By Dr. Mercola
The “faster, bigger, cheaper” approach to food is slowly draining dry our planet’s resources and compromising your health.
The Earth’s soil is depleting at more than 13 percent the rate it can be replaced.
The documentary “FRESH” celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system.
The film demonstrates how we can collectively transform the current “industrial agricultural paradigm” into a healthier, more sustainable way of feeding the world, while restoring the health of our ailing planet.
I hope you will set aside the time to watch it, as it will be time well spent.
We have already lost 75 percent of the world’s crop varieties over the last century.
Over the past 10 years, we’ve had 100 million tons of herbicides dumped onto our crops, polluting our soil and streams.
The agriculture industry now tries to convince us that housing 110,000 to more than one million chickens or 20,000 hogs in a warehouse is a necessary practice to feed the masses.
The quality of our food is in free-fall, and disease is rampant. Not to mention that the quality of life for those animals is so horrid that many people cannot bear to look. Meanwhile, the human population on our little blue globe continues to rise, recently topping 7 billion souls. We simply cannot sustain this growth with our current model. If we continue along the present path, world hunger will continue to escalate without a viable way to meet the need.
Forging more sustainable alternatives is imperative if we hope to survive.
As illuminated in the film, one of the major issues is that farmers have been forced into the practice of monoculture, or monocropping, which is detrimental to our soil, water, plants, and animals—and therefore detrimental to us.
Playing “Chicken” with Mother Nature
In the words of Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and a number of other bestsellers: “Mother Nature destroys monocultures.” What is a monoculture? Monoculture (or monocropping) is defined as the high-yield agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops. Corn, soybeans, wheat, and to some degree rice, are the most common crops grown with monocropping techniques. In fact, corn, wheat and rice now account for 60 percent of human caloric intake, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
By contrast, polyculture (the traditional rotation of crops and livestock) better serves both land and people. Polyculture evolved to meet the complete nutritional needs of a local community. Polyculture, when done mindfully, automatically replenishes what is taken out, which makes it sustainable with minimal effort.
Some critics of monocropping claim it even contributes to unsustainable population growth and mass starvation. According to an article on GreenFudge.org, monoculture is detrimental to the environment for a number of reasons, including the following:
- It damages soil ecology by depleting and reducing the diversity of soil nutrients
- It creates an unbuffered niche for parasitic species to take over, making crops more vulnerable to opportunistic pathogens that can quickly wipe out an entire crop
- It increases dependency on chemical pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
- It increases reliance on expensive specialized farm equipment and machinery that require heavy use of fossil fuels
- It destroys biodiversity
The Most Famous Monoculture Disaster: The Great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s
Monoculture farming practices have sadly resulted in a widespread shift away from sustainable family farms and local foods, and toward industrialized agriculture, massive farming complexes, and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), all driven by large corporations whose chief motivation is maximizing profit. Countless small independent family farms have been squeezed out by “Big Ag” and replaced by massive monocultural operations.
Thousands of animals in small spaces means large quantities of antibiotics are needed to prevent rampant disease. Outbreaks of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), salmonella, E. coli, avian flu, and campylobacteriosis are all products of industrialized food production. Antibiotics are fed to livestock and poultry to ward off low-grade infection. Weak strains of pathogens are killed off, allowing strong strains to mutate and become even stronger. You consume these bacterial strains in your meat, which then contribute to the spread of infections that are increasingly resistant to the antibiotics your physician prescribes…
The Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s is a perfect example of how monocropping can lead to disaster.
Lack of genetic variation in Irish potatoes was a major contributor to the severity of the famine, allowing potato blight to decimate Irish potato crops. The blight resulted in the starvation of almost one of every eight people in Ireland during a three-year period. But the greatest shortcoming of monocrops may lie in the compromised quality of those foods, and the long-term effect that has on your health.
There’s No Such Thing as Cheap Food
Food is most nutritious in its whole, fresh form. This is why local food is more healthful. Freshness means better taste AND better nutrition. The more you process food, the less nutritional it is. The greater the variety in your diet, the better nourished your body will be. Supermarkets are full of processed foods whose nutrients have been expunged in the name of “convenience.”
Michael Pollan said it best:
“Cheap food is an illusion. There is no such thing as cheap food. The real cost of the food is paid somewhere. And if it isn’t paid at the cash register, it’s charged to the environment or to the public purse in the form of subsidies. And it’s charged to your health.”
In other words, pay now or pay later. Consider organic eggs, for example. They cost more, but they’re WORTH more. Organic free-range eggs are far richer in omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, and vitamins A and E—a 79-cent cage egg just can’t compete. Grass-fed beef contains three to five times as much CLA as cheap, conventional corn-fed beef.
But there are people who cannot afford high quality food at these prices. In today’s environment, organic food is expensive to put on the dinner table because it’s expensive to produce. And millions of Americans live in “food deserts” where fresh produce is hard to find but processed food is available everywhere. You can find Ramen noodles, but you can’t find an apple.
Enterprising Farmers Show the Impossible is Possible
Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, featured in the films “FRESH” and “Food, Inc.,” is a living example of how incredibly successful and sustainable natural farming can be. He produces beef, chicken, eggs, turkey, rabbits and vegetables. Yet, Joel calls himself a grass-farmer, for it is the grass that transforms the sun into energy that his animals then feed on. By closely observing nature, Joel created a rotational grazing system that not only allows the land to heal but also allows the animals to behave the way the were meant to—expressing their “chicken-ness” or “pig-ness,” as Joel would say.
Cows are moved every day, which mimics their natural patterns and promotes revegetation. Sanitation is accomplished by birds. The birds (chickens and turkeys) arrive three days after the cows leave—via the Eggmobile—and scratch around in the pasture, doing what chickens do best.
No pesticides. No herbicides. No antibiotics. No seed spreading. Salatin hasn’t planted a seed or purchased a chemical fertilizer in 50 years. He just lets herbivores be herbivores and cooperates with nature, instead of fighting it. It’s a different and refreshing philosophy.
Instead of making 150 dollars per acre per year from a crop that produces food for three months, but lays fallow for the rest of the year, he’s making $3,000 per acre by rotating crops throughout the year, thereby making use of his land all 12 months—and maintaining its ecological balance at the same time. This generates complimentary income streams. But can the entire world be fed this way?
Monocropping is More Productive and More Profitable… WRONG!
Proponents of monocropping argue that crop specialization is the only way to feed the masses, that it’s far more profitable than having small independent farms in every township. But is this really true? Recent studies suggest just the opposite!
Studies are showing that medium sized organic farms are far more profitable than ANY sized industrial agricultural operation.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (results published in 2008 in the Agronomy Journal) found that traditional organic farming techniques of planting a variety of plants to ward off pests is more profitable than monocropping. The organic systems resulted in higher profits than “continuous corn, no-till corn and soybeans, and intensively managed alfalfa.”
Rotational grazing of dairy cows was also shown to be more profitable. The researchers concluded:
“Under the market scenarios that prevailed between 1993 and 2006, intensive rotational grazing and organic grain and forage systems were the most profitable systems on highly productive land in southern Wisconsin.”
The research team also concluded that government policies supporting monoculture are “outdated,” and that it’s time for support to be shifted toward programs that promote crop rotation and organic farming.
As it turns out, when you eliminate the agricultural chemicals, antibiotics, veterinary treatments, specialized machinery and multi-million dollar buildings, fuel costs, insurance costs, and the rest of the steep financial requirements of a big industrial operation, your cost of producing food makes a welcome dive into the doable. And did I mention… the food from organic farms is better? So, if small to medium-scale organic farming is more profitable, why aren’t all farmers doing it?
Government Subsidies and Food Processing Monopolies have a Chokehold on American Farmers
The government is subsidizing the makers of high fructose corn syrup but doing nothing to subsidize the growers of healthy, fresh produce. That’s issue number one. The second issue is that a very small number of very large companies control the food chain, from seed to plate. Farmers are held captive by huge food processing companies you may have never heard of, because they sell very few products directly to the general public.
Two major players are ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Company) and Cargill, each having ENORMOUS power in agriculture. Current.com reports Cargill has greater interests in soybean production and trade than any other company on the planet. Cargill is responsible for more than 75 percent of Argentina’s grain and oilseed production and has partnered with the Gates Foundation to introduce similar soybean monoculture to Africa.
So, here’s how it works…
Food processors, like ADM and Cargill, sell the farmers seed, fertilizers and pesticides. Then when the crops come in, those food processors turn around and buy the corn and soy, processing it into high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil that they then sell to huge food industry clients, like fast food chains. They also own feedlots. According to “FRESH,” 83 percent of commercial beef in the U.S. is processed by just three meat processors.
These players tell the farmers that, if they want to play the game, they play by their rules or not at all. These food-processing monopolies also promote GMOs. In 1998, Monsanto partnered with Cargill to develop and distribute genetically modified food and feed products. We need to level the playing field.
Growing a Movement
Farmers and lovers of real food, such as those portrayed in this film, show us that change IS possible. But your help is needed! As was suggested in the documentary, if each of you purchased only 10 dollars of food each week from your local farmer’s market or organic food stand, the market impact would be tremendous. There are “10 FRESH actions” you can take in order to live a more sustainable lifestyle:
- Buy local products whenever possible. Otherwise, buy organic and fair-trade products.
- Shop at your local farmers market, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or buy from local grocers and co-ops committed to selling local foods.
- Support restaurants and food vendors that buy locally produced food.
- Avoid genetically engineered (GMO) foods. Buying certified organic ensures your food is non-GM.
- Cook, can, ferment, dry and freeze. Return to the basics of cooking, and pass these skills on to your children.
- Drink plenty of water, but avoid bottled water whenever possible, and do invest in a high quality water filter to filter the water from your tap.
- Grow your own garden, or volunteer at a community garden. Teach your children how to garden and where their food comes from.
- Volunteer and/or financially support an organization committed to promoting a sustainable food system.
- Get involved in your community. Influence what your child eats by engaging the school board. Effect city policies by learning about zoning and attending city council meetings. Learn about the federal policies that affect your food choice, and let your congressperson know what you think.
- Spread the word! Share this article with your friends, family, and everyone else you know.
Please show your support for FRESH by ordering a copy for only $15. The proceeds will go back to the producers of this film so that they can continue to spread the word.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Green Fudge September 2009
- Straight April 17, 2008
- Berkeley Library
- Polyface, Inc.
- Tech Herald April 7, 2009
- Agronomy Journal August 15, 2008
- Chavas, et al. 2008. “Organic and Conventional Production Systems in the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial: II. Economic and Risk Analysis 1993–2006″ Vol. 101 No. 2 p.288-295
- Current September 6, 2010
- New York Times May 15, 1998