Farm Rot is Eating America Alive

Field Corn, southern Indiana. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

American politics covers up the bleeding of nature

Listen to the Democratic presidential candidates Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They promise a more democratic, equal, just, compassionate and civilized America. But the statistics they cite are numbing. Millions of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Additional millions have no medical insurance. Three billionaires own as much as 150 million Americans. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless.

How different is this picture from the picture of France on the eve of the French Revolution? Inequality alone says not much. In contrast to the French, we “elected” king Trump. He owns several Versailles.

This distressing political reality in 2019 America is riddled with the bullets of madmen. Young Americans, desperate for meaning and a future, arm themselves for a minute in the TV Sun. They hear Trump badmouthing the non-white immigrants from Mexico and Central America and resort to the mayhem of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio: killing innocent Americans and immigrants, the anger of the killers finding a murderous outlet.

In this condition of domestic upheaval, Americans have no time or interest for anything else. They are obsessed with survival. They see Congress and the Supreme Court and the White House taking care of the billionaire class, as Senator Sanders rightly defines the tiny minority of wealth and power behind the broken government in Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, Trump is like an extraterrestrial despot visiting Washington, DC, in order to keep the White House in perpetual chaos, play golf in his exclusive resort in Florida, and tweet his orders to the world.

This political reality could be out of a fictional best seller, but it is not. It dazzles, confuses, and angers Americans. Trivia becomes king.

That’s why criminals and polluters have a free hand. No one is watching the store. Laws are great but take away law enforcement, like Trump has done, and the country becomes an open field for poisoners.

The environment

The environment is the immense natural world  that  nourishes life and keep us alive. But instead of protecting and loving it, our corrupt Trump government signals to the business and billionaire classes the environment is theirs to exploit and destroy.

The same confused mentality has been keeping the politicians mumbling about social problems, all but neglecting environmental policies that undermine the very ground under their feet.

Petrochemical agriculture

A look at that ground demolishes the bible of agribusiness: that our food is the safest in the world: that our agriculture is science-based.

In the place of this fiction, farm rot is eating the country alive. It’s a repeat of the early twentieth century when Upton Sinclair wrote about the mafia-like culture of food and agriculture: the complete absence of government regulation, the loathsome slaughterhouses of Chicago, the adulteration and poisoning of food.

Scientists often publish dense articles about farming that, reading between the lines, you grasp the dreadful effects of our irresponsible decisions of allowing farmers to do as they please.

These farmers have been addicted to huge petroleum-fueled machines, mountains of petroleum-based fertilizers, and rivers of petrochemical poisons. These “inputs” undermine the fertility and life of the land. Petrochemicals fight nature, primarily by killing beneficial microorganisms in the soil and poisoning beneficial insects and other wildlife.

The vision of the petrochemical farmers is not diversity in crops, much less diversity in the natural world where they are producing food. No, their nightmare of “scientific” agriculture takes flesh in  the cultivation of one crop at a time, covering a vast acreage.

In this futile struggle against nature, farmers keep adding more of old sprays, and often replace old chemicals with newer more acutely deleterious materials.

Petrochemical companies, and the land grant universities that have been inventing many of the toxic weapons of the farmers, keep the farmers hooked on ever newer hazardous substances.

This farm chemical warfare has been going on for several decades. Farmers, academic and business experts and environmentalists know about it, though rarely any one of them calls farm sprays chemical warfare agents. They hope against hope this process can last forever.

But it won’t. It annot. Nature does not work that way. It does not hide its secrets like men do. Employ reason and science and the truth and beauty of nature is all over you. But pretend you are the king and knows best, that you have the right to dominate the natural world, and you face the abyss of destruction.

Allow farmers spraying insecticides and, unavoidably, you starve birds and other wildlife. You keep poisoning honeybees and you impoverish wildflowers and reduce the varieties and amounts of pollinated plants and crops.

Moreover, poisons sprayed over the land don’t fade into nothingness. They remain in the land, sometimes for a very long time, never ceasing their killing of life. They move to groundwater and the water of creeks, lakes and rivers. They even become gases, lifting themselves off the land, entering into the atmosphere and moving with the winds around the globe.

The effects of the lives of pesticides in the environment are awesome and terrible.

The toxification of the land 

A peer-reviewed studypublished August 6, 2019, revealed that American agriculture is now about 50 times more deleterious to insects than it was 25 years ago. The second terrible truth is that neonicotinoid insect-killing chemicals account for 92 percent of the growing toxic wrath of land and farming.

These neonicotinoids were invented in Germany and introduced to farming in this country in the early 1990s. They are neurotoxins that confuse and kill honeybees and other insects in droves.

The dramatic decline of honeybees is probably and primarily because of the widespread use of these German nerve poisons. They are used all over America primarily in millions of acres of corn and soybeans. This is happening at a time when there’s an unprecedented in scope global decline and extinction of insects.

The authors of the study are warning that, given the toxification of the land and the near insect apocalypse it is bringing about, it’s not out of the question we could bring about a catastrophic ecosystem collapse.

Insects, after all, are the “food web” sustaining life on Earth. They are essential for birds, amphibians, fish, reptiles, and mammals. They decompose animal wastes and dead vegetation, enriching the soil. They make farming possible. They pollinate our crops and eat those bugs harming our fruits, vegetables, and other crops.

You would think that farmers would be the best friends of insects. However, the metaphysics of most farmers working the land in 2019 are straightforward petrochemical metaphysics. They want all insects, including honeybees, dead. They coat the seeds of corn and soybeans with neonicotinoids: powerful systemic nerve poisons. Every part of corn and soybean growing out of the poisoned seed has the neurotoxin in it.

Tom Theobald, a beekeeper from Colorado, paid a terrible price for the fancy and deadly weapons of the farmers, especially their religious addiction to neonicotinoids. He saw some 40 years of devotion to honeybees go up in smoke. All his honeybees died from coming in contact with crops brought up by neonicotinoids.

In a message he sent me on August 6, 2019, he summarized the national drama unknown to politicians:

“For the past decade or more we have seen an annual input of neonicotinoids to the environment of the toxic equivalent of about 400 BILLION POUNDS of DDT, on top of accumulating toxicity remaining from prior years. The evidence is that soils and groundwater all across the North American continent are poisoned at toxic levels. There is no escape for lower level life forms, nor ultimately for us as well. The Iowa drinking water study showed that treated drinking water still had enough neonicotinoids left after treatment to exceed the EPA Threshold for the onset of environmental damage by several times. In other words, homeowners in most municipalities in the heartland could use their tap water as an insecticide. When will this insanity end? Not until the perpetrators of these crimes against the environment and crimes against humanity are held to account along with their enablers in  the EPA and congress.”

Theobald is angry. Yet his understanding of the grievous effects of the addiction of farmers to neurotoxic pesticides is correct. Neonicotinoids have no place in farming. And when the Democrats capture the Senate and the White House, these chemicals should be banned immediately. In fact, farm reform should lead us out of the present toxic model to ways of raising food that are friendly to human and ecological communities.

Time has come for an end of American enclosures and a return to family farms. Equally important, we must replace pesticides by agroecology, allowing the beneficial insects to take care of crop pests. This means a reconciliation with beneficial insects and Mother Earth.

The looming global warming emergency demands the end of poisonous farming and the end of animal farms, which make a large contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The latest (August 2019) UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report summarized the evidence of the impact of agriculture on climate change. Agriculture and forestry are responsible for 21 to 37 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Evaggelos Vallianatos, Ph.D., studied history and biology at the University of Illinois; earned his Ph.D. in Greek and European history at the University of Wisconsin; did postdoctoral studies in the history of science at Harvard. He worked on Capitol Hill and the US EPA; taught at several universities and authored several books, including The Antikythera Mechanism: The Story Behind the Genius of the Greek Computer and its Demise.