Thursday, June 26, 2014

Selected Readings on Human Health, Disease, and the Environment

The following are responses and summaries of various readings related to Human Health, Disease, 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. 
 The following are responses and summaries of various readings related to Human Health, Disease, and the Environment. 
Industrial animal agriculture – the next global health crisis?
Copious amounts of animals often find themselves locked into small areas sharing the space with theirs and others own waste.  These types of systems are being eradicated in some parts of the world, specifically nations a part of the European Union, but are also at the same time becoming dominant in other developing parts of the world.  These animals could however be kept inside in a more humane manner without the potential of damaging the environment.  These industrial farming methods are similar to the production line of many factories.  They are meant to maximize the amount of animal product produced while keeping the costs to the industry at a minimum.  These farms are often located near or within some of the world’s fastest growing and densely populated cities.  This makes great danger of the many potential consequences on the health of its communities.  With the advent and widespread use of automated slaughter practices and industrial feedlots as a means for raising cattle the amount of contaminated beef in the world continues to rise.  The speed of these slaughter lines can often produce the spillage of fecal matter and when this fecal matter comes in to contact with the meat product it is thereafter contaminated, often times with E. Coli 157, a dangerous food borne illness. Poultry growers on occasion reuse the litter of their large chicken grow houses in order to save money, the result being the greater spread of the Camplyobacter.  These farms also can easily contaminate nearby waters and ground with the Salmonella bacteria which causes fever and diarrhea in humans. Alternative methods to these systems include the use of free-range growth: anywhere that the animals have more space and less antibiotics.  Indoor systems are also possible as long as we stray from the prisons which are currently the popular method.
E Coli Loophole
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors, speaking anonymously, there is a greatly dangerous loophole in the USDA’s policy on infected beef.  Beef infected with the E Coli bacteria is allowed to still be processed and sold as long as it is labeled “cook only” because the E Coli bacteria is destroyed at temperatures of 160 degrees F and higher making it safe to eat according to the USDA.  Any plant found to contain infected meat must have its entire line thereafter classified as cook only until it is found to be clean.  According to the inspectors this loophole affects millions of pounds of beef every year.  Companies try their best to avoid using the cook only sticker because it greatly reduces the amount of money they will receive compared to a shipment of non tagged beef. Over 3 million pounds of this cook only beef arrives as a part of the national school lunch program though often times the personnel preparing the meals for children are completely unaware that they are very likely dealing with infected meat.  The majority of the meat labeled as cook only is found in processed foods, often frozen pre-cooked foods because these companies make much more money on the sale of the premade foods than on the sale of the potentially contaminated meat.  The result of this loophole is an increase in human infections and oftentimes huge recalls of beef shipments sometimes costing the companies their existence in the market.
Mercury in Tuna Fish

Mercury put off by industry finds its way in to the atmosphere and eventually into the oceans.  Marine bacteria then feasts on these mercury laden particles, which are then devoured by plankton and similar species, then little fish, tuna and the like.  Most canned tuna has safe amounts of mercury contained within but on occasion a high level of mercury does sneak in.  The consumption of tuna steak or other large game such as shark contains much greater amounts of mercury.  Mercury poisoning can lead to decreased intelligence and deformities.  Unborn fetuses are at most risk for poisoning via their mother’s consumption of fish life.  Mercury experts have attempted to get legislation passed on multiple occasions which would inform the consumer of the dangers of mercury poisoning, especially in pregnant women, however the tuna lobbyists have continually stopped the bills in congress.

Readings above may have been drawn from the following sources:
Six Modern Plagues and How We are Causing Them, Mark Jerome Walters; Shearwater Books, 2003, ISBN 155963992X
Life Support, The Environment and Human Health, Michael McCally, editor, MIT Press, 2002, ISBN 0-262-63257-8
Rx for Survival,  Philip Hilts, Pengquin Books.  ISBN 0-7394-6974-6
Emerging Infectious Diseases,  Stuart A. Hill, Pearson Eductation Inc., publishing as Benjamin Cummings.  ISBN 0-8053-3955-8
Under the Weather:  Climate, Ecosystems and Infectious Disease, National Research Council, National Academy Press.  ISBN 0-309-07278-6

This article originally written September 30th, 2008 for OU IPE 3913 - Human Health, Disease, and the Environment.

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