The author is with Consumer Choice Center
The Biden administration has released an updated security memorandum, which outlines the threats to the American agricultural system, as well as ways to address them.
“To achieve this, the Federal Government will identify and assess threats, vulnerabilities, and impacts from these high-consequence and catastrophic incidents — including but not limited to those presented by CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear) threats, climate change, and cybersecurity – and will prioritize resources to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk”, reads the document released last month.
The White House touches on an important topic by addressing the unique threats that face the farming sector, and to what extent the American food production system might be threatened by domestic or foreign actions. It addresses, for instance, the impacts of toxic industrial chemicals, from a standpoint not only of the effects on humans, but also on the biological realm, which might impact the productivity of farms.
The memorandum comes at a time when supply chain disruptions have shown to consumers just to what extent a food system can destabilize the inner-workings of a country. Case in point, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not just a military conflict that plays out on the battlefield. It is also a war of food, in which the Russian war machine holds Ukrainian grain exports hostage through its strategic vantage points.
Continuous grain deals in the Black Sea have stood on rocky grounds, despite the vital importance for the Ukrainian economy. This war underlines how civilian infrastructure quickly becomes a military target, and how guaranteeing security is not merely about anti-aircraft missiles, but also about protecting strategic industrial elements.
For that reason, it is not just laudable that the administration addresses these risks, but also that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been at the forefront of arguing for food security through innovation. The USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda advances the notion that more innovation, through public and private research and investment, makes the food system more efficient and sustainable.
Compared to the European Union’s approach – which seeks to reduce farm land use and livestock, to the detriment of the European food sector – the AIA takes a forward-looking approach.
While USDA’s regulatory roadmap looks promising, the White House’s previous decisions on agricultural regulation have been contradictory to those goals, as I’ve outlined in previous articles for the National Interest. A sustainable and resilient food system needs to give its farmers the toolboxes to fight diseases and pests, and allow for diversity in the practices farmers use to optimize their output. There is no one-size-fits all solution, and it certainly isn’t an all-organic food model that the European Union is slowly lurching toward.
The strength of American agriculture comes from the fact that it produces great products at competitive prices.
While Europe has retained a steady agricultural production level since about 1985, the United States doubled its productivity between 1960 and 2000 and is on route to breaking the 150% productivity gain in the near future. To do so, politicians need to create the framework that allows for innovation in plant-breeding and farming technology, to make sure the latest products always get to the United States first. Also, this does not need to come at the cost of environmental protection, to the contrary. Modern farming technology reduces carbon dioxide emissions and reduces the need for inputs across the board.
The responsibility lies in political leaders to ensure that the American food system is safe from the threats of foreign interference, and the negative impacts of many of the domestic regulatory attempts to regress on technological innovation.
Bill Wirtz is senior policy analyst at the Consumer Choice Center.