By Dr. Mercola
“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.” That’s a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who clearly knew something most people, including farmers, have since forgotten.
The truth is, to feed the world, we must feed the soil. One of the best ways to prevent global disaster, save our health, and build a sustainable economy is through regenerative agriculture. This isn’t a luxury we can put on the backburner. Changes must begin immediately.
A major part of the problem we now face is that our agricultural practices have removed massive amounts of valuable carbon from land, transferring it into air and water where it does more harm than good.
By paying greater attention to carbon management, we have the opportunity to make a dramatic difference in this area, which is having major negative consequences to our agriculture, and the pollution of our air and water.
But carbon management is but one aspect of cultivating healthy soil. We must also address the harm being done by agricultural chemicals, which have replaced natural methods of pest control and fertilization used since the beginning of agriculture.
Not only are agricultural chemicals decimating our soils, they’re also killing off bees, butterflies, and other flora and fauna. An estimated 60 percent of the world’s ecological systems are nearing collapse,1 yet industry continues to turn a blind eye to the destruction.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service2 (NRCS), which is part of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is taking an active role in teaching farmers about the importance of soil health, as discussed in the featured video.
Grass fed and pastured products are high in demand these days. Unfortunately, we are importing much of these goods from Australia due to USDA processing restrictions that have eliminated the ability to sell local meat products.
We subsidize the worst foods and crops produced by the largest companies and farms, while making it less affordable or restricting the abilities of smaller farmers to sell their higher quality products directly to consumers.
GE Crop Fields are Dead Fields...
There’s a big difference between living soil, capable of nourishing healthy plant growth, and chemically cultivated land that is quite literally devoid of life.
A couple of years ago, science writer Craig Childs decided to replicate a photo project by David Littschwager, who spent years traveling the world photographing anything and everything that entered the one-cubic-foot metal frames he dropped into gardens, streams, parks, forests, and oceans.
Around the world, Littschwager’s camera captured thousands of plants, animals, and insects within the cubes. Childs decided to replicate the photographic “critter census” in a corn field in Grundy County, Iowa.
The result was shocking. He found no signs of life with the exception of an isolated spider, a single red mite, and a couple grasshoppers among the genetically engineered corn stalks on the 600 acre farm. In an article documenting Childs adventure, Robert Krulwich writes:4
“It felt like another planet entirely,” Childs said. “I listened and heard nothing, no birds, no clicks from insects. There were no bees. The air, the ground, seemed vacant.
Yet, 100 years ago, these same fields, these prairies, were home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds, hundreds and hundreds of insects.
This soil was the richest, the loamiest in the state. And now, in these patches, there is almost literally nothing but one kind of living thing. We’ve erased everything else.”
Chemical Agriculture Is Toxic Agriculture
More than one billion pounds of pesticides are used in the US each year, an amount that has quintupled since 1945. As with antibiotic overuse, the onslaught of pesticides and herbicide to combat pests has led to the development of weeds and bugs that are now resistant to the chemicals.
The answer to increasing resistance has been to apply greater amounts of chemicals just to keep up.
Now we’re also facing the next-generation of genetically engineered (GE) plants designed to withstand even more toxic chemicals, including 2,4-D (an Agent Orange ingredient), and dicamba.
Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, has found that rapidly increasing weed resistance is driving up the volume of herbicide needed by about 25 percent annually.
The approvals of 2,4-D and dicamba resistant GE crops could drive it up by another 50 percent, according to research published in Environmental Sciences Europe.5
That we cannot continue on this path should be self-evident, yet the chemical industry keeps the sham going. In a 2012 report6 by the Weed Science Society of America, the authors made the following opening remarks:
“It is clear to most weed scientists who are involved in herbicide research, and even those who are not, that the best way to reduce selection pressure for herbicide resistance is to minimize herbicide use.
However, the ‘solutions’ that have emerged in most recent meetings on herbicide resistance have usually involved more herbicide use...
To an unbiased observer, it would appear that many weed emperors are wearing no clothes. Are we as a weed science discipline choosing to ignore true integrated solutions to the herbicide resistance problem?...
Surely, weed management diversity involves more than herbicide diversity. ‘Respect the rotation’ should mean more than the herbicide rotation.”
Chemical Technology Industry Survives by Deflecting the Problems They’ve Created
Indeed, junk food companies and pesticide producers have become quite good at deflecting issues to maintain their position in the marketplace. Chronic disease is rampant through our society, yet the food system takes little blame for these deadly offenses.
They’ve used the flawed calorie in/calorie out formula to guilt-trip Americans into believing it is solely a lack of exercise that has created this epidemic of chronic illness, not the junk food they’ve carefully formulated to be highly addictive, and which they market using some of the most insidious and potent marketing techniques ever devised.
In addition to being contaminated with toxic chemicals and foreign proteins, courtesy of genetic engineering, the nutrient content of foods has also dramatically declined as a result of deteriorating soils. For example, as explained by Dr. August Dunning, chief science officer and co-owner of Eco Organics, in order to receive the same amount of iron you used to get from one apple in 1950, by 1998 you had to eat 26 apples!
One of the primary reasons food doesn’t taste as good as it used to is also related to the deterioration of soil health. Soil minerals actually form the compounds that give the fruit or vegetable its flavor. All of these issues go back to the health of the soil in which the food is grown. Agricultural chemicals destroy the health of the soil by killing off its microbial inhabitants, which is one of the primary problems with modern farming, and the reason why the nutritional quality of conventionally-grown foods is deteriorating. Hence, more chemicals are NOT the answer, and never will be.
Food Production Now Threatens Human and Environmental Health...
Instead of being a cherished source of nutrition and an affirmation of life itself, our chemical-based agriculture system is destroying our soil, draining our aquifers for irrigation, contaminating our waters with fertilizers and pesticides, polluting our air, exterminating bees, butterflies, and other wildlife, and destroying beneficial microbes both in the soil and in our bodies... Yet the food and pesticide industries not only manage to avoid accountability, they also devise “solutions” that further increase their own profits while worsening the problem they created in the first place!
For example, while the pesticide industry insists that the answer to weed and pest resistance is a new, more lethal concoction of toxins, these toxins end up all over the place—in soil, water, and on your plate. What kind of solution is that? According to the latest USGS water quality survey, pesticide contamination is pervasive in streams nationwide.7 Streams are divided into agricultural, urban and mixed-use categories.
Half of mixed-use streams and nearly two-thirds of agricultural streams have pesticide concentrations exceeding the safety limit for aquatic life. A whopping 90 percent of urban streams now have pesticide concentrations exceeding aquatic life limits. This is an increase from 50 percent in the decade between 1992 and 2001. Furthermore, in the EPA’s 2000 National Water Quality Inventory,8 states across the nation reported that agricultural nonpoint source (NPS) pollution was the leading source of water quality impacts on surveyed rivers and lakes, and a major contributor to contamination of surveyed estuaries and ground water.
Over a billion people in the world have no access to safe drinking water, while 80 percent of the world’s fresh water supply is used for agriculture. Soil is also depleting 13 percent faster than it can be replaced, and we’ve lost 75 percent of the world's crop varieties in just the last 100 years. Overall, the situation is not sustainable for much longer. We simply must change the way we grow crops and raise livestock if we want to survive as a species.
Can the World Recover from the GMO Lie?
The chemical technology industry is quite skilled at turning lemons into lemonade. The extent of their creativity would be admirable if it wasn’t so devious and dangerous, and their effectiveness is well-tested. Across large parts of the globe, they’ve built monopolistic monocultures married with an ever-increasing need for more pesticides, claiming this is the only way to feed the world... Yet facts and figures keep revealing that such claims are overblown, if not outright false. As noted in a recent report by the USDA's Economic Research Service:9
“Over the first 15 years of commercial use, GE [genetically-engineered] seeds have not been shown to increase yield potentials of the varieties. In fact, the yields of herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant seeds may be occasionally lower than the yields of conventional varieties.”
There are indeed viable solutions to world hunger, but it involves neither genetic engineering nor chemicals. Indeed, genetic engineering doesn’t even fill a true need. For example, conventional plant breeding is turning out high-performance plants that are naturally more drought resistant,10 and this is done without the unnatural insertion of genes that have never existed in a plant before. We also need to stop senseless food waste that feeds landfills instead of people, animals, and soil. As reported by The Washington Post:11
“In 2012, the most recent year for which estimates are available, Americans threw out roughly 35 million tons of food, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That's almost 20 percent more food than the United States tossed out in 2000, 50 percent more than in 1990, and nearly three times what Americans discarded in 1960, when the country threw out a now seemingly paltry 12.2 million tons. In 1980, food waste accounted for less than 10 percent of total waste; today, it makes up well over a fifth of the country's garbage. Americans, as it is, now throw out more food than plastic, paper, metal, or glass—and by a long shot.”
Degenerative agriculture is the obvious problem; regenerative agriculture is the simple solution. We will be quite close to that goal once we reach a grass-fed milk and beef tipping point12--when enough people choose grass-fed animal products over the fare from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The reason why I say that is because grazing livestock on pasture is part and parcel of sustainable, regenerative agriculture.
By mimicking the natural behavior of migratory herds of wild grazing animals—meaning allowing livestock to graze freely, and moving the herd around in specific patterns—farmers can support nature's efforts to regenerate and thrive. This kind of land management system promotes the reduction of atmospheric CO2 by sequestering it back into the soil where it can do a lot of good. Once in the earth, the CO2 can be safely stored for hundreds of years, and adds to the soil's fertility. Another major tipping point for change can occur once GE foods are labeled, so that all Americans have a better chance of making informed purchasing decisions.