Industrialized Food Production: A Dangerous Path When visiting the grocery store, shoppers are bombarded with pleasant photos of farmers in their fields. This idyllic agricultural way of life may have existed in the past, but today’s farms are much different. In our modern era, a revolution has taken place and food production has changed dramatically. The industrialized method of food production has created a dangerous and unsustainable system. Choosing locally sourced foods is beneficial to the planet, health, and local economies.
The 100 mile diet has brought attention to this important subject and made people aware of the impact of food choices. Humans began farming over 9000 years ago, and many technological advancements have occurred since that time (Mintz, Du Bois, 101). Most significantly in the modern era, the green revolution changed the way food was grown. The green revolution allowed for intensification of food resources, intended to alleviate world hunger (Bourlag). Lead by Norman Bourlag, hybrid variations of wheat were bred to produce higher yields and be two to three times more resistant to disease.
Success was achieved, but has created more issues. From 1950 to 1999 production on the same size acreage increased 170%, producing 1. 9 billion tonnes of grain (Bourlag). However, copious amounts of fertilizers need to be added to the soil to support this production; this leads to more chemical run-off and contamination of water sources. Another major problem is that the hybrid seeds lead to development of genetically engineered seeds. These grains are patented by large corporations, causing costs to rise and taking control away from farmers. The local farmer no longer has control over how they grow crops or run their farm.
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Large companies like Monsanto hold all the power. The genetically modified seeds that are needed for the high yields are patented, and farmers are forced to purchase new seeds each year (Food Inc. ). For centuries, farmers have been able to save seeds from their crops for planting the following year. With the introduction of patents, farmers now face massive lawsuits if they try to reuse seeds. Even though many farmers do not want to use the modified seeds, it is nearly impossible because of cross contamination. Mark Anslow provides an example of one Canadian farmer: Percy Schmeiser.
He found that sixty percent of his crop had been contaminated by Monsanto engineered seeds carried onto his land by the wind (12). Even though Schmeiser did not plant or want the seeds, he still faced intimidation and lawsuits from the giant biotechnology company (Anslow, 13). The power held by these agribusiness giants controls what farmers can do. The control held by corporations is not limited to grains and seeds, it extends into poultry and livestock. The high demand for meat created by the multitudes of fast food restaurants has completely changed the way animals are raised.
Factory farming techniques produce plump animals from small areas. About 10 billion animals are raised and killed for food every year in the United States, many of these inhumanely ("Humane Eating : The Humane Society of the United States. "). Laying hens are kept in cages so small they cannot even move. In addition, animals have been bred for meat production, leading to chickens with breasts so heavy they can barely walk; chickens often die from their own weight (_Food Inc_. ). Cattle are raised in small pens with no area to graze. Instead, they are fattened up with corn (Nierenberg, 22).
These feedlots are seas of manure and disease. Farmers are pressured by that large companies they hold contracts with to have the latest technologies. This means taking on massive debt that forces farmers to continue producing for that company, even if they do not agree with the practices. For example, poultry producers working for Tyson, one of the largest companies, have been forced to “upgrade” chicken houses to be large sheds with no natural light, with thousands of chickens packed inside (_Food Inc_. ). As with grain producers, livestock producers are caught in a debt cycle by powerful corporations.
Major health issues are caused by industrialized food production. The close quarters and filthy conditions where the animals are raised are perfect conditions for the spread of disease. Animals raised intensively arrive at slaughterhouses covered in feces, which raises the risk of contamination during the processing (Nierenberg, 22). As well, a variety of antibiotics are used to as feed additives to prevent disease and encourage growth in livestock and poultry, which are then ingested by humans, increasing antibiotic resistance worldwide (Sayre, 78).
The crowded, stressful conditions of intensive farming, combined with ammonia released from waste and lack of sunlight facilitate the spread of disease among animals and to humans. As well, the manure from these animals is contaminated with the antibiotics; if a manure lagoon bursts or seeps into the water supply, anyone using the water to drink or bathe can be infected (Sayre, 77). One way to reduce these issues is to eat less meat, reducing demand and the need for intensive factory farm operations (Pollan, 33). Another solution is to choose locally raised meat.
This allows consumers to get to know the farmers and practices used to raise the livestock. In addition, it is more likely that the meat has been processed in a smaller slaughterhouse, reducing chances for cross contamination from many sources. Local food increases the amount of information available to consumers and provides food security. Factory farming not only harms the animals and the farmers, it has huge environmental impacts. The production of livestock and dairy actually contributes more greenhouse gases to the environment than vehicles ("From Field To Feedlot To Fork. ").
Globally, 18% of greenhouse gas emissions are created from feedlot to dinner table. Animal production creates emissions at every stage. Fossil fuel is required to run equipment, grow crops, transport animals, and distribute products. The production of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides alone require the equivalent use of over 123 million barrels of oil ("From Field To Feedlot To Fork. "). Factory farming centralizes production areas, meaning that in order to slaughter and distribute the meat, long distance transportation is required. Aside from the fossil fuel use, greenhouse gases are created by the animals themselves.
Grazing animals, like cattle, release methane. While this is natural, the huge amounts of livestock being produced are massive contributors to global warming. As well, the manure produced by these animals exceeds amounts that can be used as fertilizer for fields. The excess amounts are stored in ponds and lagoons, where more gases are released as it decomposes (Nierenberg, 23). By choosing to eat local, consumers negate the creation of much of the pollution. The most obvious reduction is in transportation emissions. On average, a meal travels 2414 km from farm to table.
This is over a 25% increase from 1980 (Roosevelt, 78). Shopping at a local farmers market or farm stand reduces the distance considerably. A study in Iowa found that a regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country and around the world (Smith, Mackinnon, 65). Another way local eating reduces environmental impacts is though more sustainable practices. Local farms are usually operated on a smaller scale; livestock can graze on grass, and the manure produced fertilizers the field. Another benefit of small farms if the diversity they provide.
Agribusiness operations focus on monoculture. One crop is grown over hundreds or thousands of hectares. A small farm features more diversity, attracting and providing habitat for a range of wildlife (Pollan, 62). As well, smaller farms require far less chemical additives like pesticides and fertilizer, both produced with fossil fuels. Recently, the 100 mile diet has brought attention to choices consumers can make and why local choices are important. A couple in Vancouver undertook a year long challenge to only eat food that was grown or produced within a one hundred mile radius of their home (Smith, Mackinnon).
At first, this seems like an overwhelming task, but is actually achievable. Some luxury items, like coffee and chocolate, must be given up, but most essential items are available. While it may not be possible for everyone to follow the 100 mile diet completely, choosing local products as often as possible has many benefits. As well as reducing transportation costs and emissions as mentioned earlier, purchasing food from local farmers helps the local economy. The income stays in your local area instead of being absorbed by a multinational corporation.
A British study found that money spent at a local farmers market had twice the economic value for the area than money spent at a supermarket chain (Smith, Mackinnon, 112). The reduced transportation time also has health benefits. Produce is not picked until it is ripe, and often sold the same day, so the nutrients are not degraded when it reaches the dinner table. Food production has undergone many changes since the rise of agriculture thousands of years ago. The rise of factory farming practices has brought many negative changes to food.
Rates of pollution and disease have risen dramatically, and conditions for animals and farmers are very poor. The recent popularity of the 100 mile diet has brought raised public awareness about food choices. By choosing locally produced food consumers get a more nutritious product, reduce environmental impacts, and support local economies. Works Cited Anslow, Mark. "Farmer warns: 'GM will destroy organic industry'. " The Ecologist 38. 10 (2009): 12-13. General Science Index. Web. 30 Nov. 2009. Bourlag, Norman. "Biotechnology and the Green Revolution (ActionBioscience). " ActionBioscience - promoting bioscience literacy. Nov. 2002. Web. 4 Dec. 2009. http://www. actionbioscience. org/biotech/borlaug. html. Food Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Alliance, 2009. DVD. "From Field To Feedlot To Fork. " Cool Foods Campaign. 2009. Web. 04 Dec. 2009. http://coolfoodscampaign. org/your-tools/global-warming-and-your-food/from-field-to-feedlot-to-fork/. "Humane Eating : The Humane Society of the United States. " The Humane Society of the United States. 2009. Web. 04 Dec. 2009. http://www. humanesociety. org/issues/eating/. Mintz, Sidney W. , and Christine M. Du Bois. "The Anthropology of Food and Eating. " Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (2002): 99-119. Print. Nierenberg, Danielle. The Commercialization of Farming: Producing Meat for a Hungry World. " USA Today (Periodical) 132 (2004): 22-4. Readers' Guide Abstracts. Web. 1 Dec. 2009. Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food. New York: Penguin Paperbacks, 2009. Print. Roosevelt, Margot "The Lure of the 100-Mile Diet. " Time 167. 24 (2006): 78. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 4 Dec. 2009. Sayre, Laura. "The Hidden Link Between Factory Farms and Human Illness. " The Mother Earth News Feb. /Mar. 2009: 76-83. Readers' Guide Abstracts. Web. 1 Dec. 2009. Smith, Alisa, and J. B. Mackinnon. The 100-Mile Diet A Year of Local Eating. New York: Vintage Canada, 2007. Print.
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