By Dr. Mercola
At your last meal, did you pay any attention to where the food on your plate came from? It’s a detail that many of us overlook, or think about only in passing, but it’s one that is quite rapidly shaping the future of our planet – and not in a good way.
Seven percent of farms now sell 75 percent of our food, using a conventional farming system that depends on pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, monoculture and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
In the documentary film Sustainable Table: What’s On Your Plate, you can get a closer look at the war modern-day agriculture is waging against the planet... and learn what you can do to help stop it.
Conventional Farming Aims to Conquer Nature
You are actually an integral part of nature. But in conventional farming, nature is often considered the enemy – one that must be dealt with using a controlled system of chemicals, irrigation systems, GMOs, fertilizers and other additions to the soil.
When natural processes interfere with the objectives of conventional farming, it responds by using various concoctions of herbicides, pesticides and insecticides to kill weeds, insects and other pests.
This does not come without consequence, however. As the film explains, conventional agriculture’s overexploitation, pollution and other environmental insults made largely over the last half century have resulted in massive ecological degradation; ironically, 60 percent of the planet’s ecosystems, which have been devastated by the activities of man, are now no longer capable of sustaining themselves without human intervention!
The film cites the following statistics:
- Conventional agriculture results in the loss of 24 billion tons of topsoil every year; it takes 500 years for the earth to form 1 inch of topsoil
- Agricultural runoff is the #1 pollutant of U.S. rivers, poisoning groundwater and killing entire ecosystems
- According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cutting the use of agrichemicals could save $15 billion in water treatment costs
Monocropping: An Unfortunate 'Side Effect' of Modern Farming
Monocropping (or monoculture) 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.
It’s an efficient system that modern agriculture depends on, but massive monoculture has led to the extinction of 75 percent of the world's crop varieties over the last century. It 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 and fertilizers
- It increases reliance on expensive specialized farm equipment and machinery that require heavy use of fossil fuels
- It destroys biodiversity
By contrast, polyculture (the traditional rotation of crops and livestock used historically by small family farms) better serves both land and people. Polyculture evolved to meet the complete nutritional needs of a local community, and when done mindfully, automatically replenishes what is taken out, making it sustainable with minimal effort.
CAFOs Have Become a Cruel New 'Norm'
Modern agriculture views animals as commodities rather than living beings, and the end result is a very sad and cruel system where livestock are subject to profound mental and physical anguish, not to mention subject to incredibly unhealthy practices, like the administration of low-dose antibiotics and living in their own waste.
People living near CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) are exposed to odorous emissions linked to decreased lung function, cardiovascular ailments, neurological problems, asthma, and premature death; drinking water is also often contaminated by animal waste runoff. Corporate-owned CAFOs have been highly promoted as the best way to produce food for the masses, but the only reason CAFOs are able to remain so "efficient" is because they substitute government-subsidized crops for pasture grazing, completely altering the animals’ natural diets, with further disastrous consequences for both animal and human health.
Conventional Farming Promotes Consumption of Unhealthy Foods
Although I don’t agree with the film’s portrayal of saturated fats as unhealthy, or of a vegan diet as particularly healthy, there is no denying the fact that modern agricultural practices promote the consumption of an unhealthy diet. Today’s sky-high rates of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease can be tied directly to changes in how our food has been grown and produced over the past 40 years.
This includes an overconsumption of low-quality sources of protein. For optimal health, I recommend reducing your protein levels to one gram per kilogram of lean body weight. It would be unusual for most adults to need more than 100 grams of protein and most likely close to half that ... yet access to cheap sources of meat (such as fast-food burgers) make it easy to surpass this.
Also problematic is the fact that farm subsidies bring you high-fructose corn syrup, fast food, animal factories, monoculture, and a host of other contributors to our unhealthful contemporary diet. A report comparing federal subsidies of fresh produce and junk food, prepared by U.S. PIRG, a non-profit organization that takes on special interests on behalf of the public, revealed where your tax dollars are really going, and it's quite shocking.
If you were to receive an annual federal subsidy directly, you would receive $7.36 to spend on junk food and just 11 cents to buy apples. In other words, every year your tax dollars pay for enough corn syrup and other junk food additives to buy 19 Twinkies, but only enough fresh fruit to buy less than a quarter of one red delicious apple.
Sustainable Food Systems Are Out There... And They Need Your Support
The film wraps up by showing several examples of truly sustainable agriculture – an organic farm where workers handpick weeds and pests off of plants in lieu of using chemicals, a farmer’s market where you can talk with your local farmers about how your food is being grown ... by making changes in what food you choose to purchase and eat, you can actively support the natural agricultural systems that the future of the planet, and of the human race, depend on.
You may be surprised to find out that by going directly to the source you can get amazingly healthy, locally grown, organic food for less than you can find at your supermarket. This gives you the best of both worlds: food that is grown near to you and sold with minimal packaging, cutting down on its carbon footprint and giving you optimal freshness, as well as grown without chemicals, genetically modified seeds, and other potential threats to your health.
Just as restaurants are able to keep their costs down by getting food directly from a supplier, you, too, can take advantage of a direct farm-to-consumer relationship, either on an individual basis or by joining a food coop in your area. Many farmers markets are now accepting food stamps, so this is an opportunity most everyone can join in on.
You vote three times a day when you choose the foods for your meals. Will you vote for the system that is systematically destroying your health, animal welfare and the planet... or will you support those who are changing the world for the better, one meal at a time?