Industrial foods and agriculture not only affects our health from consumption of the food, but also the environment through unsustainable agricultural methods. According to Rainforest Action Network (2011), a connection between emissions that cause deforestation and expansion of agriculture is a proven and documented fact. A good example is the case of Brazil where higher demand for cheaper beef has seen the expansion of beef farming. This has pushed the farmers deeper into the Amazon rainforests causing further deforestation. The value of the forest comes second after profits instead of considering the value a forest. Burning bushes in the Amazon forest to clear more space is the chosen method of clearing the forest, which has its effects that include emission of greenhouse gases, making agricultural activities in Brazil among the major causes of greenhouse gases. This has further helped make Brazil the fourth largest greenhouse emitter in the world.
It is clear that our demands for industrial foods, such as chips, cereals, cookies among others has also increased the demand for vegetable oil found in most of these products. One example is Indonesia that has continued to expand its palm oil plantations to meet demand. This again means deforestation in favour of plantations that yields profits for the nation at the expense of increasing pollution and a degrading environment. This is also in an effort by big corporations to complying with regulations on food.
Another problem of industrial foods affecting the environment comes from the processing companies. These companies producing industrial foods produce greenhouse gasses as well, increasing the degradation to the environment. According to Stevens (2011), the demand for industrial foods continue to rise, driving the factory farms to seeks for more production means that ensure efficiency by producing maximum output within smaller areas. This involves producing more products within one area, thus concentrating production within a small area. This requires using unnatural methods such as hormones that stimulate growth and volume of production. An example is concentrating cattle in one small area, which raises concern to their health. To maintain their health the firms have to use antibiotics that ensure survival. Such antibiotics can lead to drug-resistant bacteria that transfer to human beings (Stevens, 2011).
Such demands require the environment to produce more and more of the products required. In the last few decades agriculture has continued to expand, meaning it is not sustainable. It requires overusing the natural resources, which poses a threat to the coming generations. For instance, packaging requires other materials to be used such as plastics, among other products that are not consumed after the product itself is consumed. Therefore, increasing waste is produced due to lack of appropriate production. Such waste goes to the environment and increases pollution.
The current model of framing, industrial farming has proven to be quite inefficient. Although production is increasing in terms of volume, it is becoming more inefficient considering the inputs and exploitation of natural resources. 100 year ago before mechanization of farming, it required hardly any pesticides and fertilizers to produce goods. The process of growing food was natural and hands on. The current method makes use of machines and artificial means to produce. For instance, instead of allowing cattle to grow naturally, hormones are injected to stimulate growth. Further, feeds given to these animals are genetically produced. Thus, everything is chemically produced. Pesticide Action Network North America (n.d), “In 1940, we produced 2.3 food calories for every 1 fossil fuel calorie used. By industrializing our food and farming systems, we now get 1 food calorie for every 10 fossil fuel calories used- a 23-fold reduction in efficiency.” This shows how inefficiency of the current method is. This is because we use mechanized means of producing crops. Almost every single activity requires application of mechanical input to produce. This means machines replace people, which require consuming more natural resources ranging from fossil fuels to metal and chemicals synthesized from natural raw materials.
Another issue arising from chemical use in industrial agriculture is loss of biodiversity. Scientists contend that biodiversity poses a greater risk to humanity than global warming does. Industrial agriculture is the biggest threat to biodiversity. Species such as bees, amphibians, bats among other species are dying off. Pesticides are the biggest killer to these species especially for bees during pollination of crops. Diaz et al (2006) cites that, “Compelling evidence now shows that the reverse is also true: biodiversity in the broad sense affects the properties of ecosystems and, therefore, the benefits that humans obtain from them.” Therefore, any activity that threatens biodiversity is a threat to human life as well and reduces the benefits one can reap from the environment.
Biodiversity is not only affected by chemicals used in the industrial agriculture but also by clearing of more land for cultivation, crops planted and how they are managed. In the example of Brazil and Indonesia, the areas cleared were ecosystems to other species of animals and plants. Clearing such areas means these animals will have to be displaced and some probably lost during clearing. On the other hand, as habitats are destroyed new ones are formed that bring with them certain species of animals such as insects, birds, weeds and other mammals that establish themselves within the new ecosystem. Some of the displaced animals and plants might not do well in other areas considering adapting is necessary for survival in other areas. Thus, some species are lost.
On the other hand, management of such land affects biodiversity as well. The crop grown and the time of year is harvested affects biodiversity every year. Further, management of the crops such as how they are planted whether using chemicals for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance determines what animals can survive in such areas. The use of chemicals to control insects and other mammals such as rodents is one way that industrial agriculture reduced biodiversity faster than one can think. Such use of chemicals is deliberate measures to eliminate such animals from such areas in order for crops to thrive without disturbance. Some of these animals are beneficial when it comes to growth of plants and pollination. When they are eliminated, growth of crops does not take place in the usual way. Other means are used for ensuring growth to maturity that further compromise biodiversity.
Additionally, biodiversity is affected by mechanization of farms. Mechanization efficiency depends on large volume production in order to reduce costs and produce easily. Therefore, it requires such farms to plant a single crop over a large area in order to benefit from economies of scale. This leads many farms to practice of monoculture farming that greatly eliminated biodiversity in such farms. With small scale faming, farmers can produce diverse crops such as fruits, livestock, cereals, tubers and other types of food in different seasons of year and some crops together. For instance, farmers planting corn with mechanized inputs would not plant other crops. Small-scale farmers can plant corn and legumes such as beans to compensate for nitrogen redeployment in the soil. Thus, the large-scale farmer or the industrialized farmer will require using fertilizers that add nitrogen into the soil while the small-scale farmer who has not mechanized does not need to. Therefore, the industrialized farmer will rely on fertilizers and other types of chemicals to
Although industrial foods can be
preserved for long and provide better food security, they do not provide a
quality life considering all the health effect associated, environmental
degradation and loss of biodiversity. Thus, it is important that people make
better choices when selecting what to eat. Choosing organic food would greatly
reduce industrial foods.
Diaz S. Firgione, J., Chapin, S. & Tilman D. (2006). Biodiversity Loss Threatens Human Well-Being. PLoS Biol 4(8): e277.
Pesticide Action Network North America. (n.d). Industrial Agriculture. Retrieved from http://www.panna.org/issues/food-agriculture/industrial-agriculture
Rainforest Action Network. (2011). Undesired Consequences of the Industrial Food Complex. Retrieved from http://ran.org/undesired-consequences-industrial-food-complex
Stevens, P. (2011). Opposing industrial food. Retrieved from http://www.bu.edu/writingprogram/journal/past-issues/issue-3/stevens/