A Free Market Approach to Sustainability

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by Karla Kay Edwards

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Using the free market to drive industry change is foreign to many, but it has been proven over time a much more effective way to achieve change than a top-down regulatory approach. Case in point, Walmart recently announced its new sustainable agriculture policy. The business behemoth is the United States’ largest purveyor of groceries, and therefore, one of the largest customers for the agriculture and food processing industries around the world.

Walmart’s new Ag sustainability goals fall under three categories: supporting farmers and their communities, producing more food with less waste, and to source key agriculture products that are grown and harvested in a manner that supports healthy long-term production practices. CEO Mike Duke said, “This will lead to more efficient use of water, pesticides and fertilizer, and ultimately, more sustainable practices.” Walmart is responding to changing market conditions; and like any smart business many agriculture and food processing companies will have to determine if these new criteria make sense for their individual operations.

Whether you agree or disagree with Walmart’s implementation of a new sustainable Ag policy, it is a perfect example of how a free market approach can recognize consumer desires and implement changes that potentially can have significant impact on an industry globally. The free market is a far more efficient and beneficial system than the adoption of a command-and-control bureaucratic policy.

Karla Kay Edwards is Rural Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute. She has held positions of leadership in numerous organizations focusing on agricultural and rural industries and issues, including the Fresno (California) Farm Bureau, Washington Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

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