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ARTICLE: Jayson Lusk Brings Data to Bear on Controversial Food Questions

The following is an excerpt of an interview between the advocacy group Food Tank and university professor and agriculture economist Jayson Lusk about a variety of food issues. 

Food Tank (FT): What motivated you to step outside of the halls of academia and bring your analyses and criticisms of policy proposals like soda taxes, vegetable subsidies, and GMO labeling to the popular media?

Jayson Lusk (JL): Having grown up around people involved in production agriculture and working with the scientists who bring new food and agricultural technologies to life, my sense was that the public could use a broader perspective about how and why we grow food the way we do. Popular media portraits of the state of food and agriculture often paint selective and sensational pictures of the state of modern agriculture. My economic training also made me skeptical of the effectiveness of many of the policies that had become fashionable.

I don’t think I’ve ever argued that our current agricultural production system doesn’t face challenges, rather one needs to understand the tradeoffs and consequences of attempts to move away from our current system and consider whether the policies being proposed will actually create the outcomes people want. So, my main motivation is to provide information to help consumers, farmers, agribusinesses, and policy makers make decisions that will lead to a prosperous food future.

FT: The U.S. Food system currently fails to satisfy the basic needs of some consumers. What interventions do you think are most efficiently correcting this deficit and who is driving them?

JL: I’m not sure I agree with the premise of the question. Our food system feeds more people, more affordably, with more variety, and more nutritiously than has any other food system in human history. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Some people, even in rich countries like the U.S., go hungry, and many farmers cannot turn a profit. We have a variety of policies that attempt to address those problems with varying degrees of success. The research suggests the SNAP program, for example, is largely successful in achieving its goal of improving food security.

To read the entire interview, please visit the Food Tank website