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Farmlands on Life Support
has put our farmlands
on life support.”
Julie told us that pollution from today’s agricultural practices derives from confined animal facilities, plowing, pesticide spraying, irrigation, fertilizing, and harvesting.
She explained that during the rapid evolutionary period of fossil-fuel-based hyper-growth and expansion, agriculture transformed from an agro-ecosystem culture of relatively self-sufficient communities to an agro-industrial culture of many separate, interdependent, distant actors linked by global markets and fueled by the burning of massive quantities of cheap hydrocarbon fuels.
The United States is the world's largest producer of corn, which in turn is the planet's most widely grown crop.
Agro-industrial agriculture brings the whole supply chain — from seed to supermarket — under the centralized control of a few very large corporate players.
This revolutionary change in technology and organization of labor gave people the false sense of mastery and control over — and apartness from — Nature while, in fact, mounting problems were only being shifted ‘beyond the farm’ to distant locations and future generations.
The majority of the nutrients in the world’s agricultural soils have been deeply degraded by industrial farming practices.
Mega-monocrop farming has put our farmlands on life support: they require a continuous supply of chemical fertilizers just so plants can still grow. And these manufactured fertilizers are derived from rapidly depleting fossil fuels creating an obvious long-term thorny existential challenge — a real predicament: how to grow more food for ever more people using less fossil fuel energy.
While modern agricultural technologies undoubtedly bestow a seductive sense of mastery over Nature, they do so only locally and temporarily. They do not, in fact, control Nature in any meaningful way.
For example, while pesticides do kill some pests, solving an immediate threat to crops, the vacant niche left by the pest is soon filled by a second species of pest or by a naturally modified version of the original pest — a ‘Superpest’ — with evolved resistance. Nature abhors a vacuum.
And these pesticides don’t stay neatly put, Julie explained. They drift and disperse to interfere with the agricultural practices of other farmers, or their by-products accumulate in soil and groundwater aquifers to plague production and human health for years to come.
So while each individual farmer seems to win control over Nature, new problems are created beyond his or her farm and across seasons for others.
Julie informed us,
“The EPA estimates that nearly 95 percent of the pesticide residue in the typical American diet comes from meat, fish, and dairy products. Fish, in particular, contain carcinogens and heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium that can’t be removed through cooking or freezing. Meat and dairy products can also be laced with steroids and hormones. Did you know that about 70 percent of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter? The seven billion livestock animals in the United States consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the American population. If all the grain currently fed to livestock was consumed directly by people, we could feed on the order of 800 million people. If the grain was exported, it would boost the U.S. trade balance by some $80 billion a year!”
She told us that many of her restaurant customers have given up meat recently because of their concern for animals. Ten billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption each year.
She pointed out that, unlike humans, it doesn’t take much to make an animal happy. But unlike the farms of yesteryear, where animals roamed freely, today most farm animals are products of factory farms where they are inhumanely crammed into small cages. They can barely move and are fed a diet tainted with pesticides and antibiotics.
“When living creatures are treated like nothing more than widgets in a factory, the industrial system has reached a pinnacle of perversion. These animals spend their entire lives in crates or stalls so small that they can’t even turn around. Astonishingly, farmed animals are not protected from cruelty under the law—in fact, the majority of state anticruelty laws specifically exempt farm animals from basic humane protection!”
She explained that meat accounts for about ten percent of Americans’ food spending. Eating vegetables, grains and fruits in place of the 200 pounds of beef, chicken, and fish each non-vegetarian eats annually would cut individual food bills by several thousand dollars a year — a number that is sure to rise rapidly as more people adopt ‘middle-class’ lifestyles and resource shortages and environmental protection pressures make meat ever more expensive.
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