The Sustainable Food Trust today publishes summary proceedings of an international conference which brought together leading experts to establish the true cost of American food. America was one of the first countries to intensify food production and as a result was also one of the first to suffer from the negative impacts.

Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust said, “More than a year after our conference, at a time when governments are beginning to take action on pollution in transport, with plans for a ban on new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, food producers remain largely financially unaccountable for the terrible damage that current systems are inflicting on the environment and public health.

Mechanisms that could exist to allow future food pricing to be more honest include the introduction of polluter pays taxes on chemical fertilisers and pesticides and the redirection of farm subsidies in such a way that producers whose systems of production sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide and improve public health are rewarded for these benefits.”

Professor Jonathan Foley from the California Academy of Sciences says, “It is undeniable that the global food system is facing a major crisis, with problems impacting food justice, food security, nutrition, the environment and economics. There are some fundamentally broken things in every aspect of the food system.”

Wendy Schmidt, President of the Schmidt Family Foundation, argues that we must, “Re-shape the road map and better design a food system which takes into account all the externalities that are currently not included in the cost of food.”

In the transcript of a video address given by the Prince of Wales, he says, “It is essential that the true costs of all our activities are properly understood and reflected in the way we run our economies… I make no apology for saying that ways must be found to make sustainable food systems at least as profitable as unsustainable systems… We need new ways of accounting for the true costs and benefits of our food production systems.”

One of the key external costs covered at the conference was the impact of food systems on human health. Tyler Norris from Kaiser Permanante highlighted how the declining nutritional quality of food has an economic cost. In the US, nearly 18 cents of every dollar is spent on health care services.

Other hidden costs exposed by scientists and economists in the proceedings include:

  • the cost of nitrate and pesticide pollution of ground and river water from agro-chemicals, which in some areas of the US are so high that the water industry is struggling to provide drinking water within legal limits,
  • air pollution from CAFOs shown to be increasing respiratory infections and other diseases in people living nearby,
  • the loss of biodiversity, including the decline of farmland birds and pollinating insects,
  • soil degradation and erosion from continuous monoculture crop production,
  • the human health costs to employees working in stressful conditions in food processing plants.

All these and other costs highlighted in the proceedings are ultimately paid for by taxpayers and society in hidden ways, which include general taxation, insurance, water charges and reduced quality of life.

Click here to view the report.

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