Sustainability; we’ve all heard that word tossed around quite frequently the past few years. But if I surveyed 100 people, no let’s make that 5 people; they wouldn’t give me the same definition of sustainability. Just look at these three different definitions of sustainability…
Definitions of sustainability
Webster’s dictionary: Sustainability: 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.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.
McDonald’s: Sustainable: a socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable product that prioritizes our planet, people, the animals, and continuous progress.
As you can see, none of the definitions listed above are the same. They are similar in some aspects but they all have a slightly different take on the word sustainability. It is going to be tough to move in the direction of sustainable agriculture if there isn’t a definition that reads the same across the board.
Farmers are sustainable.
Let’s get one thing straight, farmers and ranchers are sustainable. If they were not sustainable their farms and ranches wouldn’t date back multiple generations. The companies that are pushing sustainability criteria say that they want to help producers use water, land, and transportation resources efficiently. I don’t know one producer that isn’t already working towards all of those goals. They love producing food for the world; it gives them that warm fuzzy feeling. But, running an operation is a business; it is how farmers and ranchers feed their families. Don’t you think that they are already trying to reduce costs and limit their use of resources? Farmers and ranchers can now raise more animals on less land, using fewer resources than ever before. There are constant innovations and new technologies used to raise animals more efficiently. Farmers and ranchers were sustainable before sustainability was cool!
So why am I on my soapbox about sustainability? Well, the new dietary guidelines are being discussed and sustainability has become part of the conversation in the working groups. Now, I know you are all thinking, what does sustainability have to do with nutrition? That is my main question. There is not additional nutritional value in sustainable meat.
The dietary guidelines set the standards for several programs that help people in need. The school lunch program is an example that helps feed kids that wouldn’t have meals on their tables otherwise. Should a term nobody can seem to define be a limiting factor for our food supply? Isn’t the main goal to have safe, affordable food that also that tastes good? Let’s get our priorities straight people!
So I ask you, is the word sustainable becoming unsustainable? Webster’s defines sustainability as able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed. In my mind the term sustainability has been completely used up! Before there are any guidelines set about sustainable agriculture there needs to be a clear definition.
All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.