Experts on agriculture, law and public policy gathered at MU to talk about the future of food.
Many panelists at the event, which was hosted by the MU School of Law’s Business, Entrepreneurship & Tax Law Review, discussed how the industrialization of farming has affected the food that Americans and people across the world place on their tables.
John Ikerd, MU professor emeritus and agricultural economist, said he favors bringing biodiversity to farms instead of focusing on a single crop at a time. He also said there should be more policies incentivizing industrial farms to use fewer antibiotics and pesticides and more methods that work with the regional ecosystem.
Ikerd said industrial agriculture was a well-intended policy experiment after World War II that brought new technology, like tractors, and provided food to the people. However, as farms were pushed to become larger and larger, food prices dropped, and farmers could no longer afford their land.
“I came to the conclusion that that experiment has failed,” Ikerd said during the panel discussion Friday. “It’s time now for fundamental changes in farming and food policy, and they’re going to be needed if we’re going to ensure a sustainable future for agriculture and a sustainable future for humanity.
“You don’t know who produced what you eat, and they don’t know you as a consumer,” Ikerd added. “Over time, then you lose the sense of the value of those personal human relationships, and I think that’s a big problem within society today.”
The regulation of food is “such a large-scale problem, but it’s the one that touches every single one of us,” said Brennan Canuteson, an MU law student who helped organize the event.
Valerie Watnick, law department chair at Zicklin School of Business Baruch College in New York, was also part of the panel. She said that even though sustainable farming is “a very lofty vision and one that I agree with, I think that in the corporate world, there is a movement toward doing things because they’re the right thing to do versus just profitable. So our society is inching in that direction. “
The event also featured a discussion of foods that are genetically modified to increase crop yield, seed size and other profitable characteristics.
MU does engage in research that tries to increase food nutrition and crop production by editing genes in crops like soybeans, corn and rice.
“I think what the public research, like the University of Missouri and other public institutions, ought to focus on things that we know that are in the public good that the private sector doesn’t have a profit incentive to do,” Ikerd said.