Thursday, May 1, 2014

Selected Readings on Food, Agriculture and the Environment

The following are responses and summaries of various readings related to Food, Agriculture and the Environment. 

The Fatal Harvest – Industrial Agriculture Will Feed the World
Around 800 million people go hungry daily, and even in the United States where we export more food than we consume 33 million people go without food.  The industrial agriculture corporations want the public believe that this hunger is due to the fact that there is not enough food produced in the world to supply all its populace.  They purport the lies that increased chemical agriculture will provide for an adequate increase in food surpluses so that there will no longer be any starving people.  However, in reality, the rate of food production has actually been adequate for the population and in the last 35 years has actually outpaced the growth of the worlds population by 16 percent per capita.   There is enough food produced throughout the world to provide for 4.3 pounds of food per person daily: many times more than necessary.  The true cause of starvation and world hunger is poverty.  After large conglomerates began buying up farm land the people who once depended on this land for their sustenance no longer had a source of preservation.  Many of these people then moved towards the industrialized cities to fight amongst the masses for low paying wages in dangerous factories.  “If you don’t have land on which to grow food or the money to buy it, you go hungry no matter how dramatically technology pushes up food production.”  Those who are still able to farm the land must pay greater costs for the technologically infused seeds and machinery and end up getting less for their crop than they once would.  This price is not however reflected in the base cost of the consumer due to the large mark-up from the middle man.  The large corporations could help the situation in their local communities by growing staple crops but choose instead to grow luxury high-profit crops which will fetch a greater amount of money when exported to the rich. 

Industrial Food is Safe, Healthy, and Nutritious
As the agriculture business becomes more and more industrialized it seems that the trend is towards food which is less nutritious and more likely to carry or cause disease.  Much of this change can be directly attributed to the application of industrial toxic chemicals in agriculture.  The great increase over recent decades of the number of cancer cases, the cancer epidemic, especially among children, has been directly attributed by many top scientists to the mass use of pesticides in agriculture.  On top of this the meat crop has begun, since the 1970s, to become greatly tainted.  The use of CAFOs, Confined Animal Feeding Operations, where livestock are kept in extremely close quarters to one another living in their own and others filth and having antibiotics pumped into them daily.  These antibiotics are only necessary because of the close proximity to one another and the great amount of waste.  These CAFOs quickly spread disease to the stock and the people who consume the final product.  On top of this most of the food which we consume today is not actually a part of what nature intended for our body.  Our supermarkets are stocked with items made almost entirely of corn, starches, and sugars.  This has cause the Surgeon General of the United States to proclaim that two in three early deaths is affiliated with this poor modern diet.  To attempt to eliminate the disease and toxin which soak the foods we consume the industry has begun irradiating them before they reach our shelves.  This irradiation can cause DNA damage thereby causing mutations and deformities in ones offspring.  It also, while temporarily ridding foods of disease, completely destroys the essential vitamins and minerals which our foods natural contain and make the food taste and smell abnormal.
Industrial Food is Cheap
The industrialists want us to believe that their method of agriculture is the cheaper for the consumer in the end, while displaying the proponents of organics as elitists who spend more money than is necessary and pass the buck on to the consumer.  It is not possible to really see how much industrial food is costing future generations when one factors in the health, environmental, and social destruction involved.   The health concerns arise from the health costs which are in the hundreds of billions of dollars yearly and the more than 300,000 farm hands suffering from pesticide poisoning yearly.  Environmentally the pesticides and fertilizers and manure from CAFOs pollute the air, water, and ground.  Monocroping and chemical spraying has destroyed 75 percent of the genetic diversity in agriculture over just the last century.  The end crops are generally much less apt to resist pests, disease, and bad weather than the previously diversified fields.  Socially the corporate middlemen profit from what local farmers remain by screwing them “when selling them seed and when purchasing their crops for processing.”  Its been found that as farm size increases, due to the industrial giants, so does poverty and social conditions suffer.  Mom and pops shut up shop and the crime rate rises.  The dislocation of farmers and farm towns since World War II is estimated to have cost in the tens of billions of dollars.  The myth that industrialized food is cheaper than the safer, better, organic alternative is only due to the fact that these incalculable environmental, health, and social costs are not included in the price tag.
Industrial Agriculture is Efficient
The public is led to believe that for farming to be efficient it must merge with technology as demand increases.  When, in actuality, farmers increase in size the cost of production too increases due to the fact that more area means a greater amount of machinery, usually larger more expensive machinery, more chemicals and in larger doses, and more farm hands.  Alternative farms and on less acreage often use less chemicals, cheaper machinery, and antibiotics than the industrial farms and usually with a similar or greater over crop yield and crop quality. The productivity claims of the industry have been falsely boosted due to the fact that they do not take in to account the most beneficial part of small farms: intercropping.  Industry uses the term yield in their productivity studies which is only the output of a single crop, and the most efficient method for achieving a high yield is to plant that single crop throughout the entire farm leaving no stone unturned.  Small farms tend toward the planting of mixtures of crops, intercropping.  On these small scale farms the yield for an individual crop may be much lower per unit area than that of a large industrial operation, the overall yield when all crops and livestock are combined will be much greater than that of the industrial operations.  Small farms also often have a much lower operational cost than that of the large-scale farms and this figure is often not accounted for in productivity statements. 
Industrial Food Offers More Choices
According to industry reps modern agriculture has reduced the limitations on choice of food previously encountered due to growing seasons, plants’ potential growth geography and failed crops.  But in reality most of what we consume is merely the same things well packaged to promote the idea of diversity.  Most of the diverse plant life that had been available for human consumption since the beginning of agriculture have been eradicated in the last century.  There once were thousands of varieties of apples which we could have enjoyed but now we are pretty much left with only a choice of two.  Nearly every major food crop has been reduced in diversity in varieties color, size, and flavor due to the monoculture nature of industrial agriculture.  More than 75 percent of agricultural diversity has been lost in the last century alone.   The modern food labels which are required by federal mandate usually do not provide consumers with the information they need to know:  what is in the food and where it was produced.  The government has never required the use of labels informing consumers of what chemicals have been used on the foods they purchase or the chemical residues which still may reside on said food.  Almost 60 percent of today’s processed foods, most of what one can find in the supermarket contain genetically altered ingredients.  According to the FAO almost 95 percent of the calories we take in on a daily basis come from only 30 different varieties of plants.  This is greatly due to the exclusive deals massive distributors make with the food producers and then pass on to the consumers.  The only way to avoid this great injustice in ecological diversity is to purchase from known local, small scale farms, though these may often require much work in finding.
Industrial Agriculture Benefits the Environment and Wildlife
The industry continues to report that their studies show great ecological risks with the use of organic and other environmentally sustainable practices.  They continue to say that the greatest challenge to agriculture is to continue the increased production of food stuffs using genetic engineering of crops.  They continue the lie by stating that hundreds of thousands of species will suffer from the organic methodology.  In reality, alternative farming keeps the effects on the ecosystem’s plants and animals at a minimum as well as reduced effect on the air, water, and ground without the need for additional capital.  According to Kimbrell, industrial agriculture is the largest single threat to the earth’s biodiversity. This he says is due to the devastation of wild species from pesticides and fertilizers and the destruction of their natural habitats due to the industry’s inefficient farming methods.  There are at least fifty different studies which indicate pesticides as having a great detrimental affect on bird, mammal, and amphibian species across North America.  The chemical fertilizers which make their way down the streams to the major estuaries cause aquatic and marine life to suffer greatly.  And the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus which these fertilizers contain offset the balance of the waters allowing for a few species to push all the rest out of the area, while also reducing the diversity of plant species surrounding the farmlands.  The industry has also greatly reduced the diversity of wildlife populations by changing their natural habitats for farming, thereby displacing them and often replacing them with non-native species.   The solution is diversified farming techniques.  The use of varieties of plants, flowers, and weeds allows for many different species to continue to live in harmony with one another.
Biotechnology will Solve the Problems of Industrial Agriculture
Industry wants us to believe that progress can only be made through the proliferation of technology.  Though we can see the mistakes of the past: nuclear technology, applied to our food during the irradiation process, creates much waste, costs of clean-up, and constant threat to human and environmental safety.  They believe that the solution to these problems created by past technological advances is the proliferation of more technology.  The industry backs up these statements with claims that new technology can help solve the problem of world hunger.  However, people are not hungry because there is not enough food and there are no signs that genetically engineered foods actually increase crop outputs.  People are not hungry because there is a shortage of food, they are hungry because the surplus of food is being distributed to the more wealthy populations instead of the more needy ones.  There are currently two main types of biotechnology created seeds: the type that are resistant to much greater amounts of herbicide use and those that are supposedly more resistant to pests.  Research has shown though that these seeds do not actually increase the yields of these crops in comparison with a non genetically engineered crop.  So really farmers are being forced to purchase a more expensive seed which will not produce in benefits for the price.  Some of these seeds are even designed to become sterile after one or two generations meaning that the farmer cannot merely reuse the seeds put off by the first crop like has been the practice for thousands of years.  These GE seeds have the potential to cross with non-GE seeds thereby rendering entire populaces without the ability to grow crop without the purchase of new seeds. There has also been no visible sign of the reduction of pesticide use in GE crops and pests could actually become resistant to the current ones rendering them useless. 

Food Allergies Stir a Mother to Action
Where Erin Brockovich fought against land and water table contamination from the power and gas companies, Robyn O’Brien hopes to make a similar fight against the contamination of our children’s food by the major food industry companies.  She is a college graduate and mother of two, who, after seeing first hand the results of a child’s food allergy in her own daughter, began working to combat against the people who she believes to be at fault.  Her first work in the field was in developing a symbol for the purpose of identifying children with food allergies.  She applies these symbols to all sorts of devices which she sells on her website to other concerned parents.  Her belief is that chemicals, hormones, herbicides, and genetically modified foods in use by the industry is causing allergies and other health problems to develop in children.  Though most experts do not agree with her views, little research has actually been conducted in the area of food allergies.  Her solution to the problem is to get rid of processed and non organic foods; it is from following this simple plan, she believes, that her children’s problems cleared up.  What studies have been conducted show that anywhere from four to eight percent of children are susceptible to food allergies, though that number does appear to be on the rise.   One indicator is the recent increase in the cases of eczema.  One theory that has been proposed is that children are now being exposed to much less in the form of micro-organisms and therefore do not have the immune systems necessary to cope with some problems. 
Against the Grain: Arousal

We humans, as a species, were, at a time before the agricultural revolution, one with the world.  We could see, hear, smell, and taste all manner of things which we no longer can living in our modern society.  There are those in our world who still remember how to see, ear, smell, and taste more than we do; they are what remain of our history as hunter-gatherers.  These hunter-gatherers experience a phenomenon known as synaesthesia in which the senses all become one, where the brain no longer separates sight out from sound.  Our movement away from this aspect occurred through the adaptation of agriculture as our main source of security.  No longer is it required to read the movements of our prey in order to feed ourselves, since our prey, both plant and animal, we have domesticated.  The development of the large human brain allowed us to widen our appetite.  Our brain was advantageous because it allowed us to identify and store the information of what was best and safest to consume.  This widened appetite and experience allowed our species to spread all over the planet and survive, all without the need for agriculture.  As the larger animals became less and less through hunting and extinction, we moved towards hunting smaller and smaller creatures in greater numbers.  The move towards a more varied diet that occurred as the great creatures of the earth began disappearing must have forced us to make more and more use out of our sense abilities.

Readings May Originate from the Following:
Cynthia Barstow.   The Eco-Foods Guide.
Christopher Cook.  Diet for a Dead Planet.
Richard Manning.  Against the Grain.
Vandana Shiva.     Stolen Harvest.
Smith, Jeffery.       Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of Genetically  Modified Foods

This article originally written January 28th, 2009 for OU IPE 3913 - Food, Agriculture and the Environment.

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