Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Intensive industrial agriculture, reasons why not.

What is intensive/industrial farming?

Intensive farming is an agricultural system through which (it is claimed) more food will be produced and the lower the price will be for the consumer.

This system infact generates huge external economic costs and other serious impacts on humanity and the environment:-

  • Loss of farmers' livlihoods, and cause of malnutrition in developing nations.

  • Severe and chronic illnesses caused by pesticides/fungicides

  • Environmental pollution.

  • Soil degradation.

  • Lack of biodiversity.

  • Extinction of crop varieties and gene pools.

  • Loss of nutritional value of food.

  • Huge external economic costs, involved in production and food-supply chain.

More information on the above included in this post.

  • Brief description of farming system below:-

    · Monoculture. Large areas of a single crop, often grown year after year on the same land, or with little crop rotation.

    · Agrichemicals. Intensive use of pesticides and fertilizers to fight pests and diseases and provide nutrients.

    · Hybrid seed. Use of specialized hybrids designed to favour large scale food distribution, eg ability to ripen off the vine, to withstand shipping and handling.

    · High mechanization.

    · Large scale irrigation- heavy water use and in some cases growing of crops in otherwise unsuitable regions (rice paddies on arid land).

    · Genetically engineered crops. Use of genetically modified varieties(GMOs) designed for large scale production (with ability to withstand selected herbicides)

    Opponents of the intensive system of agriculture say that politicians, business leaders and the media are misleading the public in their claim which states ‘ the more that chemicals and technology are applied to agriculture, the more food will be produced and the lower the price will be for the consumer.’

    Opponents also question the fundamental objectives of the structure of the modern food chain.:-

    The Ecologist Magazine, in its article ‘Fatal Harvest’(01/11/2002) says ‘The myth of cheapness completely ignores the staggering externalized costs of the food, costs that do not appear on supermarket checkout receipts. Conventional analyses of the cost of food completely ignore the exponentially increasing social and environmental costs consumers are currently paying and will have to pay in the future. Americans spend tens of millions of dollars in taxes, medical care, toxic clean-ups, insurance premiums and other pass-along costs to subsidise industrial food producers. Given the ever –increasing health, environmental and social destruction involved in industrial agriculture, the real price of food production for future generations is incalculable.’

    ‘Around 31,000 tonnes of chemicals are used in farming in yhe UK each year to kill weeds, insects and other pests that attack crops and in 2004, 40% of the fruit, vegetables and bread samples tested in the UK contained pesticides. There is very little control over how these chemicals are used in the non-organic sector and in what quantities or combinations. The Food Standards Agency recocnizes that most people do not want pesticides in their food. Pesticides have a devastating effect on the environment and there are real concerns about the effectiveness of official safety regulations of pesticides, and some risks to human health are unknown.’ (Soil Association)

    For information concerning exposure to agricultural pesticides for rural residents in the UK, visit the website pesticidescampaign.co.uk

    Summary of Impacts of Intensive Agriculture.

    1. Health problems. Vast quantities of pesticides and fungicides are sprayed onto farmland every year- 31,000 tons in the UK. This leads to a range of health problems. Pesticide exposure can happen through skin contact, inhalation, or pesticide residues in food and water. .Studies have shown that a combination of low-level insecticides, herbicides and nitrates can effect our bodies in ways chemicals in isolation do not. ‘Studies have shown that 3 pesticides consumed together equal up to 100 times the effect of any one on its own.(sometimes referred to as the cocktail effect) Along with their cancer risk, pesticides can cause myriad other health problems-especially for young people. For example, exposure to neurotoxic compounds like PCB’s and organophosphate insecticides during critical periods of development can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous and reproductive systems’(Ecologist Magazine,article Fatal Harvest).

    Environmental Pollution..

    1. Pollution though spraydrift in the air. Spraydrift can be carried for many miles by the wind/air currents..Rain water in parts of Europe contain such high levels of dissolved pesticides, it would be illegal to sell it as drinking water.
    2. Pollution through agrichemical build-ups and run-off.
    3. Carbon emissions. Use of fossil fuels for agrichemical manufacture and for farm machinery and long-distance distribution. Processing and packaging also adds to high energy use.

    3. Soil degradation. Heavy use of fertilizers, and lack of crop rotation, causes degradation of soil quality and lack of soil fertility.
    “The overuse of chemicals and machines on industrial farms erodes away the topsoil-the fertile earth from which all food is grown. The US has lost half of its topsoil since 1960, and continues losing topsoil 17 times faster than nature can create it”(The Ecologist)

    4.Lack of Biodiversity. Biodiversity can refer to:-
    (1) Genetic diversity in agriculture
    (2) Animal/insect/plant species.

    The UN Food and Agriculture Organization report that 70% of genetic diversity in agriculture disappeared in this last century. The resulting monocultured crops are genetically limited and far more susceptible to insect blights, diseases and bad weather, than are diverse crops.

    Biodiversity in wildlife. Pesticides and fungicides are toxic to insects, fish and wildlife. Some birds, butterflies and non-pest insects have become endangered or extinct through intensive agriculture. This represents a threat to the ecological system.In addition many target insects and plants which damage crops are becoming resistant to pesticides. 1000 species of insects, plant diseases and weedsare now resistant to pesticides.

    5.Loss of indigenous crops. Indigenous crops are going out of production because demand is driven by the global market.

    6.Crop varieties and gene pools are under threat from monocropping system. - “The world’s crop gene pool contained in seeds is essential for increasing crop productivity, mitigating environmental stress such as climate change, pests and diseases, and ensuring a genetic resource base for the future. Crop diversity contained in the world’s seed collections is constantly under threat from natural and human-led disasters”(Jacques Diouf, Director of Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations.)

7.Loss of farmers' livlihoods. "The economic pressures of industrial
agriculture have led to a sharp decline in the numbers of so-called 'inefficient' farms with smaller family farms being particularly badly hit. For example in the US there were close to seven million farms in the 1930s, but less than 1.8 by the mid 1990s; in France 3 million farms in the 1960s, yet fewer than 700,000 in the 1990s, 450,000 farms in the UK, in the 1950s, half that number in the 1990s. Over the past 50 yrs the number of actual farmers has declined by 86% in Germany, 85% in France, 85% in Japan, 64% in the US, 59% in Korea, and 59% in the UK." (Food Wars,Tim Lang & Michael Heasman).

"In Brazil soybean cultivation displaces 11 agricultural workers for every one who finds employment.....In Argentina 60,000 farms went out of business while the area of 'Roundup Ready' soybean almost tripled. In 1998 there were 422,000 farms in Argentina while in 2002 there were 318,000. One and a half million Mexican farmers have been put out of work because of the Free Trade Agreement with America in which cheap (subsidized)American corn was imported." (GM Soya Disaster in Latin America, Hunger, Deforestation and Socio-Ecological Devastation.Professor Miguel A. Altieri, University of California, Berkeley and Professor Walter A. Pengue, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina).

8. Impact on nutritional value of food. This includes freshness, flavour and range of products available.
Research at Newcastle University has found that…”organically produced crops and dairy milk usually contain more ‘beneficial compounds’ such as vitamins and antioxidants. The research has shown up to 40% more beneficial compounds in vegetable crops and up to 90% more in milk. It has also found high levels of minerals, such as iron and zinc in organic produce” (Sunday Times, ‘Eat your words, all who scoff at organic food’, By Jon Ungoed-Thomas,Oct.28,2007)
. For a list of research results regarding nutritional value of organic versus intensively produced produce, see Soil Association Press release, 22/2/2008, ‘Soil Association response to Horizon programme’. ·

Genetically modified crops.

.“In the context of agriculture and animal husbandry this technology has far reaching implications as it allows the introduction into plants and animals of entirely new characteristics including genes originally found in unrelated plants, animals or micro-organisms. This is very different from traditional breeding practices”( From-‘How GM Crops Endanger Environment and Agriculture’. (Bharat Dogra, Mainstream Weekly, Saturday 26 January 2008.)

The crucial claim of gm protagonists is - because the world’s population is rising fast, famine and increasing food deficiency is inevitable without GM crops. They also claim that GM crops are good for consumers, farmers and the environment.

Opponents of GM’s point to how arguments for GM’s are based on a misreading of the worlds food problems. They say that the problem is one of distribution, and globalisation, rather than production. Further to this they strongly dispute the claims for GM crops made by corporates.

Further doubts regarding GM technology in agriculture is that they represent potential health hazards, and endanger the environment and agriculture. These issues are outlined in 'Potential Health Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods’ by Stephen Lendman, -opednews.com March 2008.

In 2003, six principal countries grew 99% of the global transgenic crop area. The US grew 42.8 million hectares, followed by Argentina with 13.9 million, Canada 4.4million, Brazil 3 million, China 2.8 million and S.Africa 0.4 million hectares.

‘Friends of the Earth International’ has recently published a full, fact-based report called “who benefits from gm crops?"(Jan 2008)
The report seriously challenges the claims of GM proponents, and says they have failed to deliver on any of the proposed benefits, these are summarised below:-

  • Claim-GM crops will need less spraying of pesticides and will therefore benefit the environment. FAILED

  • Claim-Poor farmers will benefit. FAILED

  • Claim-GM's will tackle hunger. FAILED
  • Claim-Higher crop yields. FAILED
    Summary of report:-

  • It describes how in the US there was a 15 fold increase in the use of herbicide Roundup between1994 and2004, because pests and weeds are becoming resistant to pesticides.

  • Seed prices are on the rise, fewer suppliers means less competition and more market power to set prices.

  • Fewer seed choices.

  • Since gm cotton was adopted in the Makhatini Flats in South Africa, around three quarters of small farmers have gone out of business.

  • Most commercial gm crops are grown for animal feed for western countries and biofuels. None have been used to address hunger and poverty issues.

  • Brazilian experience in 2007 proved beyond doubt that gm crops are extensively contaminating conventional and organic soya.

  • By the end of October 2007, it has been estimated that there have been over 900 cotton farmer suicides, or an average of three suicides a day (ENS, 3 October 2007;Wide angle,2007; Petition to Indian Prime Minister,Swift, April2007) Despite the increase in adoption of Bt cotton, this trend has not diminished, and farmers' livlihoods are under dire threat. In addition, many reports of poor performances of Bt cotton have been registered in the area ('The Hindu,' 16 February 2007)
Friends of the Earth International states...."in the US the biotech industry has still not introduced a single GM crop that has enhanced nutrition, higher yield potential, drought tolerance, salt tolerance or other promised traits..."


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