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Why Healthy Food Is Good for the Planet

This summer I got to savor the fruits of a garden my daughters planted at our home. We ate zucchini, snap peas, and salad greens that not only tasted delicious but also gave us peace of mind: we knew our food had been grown without pesticides or other chemicals that endanger human health.

Too often Americans lack that reassurance. We eat three times a day but rarely know the conditions in which our food is produced. Consider this: for more than 30 years, the Food and Drug Administration has known that using antibiotics in animal feed poses a risk to human health but has done little to eliminate this danger. Currently, nearly 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are administered to healthy farm animals to speed their growth and prevent infections caused by their unsanitary living conditions. Animals receive subtherapeutic doses that are too low to treat disease but high enough to allow bacteria to become resistant to these drugs. Those resistant bacteria can spread to humans and lead to superbugs that are difficult or impossible to cure.

In May, after years of failure by the government to follow its own recommendations, NRDC filed a lawsuit against the FDA to prompt the agency to withdraw approval for non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in animal feed. Many nations, including those in the European Union, have stopped routinely administering antibiotics to healthy livestock. But political pressure here has handcuffed such efforts.

As we brought our antibiotics case to court, NRDC's newly launched Food and Agriculture Program forged ahead in its work on another critical issue: reducing carbon pollution from food production. Agriculture is responsible for 7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and roughly 30 percent globally. NRDC experts are working with conventional farmers and such large-scale buyers as Walmart to create a market based on less-carbon-intensive farming practices. For instance, we’ve partnered with farmers to create field-tested guidelines that will help conventional food producers use less energy, water, petroleum-based fertilizers, and other chemicals.

Many farmers are embracing these practices, and American consumers, restaurants, schools, and hospitals are buying more locally grown and organic food. But to combat the political influence that has paralyzed the FDA and other agencies, we have to do more. We're excited about the potential for this area of work and will periodically update you on our efforts to protect the public from unsafe food.

image of Frances Beinecke
Frances Beinecke is the president of NRDC and has worked with the organization for more than 30 years. Prior to becoming the president in 2006, Frances was the executive director for eight years, during which time NRDC's membership doubled and the st... READ MORE >