U.S. laws and regulations advance the sustainability of our nation’s agricultural and forest systems in a variety of ways. These policies address agriculture’s impact on the environment and related topics like worker safety, biodiversity, and the safety of genetically modified crops.
This set of webpages on the USSA website (see right-hand column and links below) summarizes major laws at the federal level, with references to state-level laws in some cases. For each major policy area or law, the webpage provides an overview, background on why the policy was enacted, details on the program’s operation and administration, and the statutory basis (normally references to the U.S. Code [U.S.C.], the compilation of U.S. federal laws). When relevant, links are provided to web-based information about each policy area.
The sustainability policies covered in this set of webpages are not exhaustive, but represent the major laws that affect the crop, livestock, seafood and forestry sectors. In general, these laws either mandate particular actions to safeguard a sustainable environment or prohibit adverse actions – for instance, the Clean Water Act – or provide incentives for voluntary action on the part of producers that will also advance sustainability – for example, the Conservation Reserve Program.
Most of the policies are administered by either the Environmental Protection Agency or one of the agencies of the Department of Agriculture, but several other federal departments also have the leading role on particular policies. The summaries are accurate as of late 2020, and include changes made to several programs by the Agricultural Act of 2018 (2018 farm bill).
U.S. Laws and Policies Relevant to Agricultural Sustainability
(by primary Cabinet department or independent agency)
Department of Agriculture
- Conservation Compliance, Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Technical Assistance and Other Conservation Programs
- Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology
- National Organic Program
- Lacey Act
Department of Commerce
Environmental Protection Agency
- Clean Air Act (including air emission aspects of CERCLA and EPCRA)
- Clean Water Act
- Renewable Fuel Standard and Biofuels Policy
- Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act
Department of Health and Human Services
- Food Safety Laws (including the Food Safety and Inspection Service regulations)
Department of the Interior
Department of Labor
Learn more about U.S. sustainability policies and practices: Read these documents and links to various resources that you may find useful, including the National Indicators Report, an article defining sustainability, and a report about creating a sustainable food future.
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