In announcing its formation on Tuesday, the organization, called AGree, said that widespread disagreement on food and agriculture policy issues, including in terms of nutrition, the economy, the environment and production, has created an impasse for developing policy in the United States and elsewhere.
It said its mission to encourage dialogue among those with disparate viewpoints is embodied by its leaders, who come from former government roles under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, as well as positions in organic food companies and non-governmental organizations. AGree said it intends to encourage discussion of agricultural research in a way that considers solutions across multiple sectors, including health, environment, energy, and rural economies.
One of the new organizations leaders is Dan Glickman, former secretary of the US Department of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton and a former Kansas Congressman.
He said: “Agriculture issues need to be at the top of the United States' and world's agenda, alongside energy, healthcare and national security. AGree will elevate the agriculture and food policy conversation. We will make it clear to leaders and policymakers that, while difficult, solving food and agriculture issues is of utmost importance and can help solve other pressing problems including public health and the need for economic growth."
Beyond ‘knee-jerk defense’
Another of the organization’s leaders, Gary Hirshberg, chairman, president and CEO of organic yogurt company Stonyfield Farm, said: “Our current food system is broken for farmers, consumers and the environment. We must move beyond the political knee-jerk defense of traditional agriculture and face the need for change armed with real-world, scientific facts and analysis that AGree can provide.”
The current administration has also acknowledged the need for better cooperation and discussion among those with dissimilar views on agricultural policy. In January, USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called for cooperation and compromise between supporters of genetically modified (GM) crops and those of non-GM crops in an open letter to industry. The Center for Food Safety senior policy analyst Bill Freese praised him at the time for his genuine concern for farmers, but added that coexistence of GM and non-GM crops is particularly difficult.
Dialogue across sectors
Another of AGree’s leaders is Jim Moseley, former deputy secretary at the USDA under President George W. Bush and an Indiana farmer. He said that agriculture has evolved from simply producing food to feed people and now has numerous demands placed on it.
“As a result the current discussion on agriculture and food policy is having problems focusing on what is really important; stakeholders talk past one another and often fail to comprehend policy implications beyond a specific sector," he said. "The key to solving these diverse policy questions is through dialogue across sectors. AGree will promote these conversations and help us find the right balance on these conflicts to meet the broader public demands we are experiencing.”
AGree is funded by Ford Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and The Walton Family Foundation.