on tues 2 jan 96 email@example.com (Gilbert W. Gillespie Jr.) Wrote:
| Mr. Wilson (SANET post of 12/31/95) posed the question: "What do
you see happening in the field of sustainable agriculture between now and the
year 2000 (only 4years away)?" I see both reasons for pessimism and optimism
in assessing the prospects of "sustainable agriculture" in the next 4 years.
| . . .
| Unfortunately, for several structural reasons I fear that the kind
of "sustainable agriculture" that has potential for maintaining biodiversity
and providing food security in the long-run will face very hard times in the
| . . . A third reason is that the increasing social inequality in this
country will make paying the full cost of food (including environmental and
social externalities) financially impossible for growing segments of the U.S.
I share Gil's concern about the intersection of the the environmental and
social costs of agriculture with the structure of inequality in the United
States. But I'm not sure that we have a good idea of what it would mean to
"pay the full cost of food, including environmental and social externalities".
We know that in the current industrialized agrifood system, (1) farmgate
prices are about 25 percent of final food costs, (2) very little net income is
retained on the farm, (3) most profits are earned in the input subsector
(other than labor) and in the output processing and distributing subsector,
and (4) most of the environmental and social externalities occur before the
commodity leaves the farm (I don't mean to deny that some environmental and
social externalities occur after the farmgate, e.g., in poultry processing,
but just to say that the preponderance occur before the commodity passes
through the farmgate). Given these aspects, it seems to me quite possible
that a restructured agrifood system could both pay the full costs of food
production and deliver food to all segments of the U.S. population at
affordable prices. This seems to me possible both because environmentally
sustaining production techniques are not necessarily more expensive than
conventional techniques in the long run, and because a restructured agrifood
system would have lower costs and extract less profit in the input and output
sectors. I would be interested in learning of studies that have been done on
alternative agrifood structures that might support or refute this possibility.
craig k harris
dept of sociology michigan state university east lansing michigan
tel: 517-355-5048 fax: 517-432-2856