Health Care Without Harm experts explain what health care needs to know about purchasing products that claim to improve soil health.
General Mills recently announced its commitment to advance regenerative agriculture practices on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030, joining Danone’s commitment of $6 million to research sustainable agriculture practices that will regenerate the soil. With these launches of soil-health initiatives come questions about what this means for the future of our food system. And more immediately, what this means when it comes to purchasing products that claim to improve soil health.
The use of the term “regenerative agriculture” may be relatively new, but the approach to design food systems that generate soil fertility, improve biodiversity, promote natural carbon sequestration, and provide economic stability and fairness for farmers, ranchers, and workers is rooted in years of research and informed by agroecology and organic principles. These concepts are the foundation of the food systems work at Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth.
While food companies may be capitalizing on the term “regenerative” in their marketing, their investments are taking us in the right direction – and health care can play a pivotal role in reinforcing this movement. Opportunities for hospitals are emerging to:
- Purchase and create demand for products from regenerative agriculture systems.
- Insist on transparency from companies as a regenerative agriculture certification and label are being developed.
- Advocate for regenerative practices through interactions with everyone from food service management companies to consumers on hospital campuses.
We are already seeing hospitals champion components of a healthy agricultural system, like sourcing grass-fed meat, purchasing from local small and mid-scale diversified farms, and prioritizing label claims like “organic” that reduce the use of toxic inputs. For example, Mills-Peninsula Medical Center, a Sutter Health facility in California and Practice Greenhealth member, is prioritizing purchasing organic produce and in particular those on the “Dirty Dozen” list.
The issues facing our food system are immense, and it will not fall on one sector to solve them. It will take everyone from large corporations to individual consumers to health care purchasers to support the growth of regenerative agriculture practices, which can create a food system that has profound benefits for both human and environmental health.
Stacia Clinton is Health Care Without Harm's Healthy Food in Health Care program national food director.
Amber Hansen is Health Care Without Harm's Healthy Food in Health Care western regional coordinator.