Get Green or Get Out: Decoupling Environmental from Economic Objectives in Agricultural Regulation

20 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2006

See all articles by James Ming Chen

James Ming Chen

Michigan State University - College of Law


American agricultural law's environmental record is a legacy of legislative failure. Most of the blame can and should be attributed to the failure of the law to separate ecological objectives from competing and ultimately contradictory economic objectives.

Two strains of agroecological fallacies loom large. A macroecologial variant of the agroecological argument supposes that agriculture is environmentally benign or even ameliorative. A more fearsome fallacy may not exist. Agriculture is one of the most resource-depleting economic activities and deserves to be treated accordingly.

The microecological variation on agroecological reasoning favors improving agriculture's environmental performance by reducing farm sizes and dispersing farm ownership. In ecological terms, it is supposed, small farms are better, and small family farms are best. Such a pity that none of this is true. Economic theory and empirical evidence subvert every agroecological claim, especially those based on farm size and ownership structure.

This article exposes four specific types of agroecological fallacies. First, statutes putatively designed to protect the environment are often more honestly described as programs for boosting commodity prices and farm incomes by restricting output. Second, explicit farm income support programs are dishonestly justified as environmental measures. Third, whenever a law threatens the economic interests of farmers, particularly smaller freeholders, opponents decry the law as a threat to the environment and only secondarily, if at all, as an economic menace. Finally, lobbyists often use specious environmental arguments to justify agricultural exceptions from a generally applicable system of regulation.

The solution is as transparent as it is simple. Environmental protection must be decoupled from agricultural protectionism. Farmers need to get green or get out.

Keywords: agriculture, farms, farming, environmental protection, subsidies, dairy, water, reclamation, incomes, soil, conservation, erosion, depletion, resources, family farming, market structure, industrial organization

JEL Classification: K32,L11,L22,L52,L70,N50,N52,O13,Q12,Q15,Q18,Q28,R0

Suggested Citation

Chen, James Ming, Get Green or Get Out: Decoupling Environmental from Economic Objectives in Agricultural Regulation. Oklahoma Law Review, Vol. 48, p. 333, 1995, Available at SSRN:

James Ming Chen (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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