STOP FACTORY FARMING
A good part of agriculture is to learn how to adapt one's work to nature. To live in right relation with his natural conditions is one of the first lessons that a wise farmer or any other wise man learns. - Hyde Bailey, 1915
We agrarians are involved in a hard, long, momentous contest, in which we are so far, and by a considerable margin, the losers. What we have undertaken to defend is the complex accomplishment of knowledge, cultural memory, skill, self-mastery, good sense, and fundamental decency--the high and indispensable art--for which we probably can find no better name than "good farming." I mean farming as defined by agrarianism as opposed to farming as defined by industrialism: farming as the proper use and care of an immeasurable gift. - Wendell Berry
The industrialization of agriculture, goaded by Globalism's phony mantra of efficiency at the expense of a fragile environment, is now driving the ruination of biological and genetic diversity via petrochemical, monoculture farming techniques and in the process, creating the conditions for ecological catastrophe. According to The Food and Agriculture Organization, 75 percent of genetic diversity in agriculture has been lost during the past century. The metaphor for this carnage is warfare and the marketing message emanating from the propaganda mills of pesticide and herbicide manufacturers is that to be successful, a farmer must declare all-out war on the land with synthetic chemical weapons. Instead of promoting ecological farming methods, the corporate megaliths, in order to boost shareholder value, have established an adversarial relationship with the land--a state of perpetual war, in a posture akin to the bellicose attitude the American Empire projects to the world. In addition to the loss of more than half of the nation's precious top soil over the past 50 years, the casualties of chemical pollution include people. According to a 1998 government study over a million American children consume unsafe amounts of organophosphates from pesticide residues on food every single day.
The Millennium Ecosystems Assessment recently concluded that industrial-scale agriculture is the "largest threat to biodiversity and ecosystem function of any single human activity." As the world's biggest user and exporter of pesticides,
it's not surprising that the US is also the planet's primary armaments producer. Global agribusiness policies generated by American agribusiness have created a food production and distribution system based on inhumane animal factories and unsustainable petrochemical, soil-eroding, mono-crop methods that have made food security a major survival issue. In the United States, factory farming accounts for over 70 percent of water contamination, primarily from pesticides, most of which miss their intended targets and end up poisoning the soil, water and fish. Forty percent of all US waters are unfit for swimming and fishing because of fossil-fuel based agribusiness practices. Worldwide, forty percent of productive soils are seriously degraded and almost one-third of all farm land has been lost to erosion since 1960 and continues to be lost at the rate of twenty-five million acres per year.
Grass-fed Cows Make Better Lovers
Just about everything we eat in the USA today is messed with in one way or another by some evil, transnational corporation, including those fat mega-burgers carnivorous Americans love to overeat. Once integrated into the natural patterns of farm life, most of the cattle slaughtered in this country are fattened for market while confined in ultra-controlled environments in which every element of their lives--from the chow they ingest to their sleep cycles--is geared to maximize profit for the factory farmers who dominate global corporate agribusiness. Cows are routinely confined in pens or cubicles, forced to stand for months on end without exercise in their own feces, fed poisonous chemicals, and denied the health benefits of the great outdoors. The conditions they must endure make for some mighty unhealthy burgers.
A 2008 Pew Commission report on Confined Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFOs) concluded that these factory farm enterprises present "an unacceptable level of risk to public health and damage to the environment as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise for food." When cattle are confined in tightly controlled feed lots, the potential for disease outbreaks increases dramatically, which necessitates the use of hormones and antibiotics. More than half of the 25,000 tons of antibiotics produced in the US every year are used to treat animals raised for human consumption. The massive overuse of drugs has fostered resistance to some strains of bacteria, an alarming problem that the US Centers for Disease Control blames on "the heavy use of antibiotics in animals." Cows that are free to graze in organically maintained pastures, by contrast, enjoy a more varied diet, get a lot more exercise and are able to build natural resistance to harmful pathogens lurking in the CAFOs. Free-range livestock also actively forage for medicinal plants on their own, which helps increase their resistance to illness. The burgers are better when the cows are free of feedlot hormones, steroids and chemical-saturated grains. Grass-fed beef also has more beneficial omega-3s, the good dietary fats that promote heart health.
In America there are more than 200,000 CAFOs now operating where animals are raised for slaughter in horrific conditions. In addition to the cruelty to livestock, CAFOS produce huge amounts of untreated waste which pollutes air and water systems with hazardous chemicals, noxious gases, disease-causing pathogens, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, growth hormones and numerous other dangerous pollutants. Ideally, a whole foods, plant-based diet will be the basis for reversing the damage inflicted by industrial animal agriculture and creating a new food future, one that's ecologically balanced and sustainable. A plethora of extensive, peer-reviewed studies indicate that limiting, or better yet, eliminating the consumption animals in the diet would, in addition to ending the travesty of CAFOs, greatly improve the health of the planet and all of its inhabitants. Agriculture is a healthier proposition all around when it's based on the needs of local people and the local community instead of the impersonal, profit-driven demands of transnational corporate monoliths. We all want and need safe, healthy sources of protein, but we can no longer depend on the global agribusiness system to provide it. Only by raising beef and other animals naturally and by reducing the scale of our food production and distribution networks can we be sure that the products we eat are free of growth hormones, antibiotics and dangerous, genetically altered ingredients.
"The marriage of ecology and agriculture"
"The motivations for the food choices we make are complex," writes Harry Eyres in his memorable Financial Times column The Slow Lane, and may go beyond "lifestyle" or personal health concerns. Also included in the mix may be the desire to be part of a "virtuous" food production/consumption cycle, rather than a "vicious" one. "There is nothing more fundamental to our lives than food," according to Eyres, "and we want the way we eat to be part of a virtuous sustainable order. Cattle fed with corn and pumped full of antibiotics, fields sprayed more often than that lamp-post you pass when you walk your dog, chickens crammed together, unable to graze and peck and dust-bathe, over-fished oceans--that is to say, the whole panoply of intensive industrial agriculture and fishing--no longer seems to constitute such an order."
Fortunately, inspired by Wendell Berry's agrarian principles, a growing number of small producers are in revolt against the forces of global monoculture and are intent on creating healthy alternatives to the ruinous industrial farming practices of the corporate multinationals. Unlike the get-big-or-get-out agribusiness brigade set loose on the land in the 1970s by Richard Nixon's Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, the new breed of organic farmers are intent on employing methods that are ecologically and economically responsible, inspired by ideas in alignment with Berry's "countervailing measure" to the industrial paradigm, namely agrarianism, a model that stresses the primacy of the family farm. "An agrarian economy," writes Berry, "rises up from the fields, woods, and streams--from the complex of soils, slopes, weather, connections, influences, and exchanges that we mean when we speak, for example, of the local community or the local watershed." Agrarianism is "a way of thought based on land," according to Berry, "and begins with the love of fields and ramifies in good farming, good cooking, good eating and gratitude to God."
The petrochemical assault on crops arose out of America's insecticide development programs during World War Two. The most infamous of these chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides is DDT, now banned, but replaced by equally lethal organophosphate insecticides derived from nerve gas research and development during the war. Well-known examples from this class of toxic chemicals still used widely in agriculture include 2,4-D, which was combined with 2,4,5-T to make Agent Orange, the highly carcinogenic herbicide used to defoliate forests in Vietnam. All of this coincided with the propaganda disseminated by the post-war agricultural press claiming small, family run farms were old fashioned and that farmers who wanted to succeed should operate their enterprises like factories. The result was the loss of millions of family farms since the end of World War Two and the rise of huge, highly mechanized monoculture operations which have proven to be egregiously out of sync with the values of community, land stewardship, and sustainability. At this point it's evident that America has lost the chemical war on nature. According to Patricia Hynes in her 1989 book Recurring Silent Spring, when Rachel Carson's Silent Spring appeared in 1962 there were 137 insects proven to be resistant to pesticides; today there are more than 500. In addition, after more than 50 years of "war," the percentage of crops destroyed by insects has more than doubled!
Synthetic fertilizers are another weapon farmers deployed in earnest after World War Two, but that strategy has proved problematical as well. For one thing, synthetic fertilizers are not very efficient. Petrochemical inputs ignore the importance of the natural cycling of nutrients over time that promotes soil health and longtime fertility which reduces the soil's resistance to soil borne diseases. Some fertilizers also increase soil acidity and most leach quickly, stimulating downstream pollution. High-input petroleum-based fertilizers, as well as pesticides, increase soil erosion, promote soil defamation, low-nutrient food harvest, soil salivation and a myriad of human health problems, all sufficient reasons to adopt organic farming methods that raise fertility, conserve soil resources and eliminate petrochemical hazards to farm workers, wildlife and consumers.
The infamous Dust Bowl catastrophe in the 1930s raised awareness of the value of healthy, intact soil and Congress now taxes all Americans to subsidize soil conservation programs, yet despite these soil-saving measures, topsoil is still being lost at a rate 17 times faster than its formation rate. The agribusiness "quick-fix" solution to soil loss has been to use petroleum-based fertilizer, a panacea doomed to failure in the long run because of dwindling fossil-fuel resources as well as the lethal effects of fertilizer nitrate residues on natural health-promoting soil organisms. Clearly, to continue such a strategy meets the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We are now at the point where in order to have poison-free food, good land stewardship must take precedence over maximizing yields and profits. The only solution that makes sense is to stop using petrochemicals and develop a new paradigm that ecologist Wes Jackson calls the "marriage of ecology and agriculture." If we want healthy, intact soil, rivers and aquifers free of chemical run-off and animal products uncontaminated by antibiotics and growth hormones, we have to implement a solution that Jackson describes as an agriculture "based on the way nature works." The goal, in Jackson's words, is "to arrive at a truly sustainable agriculture," a task that begins with farming techniques that stop soil erosion and enhance biological diversity.
"In the last 40 years," writes Jackson, "nearly one-third of the world's arable land has been lost to soil erosion and continues to be lost at a rate of more than ten million hectares per year. Ninety percent of US cropland is losing soil above replacement rates 17 times faster than formation on average . . . In the United States we have lost three-quarters of all our agriculture biodiversity over the past 100 years." The crisis demands that we say no to corporate control over agriculture before it's too late and implement organic farming methods that enhance sustainability without synthetic chemical inputs, retain more water and soil nutrients, increase organic matter and beneficial soil microbes, thus preventing erosion in the first place. Although industrial agriculture has proven to be unsustainable and lethal to the land, humans, livestock and wildlife, dismantling the system will be daunting task. In America today, 95 percent of our food is manufactured by corporations, not prosperous family farms as is widely mythologized in media propaganda and advertising. In fact, more than 85 percent of the few small farm households that remain intact fall beneath the income poverty level.
In 1850, 90 percent of Americans lived on farms. By 1950, the number had declined to 37 percent. Today the total stands at about 0.7 percent, which amounts
to one farmer for every 140 hungry citizens. In 1930, an average American family spent about 24 percent of its income on food. By 2007, that figure had declined
to about ten percent, less than any people in history. Because of the nation's super-efficient, industrialized food system, groceries have never been cheaper. Unfortunately, they also have never been more deleterious to the well being of the American people and the environment. Threatened health and poisoned soil, air
and water are the booby prizes that go with the modern agribusiness system. The devastating impact of the industrial model forced on farmers via international trade pacts is also a global travesty, disrupting the web of life, depleting soils and water resources, polluting the air and destroying the livelihoods of small independent farmers everywhere. Repelling this global assault is truly a David
and Goliath contest, but one that David must win if mankind is to survive.
"The fight against corporate chemical-industrial agriculture, against corporate control of the global food system, against corporate ownership of life and against corporate control of economic decision making," writes environmental activist Dave Henson, "is the fight on this planet."