Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Beyond Manifesto: How to Change the Food System

Published: Friday, January 11, 2013
Last Updated: Friday, January 11, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Mark Bittman used the occasion of New Year’s Day to throw down the gauntlet for real and permanent change to the U.S. agricultural system.

“We must figure out a way to un-invent this food system,” he says in a Times opinion column. He likens the scale of the task to tectonic cultural strides like abolition, civil rights, and the women’s vote.

As to how we go about achieving this goal, Bittman speaks in broad terms. He appeals for patience, invoking the pioneers of those transformative movements, who had the perspective that their progress is not just for now but for future generations. He names the culprits of sugary drinks and poor livestock conditions as key points of attack. He calls for goals. Well reasoned approaches, to be sure, but they aren’t a blueprint for specific action.

UC Berkeley researchers have been working on some specifics for several years now, researching the agricultural, policy, and social practices that would make possible the type of systemic change Bittman is advocating. In a special multi-article feature devoted to "diversified farming systems," or DFS, for the December issue of the journal Ecology & Society, scientists from Berkeley, Santa Clara University, and other institutions lay out a comprehensive scientific case that biologically diversified agricultural practices can contribute substantially to food production while creating far fewer environmental harms than industrialized, conventional monoculture agriculture—that is, large swaths of land devoted to growing single crops using chemical inputs.

DFS are different from the narrow definition of organics, and the research shows that, unlike industrial agriculture, biologically diversified agriculture tends to generate and regenerate ecosystem services such as soil fertility, pest and disease control, water-use efficiency, and pollination, which provide critical inputs to agriculture. The research also found that DFS support globally important ecosystem services, including substantially greater biodiversity, carbon sequestration, energy-use efficiency, and resilience to climate change.

But changing America’s agriculture system is more complex than just changing farming techniques, according to Alastair Iles, assistant professor of environmental science, policy, and management, and co-director of the Berkeley Center for Diversified Farming Systems.

“If diversified farming systems are to thrive in the United States, policies and preferences must evolve to reward the environmental and social benefits of sustainable farming and landscape management,” Iles says. “Policies supporting ecological diversification are underdeveloped and fragmented compared with conventional agricultural policies.”

In one Ecology & Society article, Iles and co-author Robin Marsh, also of UC Berkeley, consider several obstacles that prevent or slow the spread of diversified farming practices, such as the broader political and economic context of industrialized agriculture, the erosion of farmer knowledge and capacity, and supply chain and marketing conditions that limit the ability of farmers to adopt sustainable practices.

“To transform agriculture, we need to understand these obstacles and develop and test solutions, such as peer-to-peer learning, recruitment and retention of new farmers through access to credit and land, and compensation for ecological services provided by ranchers, for example,” Iles says.

Other key facets of a sustainable agricultural system include attention to its social dimensions, such as human health, labor, democratic participation, resiliency, diversity, equality, and ethics, according to special issue co-editor Chris Bacon of Santa Clara University. In an article with colleagues, Bacon proposes creating partnerships with institutions that could address issues like immigration, food access, and worker health.

But first and foremost, the farms themselves have to produce enough to remain profitable and to feed a growing population. Conservation biologist Claire Kremen, also a UC Berkeley professor and co-director of the Berkeley DFS Center with Iles, says that more work is needed to build on what is already known about biologically diversified agriculture, to make them these methods even more productive.

“To date, the amount of research and development investment in this type of agriculture is miniscule compared to what’s been invested in conventional agriculture,” Kremen said. “There may be substantial potential to increase food production from biologically diversified, sustainable agriculture that we have not yet tapped into. With research support to study and improve on sustainable farming systems, we can tap that potential. Growers want to utilize sustainable practices if they can, but they need to know it won’t hurt their bottom line.”

So, DFS scientists might argue, Bittman’s New Year’s manifesto, which ends with a call for “energy, action — and patience,” could be amended to include “a comprehensive scientific, political, and sociological approach, and putting dollars behind the right kinds of research.”

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

RNA-Based Drugs Give More Control Over Gene Editing
CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique can be transiently activated and inactivated using RNA-based drugs, giving researchers more precise control in correcting and inactivating genes.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Some 3-D Printed Objects Are Toxic
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have found parts produced by some commercial 3-D printers are toxic to certain fish embryos.
Monday, November 09, 2015
Artificial Kidney Research Gets A Boost
Development of a surgically implantable, artificial kidney — a promising alternative to kidney transplantation or dialysis for people with end-stage kidney disease — has received a $6 million boost.
Monday, November 09, 2015
Clearest Ever Images of Enzyme that Plays Key Roles in Aging, Cancer
UCLA-led research on telomerase could lead to new strategies for treating disease
Monday, October 19, 2015
Crop Cure
Scientists in new center to use medical research techniques to help food crops withstand drought and climate change.
Friday, October 16, 2015
Rare Childhood Leukemia Reveals Surprising Genetic Secrets
A coalition of leukemia researchers led by scientists from UC San Francisco has discovered surprising genetic diversity in juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML), a rare but aggressive childhood blood cancer.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Sustaining Our Salad
Improving lettuce crops is the aim of a new, $4.5 million grant, awarded to University of California, Davis, researchers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Double Enzyme Hit May Explain Common Cancer Drug Side Effect
Mouse study suggests genomic screening before treatment may help prevent anemia.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
New Autism Genes Are Revealed in Largest-Ever Study
Work draws more detailed picture of genetic risk, sheds light on sex differences in diagnosis.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Influenza A Viruses More Likely To Emerge In East Asia Than North America
Novel strains of influenza A are more likely to emerge in East Asia than in North America, according to a global analysis by the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and EcoHealth Alliance.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Opening the Door to Safer, More Precise Cancer Therapies
New method regulates when, and how strongly, cancer-killing therapeutic T cells are activated.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Crunching Numbers to Combat Cancer
UCSF receives $5 million to integrate data from cancer research models.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Virus In Cattle Linked To Human Breast Cancer
A new study by UC Berkeley researchers establishes for the first time a link between infection with the bovine leukemia virus and human breast cancer.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Ultrafast DNA Diagnostics
New technology developed by UC Berkeley bioengineers promises to make a workhorse lab tool cheaper, more portable and many times faster by accelerating the heating and cooling of genetic samples with the switch of a light.
Monday, August 03, 2015
Scientists Create CRISPR/Cas9 Knock-In Mutations in Human T Cells
In a project spearheaded by investigators at UC San Francisco, scientists have devised a new strategy to precisely modify human T cells using the genome-editing system known as CRISPR/Cas9.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Scientific News
High Throughput Mass Spectrometry-Based Screening Assay Trends
Dr John Comley provides an insight into HT MS-based screening with a focus on future user requirements and preferences.
Kitchen Utensils Can Spread Bacteria Between Foods
In a recent study researchers found that produce that contained bacteria would contaminate other produce items through the continued use of knives or graters—the bacteria would latch on to the utensils commonly found in consumers' homes and spread to the next item.
Exploring the Causes of Cancer
Queen's research to understand the regulation of a cell surface protein involved in cancer.
Safer, Faster Way To Remove Pollutants From Water
Using nanoparticles filled with enzymes proves more effective than current methods.
Drug May Prevent Life-Threatening Muscle Loss in Advanced Cancers
New data describes how an experimental drug can stop life-threatening muscle wasting (cachexia) associated with advanced cancers and restore muscle health.
Ancient Viral Molecules Essential for Human Development
Genetic material from ancient viral infections is critical to human development, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Novel Tumor Treatment
In the first published results from a $386,000 National Cancer Institute grant awarded earlier this year, a paper by Scott Verbridge and Rafael Davalos has been published.
Speeding Up the Process of Making Vaccines
System uses a freeze-dry concept to develop "just-add-water" solution.
Chemical Design Made Easier
Rice University scientists prepare elusive organocatalysts for drug and fine chemical synthesis.
New Analysis Technique for Chiral Activity in Molecules
Professor Hyunwoo Kim of the Chemistry Department and his research team have developed a technique that can easily analyze the optical activity of charged compounds by using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos