FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Agriculture and the Environment

Farmers claim to be stewards of the environment, some would say it’s best friend; others, its worst enemy. The truth is we can be both.

Humans have never left a small footprint, we have always tried to shape the environment to suit our needs. Initially farming had one purpose, food; farming provided a more stable diet than the hunter-gatherer existence.

As we became more “civilized” our effect on the land became more pronounced and more devastating. We thought the oceans were too vast, the soil too deep and the forests so thick that we could never harm them and, of course, we were wrong.

We used to grow food and fiber, now we raise commodity crops and commodity livestock. Farmers, for the most part, no longer sell to the consumer, they sell to processors who slice, dice, mince, preserve, pasteurize, color, flavor, package and deliver what they call food.

Agricultural production is neither controlled by nor is it supportive of farmers or consumers. Farmers have no control over prices so they do what they must to survive. Consumers buy what the global market provides, is there a choice?

We produce more than enough to feed the world. Yet, not everyone shares the bounty. Not everyone has the money or the access. Equally as sad, by the time the processors are done with their slicing, dicing, coloring and flavoring much of the “food” they deliver assaults, rather than supports our health.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) claims agriculture is one of the biggest threats to the environment. The National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) says agriculture does not harm the environment.

The University of Minnesota cites a seven fold increase in use of nitrogen fertilizer, a three fold increase in phosphorous fertilizer and a near doubling of irrigated cropland between 1961 and 1996. Since the introduction of Genetically Modified crops in 1996, fertilizer and pesticide use have steadily increased.

WWF notes global agriculture uses 70% of the worlds water and threatens the oceans with agrochemicals and the atmosphere with greenhouse gases from livestock production.

The US Geological Survey points to fertilizer, manure and agricultural runoff from the Mississippi basin as being responsible for the Gulf “Dead Zone”.

The United Nations estimates that farm animals world-wide generate 18% of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions. Couple that with emissions from transportation, refrigeration, clearing land for crops and pastures and livestock do not appear as environmentally benign as NCBA would have us believe.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s) have a negative affect on our health as well. The 2004 outbreaks of avian flu in Laos and Nigeria occurred on CAFO’s and the current swine flu epidemic has Mexican lawmakers pointing the finger at CAFO’s while Mexican health officials back them up.

CAFO’s, crop production, water, processing and transportation comprise an industrial agricultural system that is no friend of the environment. The argument supporting the system,”we need to feed the world”, is a lie. As the system industrialized, world hunger increased.

In the end the question is, who will decide if agriculture will protect or destroy the environment?

We can continue to allow multinational agribusiness corporations and industrial agriculture to control our food system. We can continue to accept CAFO’s, mono-culture cropping and the inherent environmental damage they cause. Or we can think about the environment and humanity when we make our food choices. We can, as Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”.

We need to think before we eat.

JIM GOODMAN is a dairy farmer and activist from Wonewoc, WI and a WK Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow.

More articles by:

Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin.

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail