- Since the 1970s, farm policies have overwhelmingly favored the consolidation and industrialization of agriculture and the food supply
- Federal farm subsidies, tax credits, crop insurance, price supports and disaster payments favor industrial agriculture and the streamlined production of cheap food
- While the transition to industrialized agriculture has succeeded in providing inexpensive food, it has failed in virtually every other measurable parameter
By Dr. Mercola
Industrial agriculture, characterized by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and vast swatches of genetically engineered (GE) monocrops, are touted as necessary to feed the world. At one time not long ago, it was up to small family farms to provide the food for nearby communities and ensure food security for the U.S. In an essay adapted from John Ikerd’s presentation at the 10th Annual Farm and Food Leadership Conference — Farm Policy at a Crossroads: A Time to Choose — it’s explained:1
“U.S. farm policies from the 1930s through the 1960s were premised on the proposition that food security could best be assured by keeping independent family farmers on the land. Family farmers had been the cultural foundation of American society and were committed to maintaining the productivity of their land — not only for the benefit of their families and communities but also for the food security of their nation.”
Since the 1970s, however, farm policies have overwhelmingly favored the consolidation and industrialization of agriculture and the food supply. Federal farm subsidies, tax credits, crop insurance, price supports and disaster payments favor industrial agriculture and the streamlined production of cheap food. Unfortunately, while the transition has succeeded in providing inexpensive food, it has failed in virtually every other measurable parameter. Ikerd explained:2
“In spite of reducing the percentage of the average American’s disposable income spent for food, they have failed to provide everyone with enough good food to support healthy, active lifestyles. Indeed, the necessary shift in federal farm policy must be supported by public acceptance of the fact that the current industrial agricultural system isn’t working and isn’t going to work in the future.”
Industrialized Agriculture Leads to Chronic Disease
In the U.S., genetically engineered (GE) corn is one of the top four most heavily subsidized food crops, so farmers have every reason to plant plenty of it. Unfortunately, since corn is a grain, it breaks down to sugar very rapidly and typically increases your insulin resistance if regularly consumed. Elevated insulin levels in turn are linked to most chronic degenerative diseases, including everything from obesity and diabetes to premature aging.
In 2016, 15 billion bushels of corn were grown in the U.S. alone, and it’s expected to make up 68 percent of the projected U.S. harvest of grains and oilseeds in 2017.3 The intensive corn farming has pushed out many other crops, changing the landscape even in the last 25 years. In North Dakota, for instance, where crops such as wheat, barley and sunflowers were once prevalent, now corn is king.
Far from providing Americans with critical nutrition, U.S. agricultural policies contribute to the declining health of Americans and worsens the out-of-control obesity epidemic. Current farm subsidies bring you GE high-fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, fast food, junk food, grain-fed beef raised in CAFOs, monoculture and a host of other contributors to our unhealthy contemporary diet.
The farm subsidies are what’s keeping the wheel of this and other unhealthy and cheap food ingredients rolling. Meanwhile, according to Ikerd, “Diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and various diet-related cancers are projected to claim about [$1 for every $5] spent for health care in the United States by 2020 — erasing virtually all of the gains in public health over the past several decades.”4
In addition to the corn that’s used as cheap fillers in food or for use as animal feed, many farmers turned to growing corn crops for ethanol. Sadly, environmentally beneficial grasslands have been plowed under to make room for more ethanol-producing crops (i.e., corn), even though they’re not as good for the environment as once believed. In fact, research shows biofuels such as corn ethanol are not carbon neutral; they’re associated with a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions — even worse than gasoline.5
CAFOs and Industrialized Farming Cause Disastrous Pollution, Losses of Biodiversity
A meta-analysis of 350 studies conducted by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-food) recommended a paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems.6 While succeeding in growing large volumes of food, the report noted that the current industrial model has generated “negative outcomes on multiple fronts,” including:
- Widespread degradation of land, water and ecosystems
- Biodiversity losses
- Persistent hunger and micronutrient deficiencies
- A rapid rise in obesity and diet-related diseases
- Livelihood stresses for farmers
The growing of monoculture crops and widespread reliance on CAFOs, which in turn depend on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and preventive use of antibiotics, were specifically mentioned as downfalls of the system. While tweaking some of these practices could help, the report noted that even this would “not provide long-term solutions to the multiple problems it generates.” According to IPES-food:7
“What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversifying farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods, i.e., ‘diversified agroecological systems.’
There is growing evidence that these systems keep carbon in the ground, support biodiversity, rebuild soil fertility and sustain yields over time, providing a basis for secure farm livelihoods.
Data shows that these systems can compete with industrial agriculture in terms of total outputs, performing particularly strongly under environmental stress, and delivering production increases in the places where additional food is desperately needed. Diversified agroecological systems can also pave the way for diverse diets and improved health.”
Living Near a CAFO May Harm Your Lung Function
The No. 1 cause of air pollution in much of the U.S., China, Russia and Europe is linked to farming and fertilizer — specifically to the nitrogen component of fertilizer used to supposedly enrich the soil and grow bigger crops.8 Research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters even demonstrated that emissions from farming far outweigh other sources of particulate matter air pollution.9 As nitrogen fertilizers break down into their component parts, ammonia is released into the air.
Ammonia is one of the byproducts of fertilizer and animal waste. When the ammonia in the atmosphere reaches industrial areas, it combines with pollution from diesel and petroleum combustion, creating microparticles. CAFO workers and neighboring residents alike report higher incidence of asthma, headaches, eye irritation and nausea.
Research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine also revealed that markers of lung function were related to how far they lived from CAFOs.10 The closer they lived to the factory farms, and the greater the density of livestock, the more impairments in lung function were revealed. Lung function of neighboring residents declined in concert with increased levels of CAFO-caused ammonia air pollution, the study revealed.11
Monsanto, DuPont and Other Front Groups Pay Millions Each Year to Protect Industrial Agriculture
Pesticide makers like Monsanto are in a unique position to profit not only from the sales of chemicals like glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide) but also the sale of GE seeds designed to go with them. A number of food and agriculture industry front groups, many of them backed by corporate donors including Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, BASF and major food companies like Coca-Cola and Kraft, spend more than $25 million a year to improve the steadily declining image of industrial agriculture.12
Ikerd noted, “The agricultural establishment seems to consider their PR campaign as little more than a ‘holding action’ against growing public concerns. They are using their political power to establish legislative protections that would prevent effective regulation.”13 Meanwhile, an increasing number of people are suing Monsanto over claims that exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The St. Louis Record reported:14
“The plaintiffs hold Monsanto responsible because the defendant allegedly failed to investigate, study, test or promote the safety or to minimize the dangers to users and consumers of its product, failed to exercise reasonable care to warn of the dangerous risks associated with use and exposure to the product and wrongfully concealed information concerning the dangerous nature of Roundup.”
Most of the approval process for glyphosate was based on studies Monsanto had done by outside contractors. That process began in the late 1970s and concluded around 1983 with the registration of the chemical. According to research scientist and longtime glyphosate researcher Anthony Samsel, Ph.D., Monsanto knew in 1981 that glyphosate caused adenomas and carcinomas in the rats they studied, but has long denied it.
Now, tissue slides from this early study are being re-examined by pathologists employed by lawyers for the cancer victims to reveal how long the glyphosate-cancer cover-up may have been going on.15
Did an EPA Official Collude With Monsanto to Protect Glyphosate?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a paper in October 2015 stating that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,16 even though it was determined to be a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO). In April 2016, the EPA posted the report online, briefly, before pulling it and claiming it was not yet final and posted by mistake.
The paper was signed by Jess Rowland (among other EPA officials), who at the time was the EPA’s deputy division director of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and chair of the Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC). Email correspondence showed Rowland helped stop a glyphosate investigation by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on Monsanto’s behalf.
In an email, Monsanto regulatory affairs manager Dan Jenkins recounts a conversation he’d had with Rowland, in which Rowland said, “If I can kill this I should get a medal,”17 referring to the ATSDR investigation, which did not end up occurring. According to Sustainable Pulse, Monsanto was also able to persuade the EPA to change the classification of glyphosate from a Class C Carcinogen (suggestive carcinogenic potential) to Class E, which means there is evidence of noncarcinogenicity in humans.18
The change occurred while Monsanto was creating Roundup Ready genetically engineered (GE) crops. The news outlet also uncovered 1991 EPA documents detailing a Monsanto-funded study that found it may cause cancer. They reported, “[The study] was ‘reviewed’ again until it mysteriously showed no carcinogenic potential.” The inspector general for the EPA is now initiating a probe into the possible collusion between Rowland and Monsanto.
Meanwhile, Christopher Portier, the former associate director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, wrote a letter to the president of the European Commission stating that he found eight examples of tumors occurring in glyphosate animal studies that were not used by the government in their conclusion that glyphosate does not cause cancer. The U.S. EPA also neglected to include the aforementioned tumors in their analyses.19
Agroecology Is the Secret to Feeding the World
A team of 900 scientists funded by the World Bank and United Nations determined that the use of industrialized agriculture including GE crops is simply not a meaningful solution to the complex situation of world hunger.20 Instead, the scientists suggested that “agroecological” methods would provide the most viable means to ensure global food security, including the use of traditional seed varieties and local farming practices already adapted to the local ecology.
Industrial agriculture ensures that the business of food is highly concentrated, not only in terms of being a monoculture with very few crop varieties available, but also in terms of ownership of these few precious crops.
This concentrated power of food diversity and of the food supply actually ensures food insecurity. Meanwhile, problems with hunger are typically not related to a shortage in food production but rather to poverty, problems with the way that food is used and distributed and the types of food being grown in the first place.
José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, is among those who understand the need for urgent changes in industrial agriculture. He, too, cited agroecology as a practical solution to improve food security and nutrition — ending hunger and malnutrition — worldwide.21 At present, most governments around the world are subsidizing and/or promoting a food production system that is unsustainable.
Moreover, it’s done at the cost of both human and environmental health. Yet, research suggests a switch to sustainable agriculture could easily be done, allowing farmers to produce the same amount of food on the same amount of land while cutting out chemical fertilizers.
As IPES-food noted, “Change is already happening. Industrial food systems are being challenged on multiple fronts, from new forms of cooperation and knowledge-creation to the development of new market relationships that bypass conventional retail circuits.”22
You can help to prompt significant change in the agricultural industry by boycotting CAFO and GE products and instead purchasing food grown only by local farmers who are using natural methods and soil-regenerative techniques, such as no-till, cover crops, composting and livestock integration.
Look for farmers markets, food co-ops and direct-from-the-farm sales in your area — these sustainable alternatives are growing rapidly across the U.S. and will offer you fresher, healthier food and the satisfaction of knowing you are helping to drive permanent positive changes in food production.