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 papers (see right-hand column) summarizes major laws at the federal level, with references to state-level laws in some cases. For each major policy area or law, the paper 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). A separate document also provides links to web-based information on each policy area.
The sustainability policies covered in this set of papers 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
List of Papers (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
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act
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 USDA laws)
Department of the Interior
Endangered Species Act
Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Act
Learn more about U.S. sustainability policies and practices.
Related: documents and links to various resources regarding sustainability policies and practices that you may find useful, including the 2016 National Indicators Report, an article defining sustainability, and a report about creating a sustainable food future.