The Agricultural Law blog today links to an interesting controversy about the definition of "sustainable agriculture."
Under guidelines from the non-governmental but influential American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Leonardo Academy is gathering stakeholders and experts to discuss standards for this widely used term. The academy, a Wisconsin-based non-profit "think and do tank," described the process in a press release (.pdf) yesterday.
USDA, which prefers a broader definition of the term "sustainable agriculture" than the draft under discussion, has petitioned (.pdf) ANSI to revoke the accreditation for the Leonardo Academy to lead this standard-setting process. The Leonardo Academy has responded (.pdf).
[Update 10/1/2008:] The proposed ANSI standard setting process has generated opposition from some longstanding sustainable agriculture advocates. Kathleen Merrigan at the Friedman School points out a letter that she and a few dozen others sent (.doc) Aug. 19, urging participants to consider a long series of concerns before pursuing the proposed approach. The concerns include potential overlap with the existing organic standards, the adequacy of farmer and farmworker participation in the standard setting, the capacity of any new definition to accomodate changes in sustainable agriculture practices as they develop, and the need for long-term enforcement of any new standard.
This is more material than I have been able to absorb yet, but it seems to offer an interesting mix of policy argument about both substance and process for defining what has until now been a fairly inclusive concept.