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President’s Council Report on Agriculture – What About Ecology?

The new report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) addresses the state of U.S. agriculture research. The report notes that public funding for agricultural research has stagnated, while industry sources have increased greatly to 61 percent of the total—three times the amount from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

From blog.ucsusa.org:

The new report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) addresses the state of U.S. agriculture research. The report notes that public funding for agricultural research has stagnated, while industry sources have increased greatly to 61 percent of the total—three times the amount from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Why should we care, given our proven ability to produce enough food? And shouldn’t we be happy that industry has stepped up its research funding?

As the report points out, we face several challenges in coming decades that private sources won’t cover. Increasing population, increased meat consumption, and climate change will make it harder to produce enough food. Add to that the substantial impact on food production from climate change, the dependence on scarce non-renewable resources like water and phosphorus, and the tremendous amount of world-changing pollution caused by industrial agriculture, and it is clear that the need for research to help address these problems is bigger than ever.

At a time when conservative politicians argue that the private sector is the be-all and end-all of economic productivity, the report also puts a welcome focus on the value of public spending on research. For agricultural research in particular, the returns on this investment are about 10 to 1, according to the report. The recommendation for an increase in public funding of $700 million is less than is needed, but a welcome beginning. The problem in the past is that very little of that funding has gone to making agriculture ecologically sustainable.

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