The following are responses and summaries of various readings related to Food, Agriculture and the Environment.
Diet for a Dead Planet: Killing Fields
Farming, while once thought of as one of the kinder industries to the environment, is now finding itself more destructive than many of the more feared industrious wasters. Farmers have failed to follow pollution controls long established in other industries. Pesticides, fertilizers, and animal waste combine in the farming industry’s toll on the environment. No longer do most farmers practice crop rotation which keeps the topsoil fertile and prevents any one species of insect from gaining any advantage. Instead, due to government subsidies for individual crops, farmers practice monocroping which drains the soil of its nutrients and allows particular pest species to become dominant. This requires the farmers to apply fertilizers to the soil in order for the crops to have sufficient nutrients and pesticides to the plants and area to rid of the pests. The pests who survive the chemical invasion reproduce and become all that much more virulent as the new population finds itself immune to the previous pesticides. Thereafter the farmer must implore alternative, sometimes stronger pesticides. All of these chemicals seep into the ground, sometimes spoiling water aquifers, wash down into nearby streams and creeks, become lodged inside the crop itself, and evaporate into the atmosphere. Probably the biggest criminal of agribusiness though are the animal factories. Here, thousands of hogs, chickens, or cows stand day after day in a pen just large enough for their frames eating protein-laden foods and ingesting antibiotics, while the urine and feces rains down through slats in the floor. All this waste flows like a river into a large tub sitting nearby where it gets taken into nearby waterways and absorbed into the sky. Research by the EPA has shown that this animal waste is the largest contributor to pollution in American waterways.
Sliced and Diced
The nation’s meat packing companies predominately use migrant laborers in their plants. Often times these migrants are undocumented or illegal aliens and more often than not put up with the kind of working conditions straight out of nineteenth century industrial America. Many of them report working eight to twelve hour shifts without a bathroom break or time to eat. Depending on what work they do they might stand in animal entrails throughout their entire day. They receive meager wages, often with no health care, and in an environment that is anything but warm. Many of these migrant workers are enticed by the companies’ recruitment offers of worker furnished housing, only to, upon arrival, see the truth of the matter. They may end up sharing their small one or two bedroom apartments with ten or more people even without mattresses or furniture of any kind. These transient workers not only must live in these sickening conditions, but even if they find alternatives their paychecks will continue to have the rent due taken out each week. At just over minimum wage, many of the workers at some plants will take home less than one hundred dollars a week before taxes. There are expenses from food, to the transportation costs to get to the plant, to supplies for the job to be done all removed before the employee sees a dime. The meat packing industry vehemently denies these accusations, or at least claims ignorance of them, and repeatedly suggests that it does not knowingly hire illegal workers. But these are the kind of workers that the major conglomerates want: the short-term illegal immigrant, who will not complain to the authorities about their mistreatment and will not stay around long enough to unionize.
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 March 4th, 2009 for OU IPE 3913 - Food, Agriculture and the Environment.