by André Leu and Ronnie Cummins
edited by Marilynn deChant
The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture wants “farmers and agricultural interests to come up with a single definition of sustainability in order to avoid confusing the public with various meanings of the term in food and production methods.”
Is “sustainability” meaningless to consumers and the public? Some say it’s overused, misused and it has been shamelessly co-opted by corporations for the purpose of greenwashing.
But rather than come up with one definition for the word “sustainable” as it refers to food and food production methods, we suggest doing away with the word entirely. In its place, as a way of helping food consumers make conscious, informed decisions, we suggest dividing global food and farming into two categories: regenerative and degenerative.
Degenerative is toxic chemical-intensive, monoculture-based industrial agriculture systems that destabilize the climate, and degrade soil, water, biodiversity, health and local economies.
Regenerative practices based on sound ecological principles that rejuvenate the soil, grasslands and forests, replenish water, promote food sovereignty, and restore public health and prosperity—all while cooling the planet by drawing down billions of tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil where it belongs.
In the 1970s, Robert Rodale, son of American organic pioneer J.I. Rodale coined the term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’ to distinguish a kind of farming that goes beyond simply “sustainable.”
The dictionary defines “sustainable” as: able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; able to last or continue for a long time. In other words, sustainability is about maintaining systems without degrading them.
Industrial agriculture today, with its factory farms, waste lagoons, antibiotics and growth hormones, GMOs, toxic pesticides and prolific use of synthetic fertilizers, doesn’t come close to “not using up or destroying natural resources.” Their hope is that consumers will view “sustainable” products as superior to mere “conventional” products, or better yet, equate the word “sustainable” with “organic.”
It’s a Regeneration Revolution. And it goes well beyond “sustainability.”
André Leu is president of IFOAM Organics International <http://www.ifoam.bio/> , and on the steering committee of Regeneration International <http://www.regenerationinternational.org/> .
Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association <https://www.organicconsumers.org/> , and on the steering committee of Regeneration International <http://www.regenerationinternational.org/> .