the United States and around the world — with more affluent people in places such as China and India clamoring for top-quality food, including fresh produce — it may well be very important to realize the enormous efforts we have made to get tiny improvements on food safety and the enormous expenditures made to measure carbon footprints and look at industry impact on the environment, even the massive efforts to score better pay and conditions for migrant workers, all these things and all the good they do will count for nothing if we can’t feed the world.
The industry has been in a defensive posture related to food safety, workers’ rights, GMOs and much more. Maybe it is time to turn the tables and point out that our real job is bringing the fruit of the earth to the people of the world. We do this job well, and we need to measure other things people would have us do against the way such proposals will contribute or detract from feeding the world. pb