Picture of Kristin Schafer

Kristin Schafer

On pesticides, food democracy & hope

I’m feeling unexpectedly hopeful as 2018 winds down. Though the national political landscape remains tumultuous, we’re seeing some powerful, energizing trends in the world of food and farming.

I’m feeling unexpectedly hopeful as 2018 winds down. Though the national political landscape remains tumultuous, we’re seeing some powerful, energizing trends in the world of food and farming.

First, momentum is building in support of farming models that are regenerative instead of extractive, that build healthy soil, crop diversity — and thriving communities. Second, the public and political appetite to challenge the corporate stranglehold on our food and farming system is getting stronger. Last, and perhaps most importantly, people are engaging more deeply in food and farming issues.

Cultivating solutions

As this year’s Midwest dicamba drift crisis shows, pesticide reliance not only puts our health at risk, it’s also destroying farms and communities. The fact is, the pesticide treadmill (fueled by weed and insect resistance) has now kicked into hyperdrive, and weed scientists will openly tell you the system is failing.

Which is why the agroecology success stories my friend and colleague Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman amplifies leave me filled with hope. In the face of industrial ag’s failure and a fast-changing climate, she highlights powerful stories of:

. . . resilient communities coming together to create healthy, vibrant food and farming systems that can actually mitigate rather than intensify climate change, and that can sustain and nourish us long into the future.

And these are not one-off case studies. A global movement is building — now explicitly supported by national policies in many countries — to shift to the small-scale, intensive farming models scientists and advocates around the world called for a decade ago.

Corporate cronyism, unveiled

Pesticide industry lobbying and influence is nothing new. But under the current administration the control that a handful of corporations have on our food and farming system has been unveiled for all to see, and public outrage is building.

Reflecting on our work in 2018, it’s hard to ignore the common thread:

  • Under pressure from Bayer Cropscience (recently merged with Monsanto) EPA gave a green light to continued use of dicamba, despite pleas from farmers who suffered devastating crop damage over the past two years.
  • A federal court sided with PAN and our partners in the battle over the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos, after former EPA head Scott Pruitt ignored his own scientists to reverse a planned ban — at the behest of Dow Agroscience (now “Corteva”).
  • Top positions at public agencies continue to be filled by folks like Scott Hutchins, the current nominee for chief scientist at USDA, a 30-year veteran of Dow.

As journalist Carey Gillam documents in her book Whitewash, the pesticide industry has been cozy with policymakers for years. Shining light on this coziness is now particularly easy — and people and politicians are paying attention. We look forward to working with our allies to keep the spotlight on corporate influence in the coming year, and call out the “merge and rebrand” strategy of Monsanto et al. as well.

Toward food democracy

And finally, the growing public involvement in food and farming issues leaves me especially hopeful at the end of 2018.

This ramped up engagement has resulted in some meaningful wins. In Minnesota, pressure from advocates concerned about pollinator health led to an official committee, and public engagement in that committee led to some of the strongest recommendations in the country designed to protect honey bees and other pollinators from pesticides.

In Hawaii, community activists celebrated the first ban in the country of chlorpyrifos after years of savvy and persistent organizing. And in California, farmers of color now have a seat at the policy table to ensure this long forgotten community has access to needed resources.

This is why I’m feeling hopeful — it’s been a good year. As we look toward 2019 (PAN’s 35th anniversary!) we look forward to more progress in the long-haul work of building a food and farming system that belongs to us all.

Picture of Kristin Schafer

Kristin Schafer

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