I have been a proponent for eco-labels for food.  But I wanted to share my most recent Whole Foods experience.  I went to Whole Foods in Portland, Maine and noticed that they had animal welfare labeling.  Great…I took some photos.  Then, I asked where I could find  Number 5 meat because I was curious as to the type and source of the highest rated products.  They told me that no number 5 or 4 meat exists in the store.  The highest rated chicken is 2, and the highest beef is 3 (and beef would be lower if environmental factors would considered).  Shouldn’t bigger and more animal friendly numbers be available now, or will this eventually and effectively increase consumer demand?


I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of social movements to create environmental change.  I know many sociologists and political scientists have studied grassroots environmentalism as a way to generate political change, but in the U.S., major environmental legislation hasn’t been passed for decades yet some sort of local environmental social movement is afoot as it relates to food.  People are genuinely interested in local and organic foods, regional food systems, composting, and universities are creating food-related programs.  While I think many of these positives have yet to fully address the problem of making alternative agriculture affordable, food is the most initimate natural resource we all use and perhaps can be a facilatator for a greater environmental movement.

…is the title of this interesting little opinion piece in the Times, offering up some ways to improve our food system.  One idea I like, but I’ve never heard discussed from a public policy standpoint is how to encourage people to cook.  The piece says:

Encourage and subsidize home cooking. (Someday soon, I’ll write about my idea for a new Civilian Cooking Corps.) When people cook their own food, they make better choices. When families eat together, they’re more stable. We should provide food education for children (a new form of home ec, anyone?), cooking classes for anyone who wants them and even cooking assistance for those unable to cook for themselves.

See here.

See here.  This press relaese uses loftier language than the actual opinion, but the crops must be removed from the ground.


I just finished reading “The Town That Food Saved” by Ben Hewitt.  It’s a must read for Vermonters who want to know more about the agricultural entrepreneurs in and near Hardwick, Vermont (enterprises like High Mowing Organic Seeds, Pete’s Greens, Claire’s, and the Center for Agricultural Economy).  I enjoyed the book both because it’s nice to read about a community in your home state, and because Hewitt recognizes the criticism placed upon high-priced organic artisanal food (something I discussed in an earlier post), and tries to define a successful localized sustainable food system (e.g., economic vitality to small-scale producers, it must feed locals, based on sunshine rather than fossil fuels).  Unfortunately, the issue of price/affordability remains, and in his book (and in my own work), there remains no answer of how to make healthy sustainable food more affordable in the face of industrial agriculture.  At the end of the book, Hewitt seems to suggest that an economic collapse of the industrial food model may result in price reorganization, but I’m more skeptical of such a collapse and instead have come to belief that big business (e.g., Wal-Mart) will instead seek to control the organic market where these large firms then bring smaller farms under their control by dictating production quantities and growing conditions.

Finally, yesterday I posted about the new Food Safety Bill passed by the Senate.  It seems Hewitt has his own take on the bill.

See here.

UPDATE: Sen. Sanders (I-VT) has a press release on the issue, “Senate Passes Food Safety Bill, Sanders Provision Protects Small Farmers and Processors.”

UPDATE 2: Process Mistake May Kill Food Safety Bill

Green reports that the InterAcademy Medical Panel is urging a low-carbon diet and lifestyle.  This should come as no surprise, but perhaps is long overdue.  Many things that are ‘low-carbon’ are much healthier than the alternatives (and both healthier for your personal biology and the environment).  Examples abound: red meat v. chicken, chicken v. vegetable, walk v. drive, etc.  Sometimes the choices aren’t so clear.

Sweden, with it’s new dietary guidelines that take the environment into account, is on the cutting edge.  These recommendations have been suggested for a whole host of environmental reasons in addition to acknowledged health benefits.  For example, the guidelines account for the high climate impact of beef due to methane released in cattle digestion, the depletion of many fish stocks, the energy-heavy refrigerated transport required by delicate fruits and vegetables,  the fact that fiber-rich root vegetables are more likely to be grown outdoors than in greenhouses requiring fossil fuels, that water-soaked rice fields produce more greenhouse gases than potato farms, that oil palms are often cultivated on former rainforest lands, and even the high carbon footprint of plastic water bottles.

Today I delivered the Stegner Center Young Scholar Lecture at the University of Utah entitled “The Environment, Food, and Law.”  Turnout was good and everyone has been wonderful in planning my visit.  The talk was about the environmental harms of the modern industrial food system, and discusses the role of informational regulation and structural change (e.g.,  access to different food models) in achieving a more sustainable food system.  This builds upon my forthcoming article in the Stanford Law Environmental Law Journal and my forthcoming piece in the University of Utah’s Journal of Land, Resources & the Environment.

The talk when relatively well, mostly because the topic of food and the environment has grown sexy thanks to folks like Michael Pollan, but the topic also proves challenging given the diverse and complex set of concerns and interests.  What is clear is that on the labeling front, I need to make a better case as to what circumstances eco-labeling is most effective, and, on the structural front, I still need better data on successful initiatives to create a sustainable food systems from a planning and/or implementation perspective.  Finally, I need to think harder about how this all relates to food costs.

Given the complexity of food and ag systems I’m really excited about the new book contract I’ve just signed with co-authors Professor Mary Jane Angelo (University of Florida) and Bill Eubanks entitled “Food, Agriculture Policy, and the Environment: History, Law & Proposals for Reform” (Environmental Law Institute Press, forthcoming 2012).

Tomorrow is talk #2 in Salt Lake City entitled, “Climate Policy and US-China Relations.”  More details here.

Vermont Law School to Open New Center
for Agriculture and Food Systems

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to invite you to be part of an exciting development at Vermont Law School. In the spring of 2011, we will open the Vermont Law Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, which will support advocates, agencies, food hubs, incubators, and farmers engaged in the creation of community-based agriculture systems in the U.S. and internationally.

I invite you to join in the launch of this new center through our 2011 Sustainable Food Systems Summer Scholar program. We will select a noted academic or practitioner in this field to spend two weeks in Vermont during our Summer Session to conduct research and participate in colloquia. Vermont Law School will pay travel expenses for the scholar, provide housing, and pay a $5,000 stipend. To apply, or to nominate a colleague, please send a cover letter and résumé to Anne Mansfield, associate director of the Environmental Law Center, at

The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems will focus on legal and policy issues related to community-based agriculture, the regulation of food, the Farm Bill and agricultural subsidies, energy-efficient food production, energy independence for farmers, and other issues key to retaining a successful working landscape for rural communities. Vermont Law School is the ideal place to initiate this effort: Vermont is synonymous with the farming landscape and leads the nation in the sophistication of its effort to implement a sustainable agricultural system.

The center will be modeled after our highly successful Institute for Energy and the Environment and will build on recent efforts at VLS. We hosted a conference on Food, Fuel, and the Future of Farming, which brought over 200 scholars, activists, and farmers together. We convened a colloquium with the Northeast Organic Farming Association and Rural Vermont on farmers’ market insurance issues. And, we published The Farmer’s Handbook for Energy Self-Reliance, distributed to over 4,000 farmers and taken to over a dozen farmers’ forums and conferences nationally.

This spring, we will recruit a director for the center with national experience in the field who will work with our environmental faculty and Summer Session faculty, many of whom have produced scholarship in this area. Students from our Agricultural Law Society will assist in the work of the center, and many of them will join the ranks of our alumni who work with organizations such as the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Center for Food Safety, and the Vermont Department of Agriculture.

Please accept this invitation to apply or nominate a colleague to be the first Sustainable Food Systems Summer Scholar at the new Vermont Law Center for Agriculture and Food Systems.

Best regards,
Marc B. Mihaly
Professor of Law
Director, Environmental Law Center
Associate Dean, Environmental Law Program

164 Chelsea Street, PO Box 96 | South Royalton, VT 05068 US

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