The Fruits of Civilization – Food Production

Food Production

“To die of hunger is the bitterest of fates.” ~ Homer, in the Odyssey

The climate turned cold in North Africa and the Fertile Crescent 12,800 years ago. Forests and woodlands dwindled. Small stands of wild grasses and other seed foods became an increasingly valuable food source.

Drier weather drove people to better-watered locations. Increased population density focused efforts on bettering food production.

Early agriculture was a survival strategy. Plant and animal domestication for food began in response to bitter climatic elements that would eventually relent. Crop cultivation was a response to overexploitation of local resources by a growing population.

Agriculture engendered settled communities. This undoubtedly intensified conflict between neighboring tribes for the best land and water rights. Disputes were especially acute when harvests were paltry.

Food has long been a check on population growth, and a spur to diaspora. The oomycete that caused potato blight in Ireland in the late 1840s traveled by ship from America. The resulting famine sparked an Irish diaspora, which sent many back to the fungus’ source.

Early scholars documented farming techniques during the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Much of what was believed about soil and nutrition was incorrect, but it provided the foundation for farming during the medieval period. As these ideas remained much the same from Greco-Roman times until the 19th century, crop yields stayed low.

There were many incremental improvements to food production in the Middle Ages. The heavy plow was invented in the 6th century; an innovation which spread across Europe over the course of the next 4 centuries.

The benefit of such metal implements was alloyed. Using iron plows polluted the soil, and the food that was harvested using such tools. Heavy metal pollution in the South China Sea from inland farming was significant as early as 4,000 years ago.

Monasteries in medieval Europe acted as agricultural knowledge centers. Nonetheless, growing populations were fed only by increasing the acreage of land under cultivation. Continuous cultivation of the same area lowered soil fertility.

Despite mechanical improvements, the pressure of population spelled soil overexploitation, and established a vicious cycle. Soil fertility in arable fields could only be maintained via animal manures, but the supply of livestock was limited by lack of fodder crops. Animals had to be slaughtered in the autumn because of an acute shortage of winter feed. As livestock population declined, so too fertilizer supply, and with it crop yields.

For almost everyone, food meant vegetables. Meat was rare except for the upper class. China was no different than Europe on this account. Only near rivers or on the coast was fish ever on the menu; and then, even by the 16th century, signs of overfishing were apparent.

Grain to feed livestock was scarce. Where animals were kept, their output was low. A medieval cow produced less than 20% of the milk and 25% of the meat of a modern one.

Exchanges between Christians and Muslims in medieval times were fruitful, both in new crops and farming techniques. Arabs introduced the Europeans to the benefits of slave labor for intensive cultivation on plantations: a model carried forward to the New World that afforded white American prosperity, especially in the Old South.

Malnutrition meant that mortality remained high. In the late 17th century, over 20% of French infants died before their 1st birthday, half before they were 20, and only 10% survived to the age of 60. In the 2,000 years before the 20th century, there were famines in China every year in at least 1 province. Until around 2 centuries ago, in every part of the world, nearly everyone lived on the edge of starvation.

 The Passenger Pigeon

Early European settlers in North America frequently commented on the vast numbers of graceful blue pigeons that filled the skies. One of the first settlers in Virginia remarked:

There are wild pigeons in winter beyond number or imagination, so thick that even have they shadowed the sky from us.

Passenger pigeons could live in such huge populations as they lacked natural predators, apart from hawks and eagles. But these pigeons were surprisingly vulnerable to humans. As a female laid only one egg a year, losses were not readily replaced. Nesting in vast colonies and migrating in huge flocks rendered the birds easy to attack.

Native Americans captured passenger pigeons in large nets. By the 1630s, European settlers were doing the same. The scale of human slaughter was limited until the early 1850s, when railroads linked the Great Lakes with New York. Then it took only 50 years – supplying cheap meat to the East Coast – to wipe the passenger pigeon out; a species that once numbered in the billions.

Wild passenger pigeons were gone around 1900, when the last birds in Ohio succumbed. Martha, the pathetic last passenger pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.


Until the age of machines most of humanity labored in agriculture. In 1850, half of the British and American populations worked the land. The number of people involved in farming only declined as it became more automated.

Agricultural production doubled 4 times between 1820 and 1975: during 1820–1920, 1920–1950, 1950–1965, and again 1965–1975. Most of the increased production owed to more land under cultivation and more intensive practices. From 1700 from 2000, global pastureland increased 680% and cropland by 560%. At the end of the 20th century, agriculture coveted 1/3rd of the world’s vegetated area. Agricultural productivity increase otherwise owed to improved cultivars, and to slathering synthetic chemicals onto crops, especially after the 2nd World War.

Until the 19th century, farms were dependent upon composts and manures for fertilizer. In China and Japan, farms near cities used the ‘night soil’ collected by efficient cleaning organizations. In the 1820s, the input that allowed the first boost in agricultural productivity was the importation into Europe of guano (bat droppings) from huge deposits off the Pacific coast of Latin America.

The first departure from natural fertilizer came in 1842, when English farmer John Lawes applied sulfuric acid to phosphate rock and produced the first artificial fertilizer. With scant supply of suitable rock, Europeans imported from Florida, Morocco, and Thailand. The Soviet Union used slave labor from their gulags on the Kola peninsula. The Australians wrecked the landscapes of Nauru and Ocean Island for phosphate rock.

German chemist Fritz Haber devised an artificial process to obtain usable nitrogen based upon ammonia synthesis in 1909, which was then developed by 1913 on an industrial scale by German chemist Carl Bosch. But it was not until the 2nd half of the 20th century that artificial nitrogen fertilizer became widespread, owing to the considerable energy required to produce it.

Most of the fertilizer was wasted: at least half of it simply ran off the soil into water courses, where it wrecked environmental havoc. That did not deter its application. Fertilizer use rose 10-fold in western Europe 1910–2000 while crop production only doubled.

Better living through chemistry proved a chimera. The short-lived productivity boon of the Green Revolution was spent as its ersatz alchemy exhausted the soil.

“The global food system is broken.” ~ English population ecologist Tim Benton

The situation for food production now is far from sanguine. Some 40% of Earth’s land surface is already given over to agriculture, and that figure continues to rise. The system to feed humanity emits 1/3rd of man-made greenhouse gases.

“Expansion of land area used for agriculture is a leading cause of biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the tropics.” ~ English zoologist Ben Phalan et al

In the US, over 70% of the land is devoted to agriculture and commercial forestry. 800,000 hectares are lost every year to erosion and other soil degradation. 400,000 hectares annually are taken for human habitation, highways, and industry.

Historically, the best farmlands were foreclosed by cities and roads; a universal truism, as the flattest acreage with a good water supply is the first choice for land development.

Japan is exemplary. A mountainous island chain with only 6% of its land arable, Tokyo and surrounding cities sprawl over the Kantō plain, once the country’s most fertile soil, along with the Osaka Plain, home to the cities of Kyoto and Osaka.

“Most of the best lands are already cultivated. How can we continue to produce food from the land while preventing negative environmental consequences, such as deforestation, water pollution, and soil erosion?” ~ Indian agricultural geographer Navin Ramankutty

Food Waste

“Waste: its prevalence throughout the entire food system and its extent are truly astonishing, its perpetuation is among the most offensive demonstrations of human irrationality.” ~ Czech Canadian environmental scientist Vaclav Smil

Perhaps the single most important fact about food is how much of it is wasted. Food is typically treated as a disposable commodity: a tradition dating to antiquity.

“Waste is a product of food surplus, and surplus has been the foundation for human success for over 10,000 years. Everything we call civilization depends upon it.” ~ English environmental scientist Tristram Stuart

Half of the food produced in the US goes uneaten, at least 1/3rd globally. The higher a country’s standard of living, the more food it wastes. For instance, Britons threw away 720 million edible eggs in 2018.

“In poor countries, food loss is primarily due to the lack of storage and transport; while in wealthy nations, food waste is a result of profligacy and inefficiencies toward the end of the food supply chain.” ~ United Nations

The massive level of food waste equals the acreage of land under cultivation because of economic inefficiency in the market system.

“By wasting food, we are funding the extension of agriculture into forests, wetlands, and natural grasslands.” ~ Tristram Stuart

The human food chain illustrates the inanity of market-based economics.

In one day, a supermarket can easily throw out enough to feed over a hundred people. Supermarkets will deliberately overstock because they believe that shoppers like to see full shelves, which give the illusion of infinite abundance. ~ Tristram Stuart

With a more rational socioeconomic organization, the tremendous pressure on the world’s ecosystems that exists today might not have arisen, and people would lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

“Let nothing be wasted.” ~ John 6:12, The Bible, quoting Jesus Christ

 Fish Discards

People eat over $140 billion worth of seafood each year. Abetted by government subsidies, worldwide fishing catch rose from 20 million tonnes in 1950 to a peak of 93 million tonnes in 1995, where it has hovered since, with fluctuations of a few million tonnes.

1950–2015, the global fishing fleet doubled: from 1.7 to 3.7 million vessels. The trend has been to larger motorized ships capable of larger hauls. Fishing fleet expansion continues despite declining productivity.

Over the last 65 years, more and more fishing vessels are chasing fewer fish. ~ Australian marine ecologist Yannick Rousseau in 2019

Fished-out species have been replaced by others which were once considered non-commercial. The exploitation is unrelenting.

Though industrial techniques haul in more fish, fishing fleets have become less efficient. Ships now use at least twice as much energy to catch a tonne of fish as they did in 1950.

Commercial fishermen have specific species in mind when they go out. Unwanted sea life is discarded.

Chucking away valuable species is routine. Sardines are not appreciated in some European countries, and so are discarded. Meanwhile, fleets from other countries go out to catch sardines.

Specific species quotas to prevent overfishing are ineffective in making fishing sustainable. If a vessel hauls in more than its quota, it throws back the rest.

“Discards also happen because of a nasty practice known as high-grading, where fishers continue fishing even after they’ve caught a boatload of fish that they can sell. If they catch bigger fish, they throw away the smaller ones; they usually can’t keep both loads because they run out of freezer space or go over their quota.” ~ Australian marine conservationist Dirk Zeller

All told, at least half of what is caught is jettisoned. 75% of the fish thrown back perish. For every kilogram of shrimp caught, over 10 kilos of marine life is lost.

The waste is growing. Fish stocks are exploited faster than they can regenerate. Thus, the catch increasingly comprises smaller fish, which are thrown back, creating through waste a vicious cycle of productive decline.

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27% of the fish caught never make to anyone’s plate. 90% of the fish used for fishmeal is suitable for human consumption.

 Farmed Fish

Wild fish catch must inexorably decline. Caught seafood is increasingly being replaced by fish farming, which began in the 1950s. In 2015, 80 million tonnes of seafood came from aquaculture. That figure is bound to grow.

Farming fish does not relieve pressure on wild fish stocks. To the contrary. While some smaller farmed fish are fed corn and soy, the most popular species, such as salmon and tuna, require a fish-based diet. Hence, aquaculture largely relies upon a steady supply of caught fish.

Aquaculture is industrialized. The environmental and nutritional results have been predictable.

Caged fish foul the sea around their pens. Fish waste and uneaten feed litter the sea floor beneath aquafarms, generating bacteria that consume oxygen vital to shellfish and other bottom dwellers.

Fish farm waste promotes algal growth that reduces oxygen in the water, posing risks to nearby coral reefs and other aquatic life. But this is just the beginning.

As concentrated targets for viruses, fish farms spread disease and sea lice. To counteract this, antibiotics and pesticides are dumped into the water, poisoning the area around aquaculture farms.

The pesticide that kills sea lice is lethal to other marine invertebrates. This toxic blanket persists in the water for hours and may diffuse for a kilometer around the farm.

All told, the environmental costs of aquaculture have been estimated to be half their production value. Like most other capitalist enterprises, these are costs that fish farmers do not have to pay, but societies will eventually.

Fish regularly escape their pens. Many interbreed with wild varieties, producing hybrids that can be less capable of survival.

Farmed fish are typically less nutritious than their wild cousins and are stocked with antibiotics and pesticides. Farmed salmon have less than half the healthy omega-3 fats that are a principal benefit of eating fish.

Junk Food

“Americans are consuming way too many sugary foods. Nearly 40% of US adults are obese, and less than 20% attain recommendations for fruits and vegetables.” ~ American epidemiologist Amy Auchincloss

Much of what is sold in supermarkets as food hardly qualifies: it may sustain, but hardly counts as nutritious. Processed foods are seldom wholesome, nor is meat nor milk products.

This is the greatest food waste: consumption of unhealthy substances instead of fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Further, from a societal well-being standpoint, the economics are all wrong: junk food is cheap.

“Healthier, perishable foods are nearly twice as expensive as unhealthy packaged foods.” ~ American epidemiologist David Kern


Planting seeds requires breaking ground. From 3000 bce into the 20th century, humans had draught animals dragging plows to till the soil. Plows improved, and oxen gave way to horses, but the relationship continued until the machine age. Then animal draught went to naught.


While they might power factories, steam engines were uneconomic on the farm. The advent of the internal combustion engine brought the tractor into service.

From a promising start, tractors became more efficient and useful. Power takeoff was introduced in 1918, allowing a tractor’s engine to power an implement.

The tricycle tractor (1924) enabled farmers to cultivate planted crops mechanically. Rubber tires (1932) facilitated faster operations. Pulling power got a boost from the late 1950s by using 4-wheel drives and diesel engines.

Once introduced, the number of tractors leapt dramatically in developed countries, especially the United States. In 1907, 600 tractors were in use in America. By 1950, the US tractor population had grown to nearly 3.4 million.

Beyond the vast American fields, the other state to hop onto tractors was the Soviet Union, which forcibly collectivized its farming in the 1930s. These huge farms needed tractors aplenty. Their production and use became a fetish in Stalin’s era.

European enthusiasm for tractors and other mechanized farm implements trailed that of the Americans and Russians. In 1950, Germany still employed 2 million horses on its farms. Only 3% of the cows in western Europe were being milked by machine in 1950; by 1980, only 3% were hand milked.

Implements specialized for different crops greatly improved productivity. Cotton is noteworthy. Mechanization after World War 2 substantially reduced the effort needed to cultivate what had been a labor-intensive crop. The last innovations were in upsizing: gigantic tractors with double tires on each wheel and air-conditioned cabs that could pull several gangs of plows.

US Agriculture

Agriculture as a way of life has been replaced by agriculture as an industry, driven by the goals of efficiency and productivity. Among the most profound changes has been a major departure from the core values of traditional farming. ~ American bioethicist and philosopher Bernard Rollin

America was long an agrarian society with urban centers. This held true into the 20th century.

In 1935, 54% of the population lived on 6.8 million farms. But the situation in American agriculture was not sanguine. From the late 19th century, US farmers politically banded together to fight industrial interests that threatened family livelihoods with their exploitative inequities. Grain merchants, meatpackers, banks, and railroads commonly vied against farmers’ interests.

Though central to the nation’s prosperity, farmers were fighting a losing battle. In 1850, farmers owned almost 75% of US wealth. By 1890 it was 25%.

By the turn of the 20th century, there was a running political battle between populist interests supportive of farmers and corporate interests that were tightening their grip on the economy. Meanwhile, the onset of the new century was prosperous for many farmers: prices increased as the number of farms declined.

Government policies to prop up food prices encouraged farmers to produce staggering surpluses during the 1st World War. Prices crashed in 1920, as European battlefields again became farm fields.

Wartime price supports in the US withered. President Wilson lowered tariffs to encourage imports, and so help Europe recover.

As world prices for grains and cotton collapsed, farms across the country went bankrupt. The Roaring Twenties were anything but for rural farming communities, as agricultural prices were half that of wartime levels. The Great Depression arrived early in the countryside.

On top of the depression, the Dust Bowl was an especial blow to farming in North America. Both were the creations of men’s folly.

Though President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs during the Great Depression have often been portrayed as socialist, they were in fact desperate moves to save capitalism. Roosevelt feared an alignment of farmers, labor unions, and the unemployed could become a potent political force that could organize a socialist revolution. So, he set about undercutting the coalition.

The New Deal was one of many blows against a rising socialist wave. The campaign continued into the 1950s with a variety of tactics by establishment politicians. Congressional persecution of ‘communist’ celebrities was one stratagem.

In 1942, corporate interests created the Committee for Economic Development (CED). It came to be one of the most powerful economic interests in the nation, dedicated to “action by government working with the free market, not against it.”

One of CED’s founders was American businessman Paul Hoffman, who became responsible for administering the Marshall Plan: the extensive American aid program for European nations after World War 2. Hoffman served as president of the Ford Foundation in the early 1950s, where he leveraged his power to accelerate the Green Revolution.

The dysfunctional food system that we suffer from today is the result of long-standing farm and food policies that were first proposed by some of the most powerful men in the country shortly after World War 2. These men envisioned a future in which most young rural men would supply cheap labor for manufacturing in the industrial North rather than continuing to farm, and in which a small number of large industrialized farms would supply the necessary food.

“They foresaw a future in which food production would be globalized for economic efficiency and the ‘free market’ would create the cheap inputs necessary for processed food. The visions that these powerful men had in the late 1940s and early 1950s were eventually enshrined in federal farm policy and in global trade agreements.” ~ American anthropologist Wenonah Hauter

The Green Revolution

These developments in the field of agriculture contain the markings of a new revolution – the Green Revolution. ~ American biologist William Gaud in 1968, on behalf of the US Agency for International Development (AID)

The Green Revolution was a period of agritech development and international transfer that transpired between the late 1930s and late 1960s. It began by introducing hardy strains of wheat and rice into developing countries.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Green Revolution was promoted as the solution to world hunger. ~ American geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer

The Green Revolution spread agricultural technologies that were known but not widely implemented outside industrialized nations. These included more robust and higher-yield cultivars (cultivated plant varieties), modern irrigation projects, synthetic fertilizer, and pesticides. The idea was to have farms become factories, with plants as the slave labor.

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Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. ~ Thomas Malthus

Prior to the Green Revolution, many developing countries struggled to feed their burgeoning populations. India was exemplary. Famines were frequent there from the 1940s to the 1970s. Due to faulty food distribution and inept governmental policies, farmers were not adequately compensated for their labors.

A majority of the Indian population did not get enough food. Malnutrition and starvation were a huge problem. The Indian government fostered this disaster by not providing financing to family farmers.

In terms of sheer productivity, the Green Revolution was a success. Cereal production more than doubled 1960–1985. But the externalities to Green Revolution were extensive.

The greater abundance of food in the developing world provoked a burgeoning birth rate. World population increased 32% 1960–1985, from 3.3 to 4.85 billion.

The Green Revolution’s sole focus was on the business of food supply, which is only part of the hunger equation. Food security – people’s access to food – remained shaky in neglected pockets throughout the world.

Hunger has always been political. ~ English agricultural ecologist Gordon Conway

There is more than enough food for everyone. The problem is distribution. The quarter of the world’s population that live in industrialized countries eat half the food; and even in those countries, hunger is commonplace. Meanwhile, the poorest countries export their food to the richest. Plutocratic control guarantees chronic food shortages and bouts of starvation in Africa.

That hunger still occurs is a product of economics and politics, not a paucity of food production nor the means to deliver it. This is nothing new: selective undernourishment has been on the agenda of political regimes for millennia.

In 2017, over 820 million people worldwide went hungry, and 1/3rd of the world’s population were undernourished. Hunger continues everywhere, even in developed countries.

In 2015, 50 million Americans (15%) did not get enough to eat, including nearly 25% of the nation’s children: some 17 million. Despite occasional noble pledges, American governments have been ineffectual, if not downright indifferent, about caring for its people most in need.

We have the means to wipe hunger and poverty from the face of the Earth in our lifetime. ~ American President John Kennedy in 1963

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Though agricultural output soared during the Green Revolution, the energy required to produce a crop shot up even faster. Food production became beholden to fossil fuels.

The globalization of food production in the wake of the Green Revolution was engendered by the availability of cheap hydrocarbons. The fuel that powers tractors is just the beginning. Fertilizers are generated from natural gas. The pesticides that protect monoculture crops from devastating infestations are derived from petrol.

Fossil fuels are not the only nonrenewable resources required for the intensive cultivation brought on by the Green Revolution. Phosphorus is an essential mineral nutrient that is often a limiting factor in crop cultivation.

Phosphorus mines are rapidly being depleted worldwide. ~80% of the phosphorus mined is wasted in application. Recycling and more judicious use would help, but that is not happening. Resource efficiency is something humans have never been good at.

Phosphorus has no substitute in food production. Mobilizing phosphate rock into the environment at rates vastly faster than the natural cycle has not only polluted many of the world’s freshwater bodies and oceans but has also created a human dependence on a single nonrenewable resource. Phosphorus security is emerging as one of the 21st century’s greatest global sustainability challenges. ~ Australian resource scientists Dana Cordell & Stuart White

The Green Revolution reduced agricultural biodiversity. Its simplistic technological approach ignored the importance of soil quality and the risk of susceptibility to disease in monoculture crops.

The polycultures of traditional agricultural systems evolved because more yield can be harvested from a given area planted with diverse crops than from an equivalent area consisting of separate patches of monocultures. ~ Indian environmental scientist Vandana Shiva

Monocultures rapidly degrade soil quality by depleting nutrients in the earth. Weak soil cannot support healthy plant growth.

Normal chemical fertilizers are far too simple: a plant’s mineral requirements are many times wider in range. By giving only 2 or 3 which stimulate bulk growth, others, equally important, are exhausted, leading to unbalanced nutrition of the plant and often, through their solubility, to serious environmental pollution. ~ English organic farmer Eve Balfour

Because farming methods that depend heavily on chemical fertilizers do not maintain the soil’s natural fertility and because pesticides generate resistant pests, farmers need ever more fertilizers and pesticides just to achieve the same results. ~ American agricultural ecologist Peter Rosset et al

Fields become dependent on their fertilizer supplements in a manner suggestive of drug addiction. By contrast, organic fields develop an increasing biological vigour which enables them to be self-supporting. ~ Eve Balfour

The intensive practices of industrialized agriculture quickly strip the soil of nutrients and deplete easily accessible water supplies. As a result, the need for hydrocarbon-based inputs must increase, along with increasingly energy-intensive irrigation. Without hydrocarbons, much of the world’s farmlands would quickly become unproductive. ~ Dale Allen Pfeiffer

Synthetic fertilizer is a pollutant: damaging the soil and contaminating nearby freshwater and groundwater for a century or more after its last application. This false fertilizer also emits ammonia into the air, creating a toxic pollutant.

Monocropping engenders the spread of agricultural pests and diseases, the threat of which is treated with yet more chemicals: all of which are poisonous to animals and detrimental to Nature.

The Green Revolution expanded agricultural development into lands which were once unproductive. This spelled further environmental destruction. For example, seed varieties were developed that permitted cultivation in sensitive Brazilian ecosystems, which were deforested and stripped of natural wildlife to render cropland.

The Green Revolution set agriculture on an unsustainable path. Its techniques of monocropping and petrochemical dependence degraded the soil, producing higher yields only for a short duration.

Green Revolution-style farming is not ecologically sustainable, even for large farmers. After achieving dramatic increases in the early stages of the technological transformation, yields began falling. ~ Peter Rosset et al

Approaching the end of the 20th century, agricultural productivity slowed markedly. From 1950 to 1990, productivity rose 2% a year. From 1990 to 2000, yield growth was only 1%; a figure that continues to decline in the 21st century.

Land for grain production peaked in 1981 and has since declined as a result of environmental degradation. World cereal production plateaued in 1994. From 1999, world grain stocks have been on a decidedly downward trend.

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The Green Revolution was largely an American government-sponsored initiative. Its most vigorous efforts took place during the Cold War, when “Americanism versus Communism” was taught in US public schools.

The primary objective of the program was geopolitical: to provide food for the populace in undeveloped countries and so bring social stability and weaken the fomenting of communist insurgency. ~ American historian Mark Dowie

The Green Revolution weakened socialist movements in many nations. In countries such as India, Mexico, and the Philippines, technological solutions were sought as an alternative to agrarian reform, which was often linked to socialist politics.

The Green Revolution significantly altered the socioeconomic dynamics of agriculture. Its emphasis on mechanization and chemical treatments rewarded larger farms.

Small farms produce more agricultural output per unit area than large farms. ~ American ecologist Andrew Kimbrell

The dynamic of the Green Revolution in developing countries was dramatic. As crop prices dropped, smaller farmers could not keep up. They went into debt, which often meant the loss of their farmland.

Rural employment dropped. Rural income disparities ratcheted as monoculture plantations proliferated.

The economic difficulties for small farm holders and landless farm workers led to urban migration. The infusion of a cheap labor pool into cities increased the potential for industrialization and its attendant exploitation by capitalists.

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“Agriculture’s chief need is a reduction of the number of people. Fewer workers in agriculture, working a smaller number of farms of greater size. Farm prices governed by free market forces.” ~ The Committee for Economic Development (CED)

In the US, the Green Revolution went hand-in-hand with the CED plan to accelerate exodus from rural life, both as a boost to agribusiness and to create a labor pool for industry. This was accomplished in part by abolishing government parity policies which succored small farms, replacing them with subsidies based on farm size.

The foundation for the CED plan was laid in 1953 when President Eisenhower appointed right-wing agricultural economist Ezra Benson as Secretary of Agriculture. Benson vehemently denounced New Deal farm programs as “socialism” and dismantled them; this after Eisenhower had campaigned on a platform of parity for farmers.

“Get big or get out.” ~ US Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz in 1972

From 1939 to 1959, the number of farms in the US fell 40%. These 2 decades were the dawn of mechanized agriculture on a vast scale, abetted by the slathering of pesticides on croplands. This came at the expense of small family farms, which could not compete with the industrialization of agriculture. The same gyre of dislocation that had occurred over a century earlier to cottage crafts brusquely buried those who had made their living growing healthsome crops.

Between 1950 and 1970, US farm population plummeted by over half. By the 21st century, farmers were less than 1% of the population.

Today, under a million farms produce most of the food grown in the US. Large-scale industrial operations – 12% of the farms – generate 88% of the value of production.

The large agribusiness corporations have replaced the world’s agricultural diversity, which was useful primarily to farmers and local consumers, with bioengineered and patented monocultures that are merely profitable to corporations. ~ Wendell Berry

American agribusiness has failed to feed the country. Over half of the fresh fruit eaten in the United States is imported, up from 23% in 1975. 1/3rd of the fresh vegetables that end up on American dining tables have a foreign origin; in 1975, less than 6% were imported.

At least 10% of imported produce violates US federal standards for pesticide residues, compared with 2.2% for domestic fruit and 3.8% for domestic vegetables.

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“Overall, modern industrialised agriculture is highly energy-inefficient.” ~ Clive Ponting

The most energy-efficient agriculture is rice growing in the paddy fields of southeast Asia, where output is ~50 times greater than the input. Other traditional agricultural systems are also highly efficient, producing 20 times the energy consumed in growing crops. In contrast, at best, modern cereal farming reaps only about 2 times the energy input for fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and machinery.

Industrial agriculture is becoming less energy efficient. 1952–1972, energy inputs rose 70% for a 30% food production increase. Energy inputs to grow corn in the US rose 400% 1945–1970 while yields went up only 138%; a 0.345 benefit/cost ratio. That ratio has dropped considerably since. The energy efficiency of American corn production has fallen 60% since 1900.

Livestock production in the industrialized world consumes 2 to 3 times as much energy as it produces.

On top of the energy costs in food production are the costs incurred in processing and distributing food, which take 3 times as much energy as producing food. Such inefficiencies reflect the cost of disorganized societies under capitalism.

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“There is not one grain of anything in the world that is sold in the free market. Not one. The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.” ~ American agribusiness executive Dwayne Andreas

After World War 2, western governments, with the US at the forefront, established multinational organizations to facilitate economic cooperation, both in finance and trade. The World Trade Organization (WTO) was established in 1995, replacing an earlier trade agreement protocol.

The WTO’s structure promotes commerce at the expense of other societal goals. As the final arbiter of trade disputes, the WTO almost always rules in favor of business interests, restraining member countries from having health, safety, or environmental rules that companies contend impede trade. ~ Wenonah Hauter

The centerpiece of negotiations leading to the creation of the WTO was agriculture, which has been the most contested facet of continuing talks. The founding Agricultural Agreement (AA) was crafted by multinational food companies. It requires that countries enable “market access” by banning policies and practices historically used to control the quality and volume of imports.

“AA rules allow the largest agribusiness companies to move operations overseas to where production is cheapest, to compete unfairly with local producers, and to pursue a global race to the bottom for farm prices. Policies that ensure fair prices for farmers are considered trade barriers.” ~ Wenonah Hauter

WTO trade rules are designed to help agribusiness produce crops where labor and other costs are the cheapest, and environmental laws the weakest. Hence, food production has increasingly moved to the developing world.

A dramatic decline in farm income in developed and developing countries alike has been the norm under the WTO, causing indebtedness and foreclosures in rich countries and loss of livelihoods and hunger in poor countries. ~ American trade analyst Lori Wallach

The WTO requires that laws mitigating hazards, such as pesticides, bacterial contamination, use of hormones in feedstock, and safety regulations, must be justified by expensively impractical risk-assessment procedures. WTO trade rules have forced countries to accept genetically modified crops and meat with hormones even if they have laws prohibiting them.

The WTO corresponds with US government protocol: not to produce food efficiently in an environmentally sustainable way, or even for food to be safe to eat; instead, the overriding priority is to allow agricultural corporations to handsomely profit for delivering a facsimile of food.

“For millennia, countries around the world practiced self-sustaining, localized agriculture. An industrialized agriculture model is now being forced on these countries – a system dependent on massive chemical inputs, invasive technologies, and corporate control. This globalized agriculture has devastated the environment, farm communities, and farmers.” ~ American ecologist Debi Barker

Land Inequity & Food Production

Land as a primal source of inequity is especially noteworthy in developing countries. In Latin America, 2/3rds of the land is owned by 1.5% of landowners. Most folk are landless laborers: 1/3rd of the population has a hold on just 1% of the land. In Africa, 75% of the rural population own less than 4% of the land.

“World hunger is not created by lack of food but by poverty and landlessness, which deny people access to food. Industrial agriculture actually increases hunger by raising the cost of farming, by forcing tens of millions of farmers off the land, and by growing primarily high-profit export and luxury crops.” ~ Andrew Kimbrell

Apart from societal inequity, large-scale ownership regimes are inefficient: food output is lower than what it could be, as large landholdings concentrate on export crops, and do so in an intensely environmentally destructive way.

“The current agribusiness model benefits the few at the expense of the many: small-scale farmers, the essence of rural livelihoods and backbone of food production for millennia, are under immense stress from land degradation, insecure tenure, and a globalized food system that favors concentrated, large-scale, and highly mechanized farms.” ~ United Nations


Weeds and pests aren’t just ugly. They’re a threat. ~ American lawn-care provider TruGreen advertisement (2012)

In Nature, there are no pests. Humans label as pests any plants or animals that endanger our food supply, health, or comfort. To manage these pests we have pesticides. ~ American entomologist Keith Delaplane

Weeds are an index of what is wrong – and sometimes what is right – with the soil. Weeds shout out in understandable terms that something is wrong with the direction of decay of organic matter. ~ American agriculturist Charles Walters Jr.

Pesticides are chemicals intended as a biocide: a killer of life. Herbicides are the most widely used pesticide, followed by insecticides and fungicides. Pesticides are most commonly used to protect crops at the expense of all else in the environment.

Chemists concoct pesticides for efficacy on the intended pest. The externalities of pesticides, which are extensive, are an after-thought, if given any thought at all.

Ideally a pesticide must be lethal to the targeted pests, but not to non-target species, including man. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The rampant use of these chemicals, under the adage, “if little is good, a lot more will be better” has played havoc with human and other life forms. ~ Indian pesticide researcher Wasim Aktar et al

The most common pesticides are toxic and carcinogenic to humans. Developed in the 1950s and 1960s, and used extensively since, they ravage all animals’ nervous systems, and are also detrimental to plants.

Malathion is the most common insecticide: frequently used to treat fruit, vegetables, and plants for pests, as well as put on pets to remove ticks. Chlorpyrifos is employed to exterminate termites, mosquitoes, and roundworms. Diazinon is often used on cockroaches, ants, and fleas. All 3 are poisonous nerve agents, injurious to all animals in the same way they kill insects and other little critters, which suffer greater toxicity only owing to their tiny size.

The EPA has allowed chemical companies to register more than 16,000 pesticides without properly considering their impacts. These dangerous pesticides have been used without proper analysis for decades. ~ American environmental scientist Lori Ann Burd

Pesticides sprayed on fruits and vegetables accumulate on the outer skin; but the skin is not an impermeable barrier, and some pesticides are actually designed to be absorbed into the tissue of the fruit or vegetable. The produce most contaminated in the US are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes.


Famers have always lived at the mercy of the Nature they hope to exploit, determined to rule the land, yet subject to the vagaries of soil and sun, wind, and rain, to sudden outbreaks of crop diseases, to unpredictable invasions of insects and other pests. ~ American chemist James Whorton

The plying of pesticides extends into antiquity. Farmers in ancient Sumer dusted sulfur on their Mesopotamian crops 4,500 years ago. Contemporaneous Indian texts mention using poisonous plants for pest control.

Ancient Romans slayed insects by burning sulfur. Weeds were treated with salt.

By the 15th century, toxins such as arsenic, mercury, and lead were applied to crops to kill pests. In the 1600s, ants were fed a mixture of honey and arsenic.

Organic pesticides were also employed. Beyond their ample use as produce, plants have long been treasured as both medicines and toxins.

Pyrethrum, derived from chrysanthemum flowers, is an insecticide known since 400 bce. In the Middle East, pyrethrum Persian powder long served as a lice remedy.

Rotenone is got from the seeds and roots of tropical plants. It is a broad-spectrum killer that stymies electron transport in the mitochondria of cells. Rotenone had been used to poison fish for centuries before it became popular as an insecticide in the mid-19th century, particularly for caterpillars.

Chemists in the 17th century extracted nicotine sulfate from tobacco leaves as an insecticide. By the late 19th century, US farmers were applying a variety of chemicals to field crops to kill insects. The results were often unsatisfactory, owing to the primitive chemistry and inapt application.

The rise of modern pesticides began after World War 2, when a variety of potent formulas found favor. Among them were DDT and 2,4–D. These were products of government-sponsored research during the war: potent pesticides that were quickly adapted to civilian use when the guns stopped. The triumphalist rhetoric used to describe the war effort was readily translated into the need to fight and win the war on pests.

Get rid of weeds – now that chemistry had developed an easy, economic method for their destruction. ~ 1946 herbicide advertisement

These new chemicals were inexpensive and enormously popular. Americans were especially enthusiastic and naïve in their embrace of modern technologies and view of economic growth as progress. Another aspect was the mistaken assumption that increasing agricultural output was by definition good, and that this bounty was inextricably tied to modern techniques, particularly pesticides.

Airplanes swoop over a field leaving a trail of vapor, engaged in chemical warfare against crop-destroying pests. You’ll also see spray machines squirting selective chemicals which kill weeds but don’t harm the crops. ~ Saturday Evening Post (23 October 1954)

Lulled into a false sense of security about “better living through chemistry,” people liberally applied pesticides in pursuit of habitats “sterilized” of pests. In the 3 decades following World War 2, pesticide use in the US leapt tenfold.

By the end of the 20th century, the post-war chemical revolution was an entrenched institution. Synthetics of all sorts pervaded modern life. Pesticides were merely exemplary.

Since the mid-1940s, over 200 basic chemicals have been created for use in killing insects, weeds, rodents, and other organisms descried in the modern vernacular as “pests.” These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes – nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the “good” and the “bad,” to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil – all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the Earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called “insecticides,” but “biocides.” ~ American marine biologist Rachel Carson in Silent Spring (1962)

Under constant chemical attack, some victims developed genetic resistance. Meanwhile, the swath of environmental damage was far more than reckoned.


DDT is now so universally used that in most minds the product takes on the harmless aspect of the familiar. ~ Rachel Carson in 1962

DDT is a crystalline organochloride that is colorless, tasteless, and almost odorless. An organochloride is a class of compounds that are chlorinated hydrocarbons. Chlorination modifies a hydrocarbon’s properties, typically in ways sinister to life. In the case of DDT, a prevalent action is disrupting sodium activity in an animal’s nerve cells.

DDT was first synthesized in 1874. Swiss chemist Paul Müller discovered DDT’s apocalyptic insecticidal activity in 1939. Hailed as the means for winning the war against 6-legged destroyers of crops, Müller won the Nobel Prize in 1948.

DDT is harmless to man, so far as the evidence goes. ~ The New York Times in 1944

The American military sprayed DDT in Europe and the Far East during World War 2 and marveled at its lethal potency. When the war ended, DDT garnered vast application, celebrated as “the atomic bomb of the insect world.”

The praise was on-point. DDT and other synthetic pesticides wreak their havoc through death-dealing ionization.

The damage caused by the ionization of atomic fallout and by chemical agents are the same. ~ Italian chemist Americo Mosca

The appreciation of DDT’s vigor turned to alarm with the seminal 1962 book Silent Spring, in which Rachel Carson detailed the persistent threat that DDT and other synthetic “elixirs of death” had on all animal life. Though the USDA fought it, the book led to the 1972 ban on DDT for agricultural use; a ban that became worldwide only in the early 21st century. (USDA = United States Department of Agriculture)

DDT is still used in Africa and South America to control insect-borne diseases, such as malaria. Some countries, including India and North Korea, continue to apply DDT to crops.

DDT is readily adsorbed into soils and sediments, where it exposes itself to organisms for decades. DDT works its way up the food chain, thus incrementally improving its toxicity on larger predatory animals. DDT is carcinogenic.


Insect pollination is a vital ecosystem service that maintains biodiversity and sustains agricultural crop yields. ~ English animal ecologists Richard Gill & Nigel Raine

While DDT is ostensibly banned, it is only one of many in the 1st generation of synthetic pesticides, several of which remain in use. In succeeding generations of pesticides, chemists thought themselves clever by synthesizing variants of molecules that plants themselves produce to ward off their pests. An obvious candidate was nicotine. Neonicotinoids were developed in the late 1980s.

Neonicotinoids mimic the action of neurotransmitters. In doing so, they continuously stimulate neurons, leading ultimately to death of target invertebrates. Like virtually all insecticides, they can also have lethal and sublethal impacts on non-target organisms, including insect predators and vertebrates. ~ Dutch entomologist and ecologist Noa Simon-Delso et al

Neonicotinoids are quite good at killing insects. In most instances it takes a few mere molecules per billion, equivalent to a few drops in a swimming pool of water.

Neonicotinoids found favor for their supposed specificity: they were not as lethal to larger animals as insects. Neonicotinoids became wildly popular.

Being water soluble, neonicotinoids leach into ponds, ditches, and streams and contaminate groundwater. Waterways with neonicotinoids have depleted insect abundance and diversity. ~ Dutch biologist Maarten van Lexmond et al

There is strong evidence that soils, waterways, and plants in agricultural environments and neighboring areas are contaminated with neonicotinoids and their metabolites. ~ French ecologist and chemist Jean-Marc Bonmatin et al

Neonicotinoids can persist for years in soils, and so cause environmental concentrations to build up. ~ Maarten van Lexmond et al

Besides spraying, neonicotinoids are slathered on seeds to prevent their being eaten by bugs. Beyond killing pollinating insects, severely polluting seed-eating birds, and other environmental degradation, that tactic is useless.

Neonicotinoids otherwise have had quite an impact. They pummel the primary pollinators upon which all crops rely: bees. Honeybee colonies suffered terribly after the introduction of neonicotinoids, yet it took scientists decades to ascertain the obvious: insecticides hurt insects.

Neonicotinoids are highly likely to be responsible for triggering ‘colony collapse disorder’ in honeybee hives that were healthy. ~ Chinese American ecologist Chensheng Lu

Repeated exposure to even low doses of neonicotinoids befuddles bees, enfeebling their foraging. This impairs their pollination services, which are crucial to healthy ecosystem functioning.

Insecticides have a significant negative impact on bee learning and memory. This occurs even at the low levels of pesticides that bees would routinely encounter in the field. ~ English biologist Harry Siviter

Still the lesson has yet to sink in. Neonicotinoids continue to be massively employed – business as usual until a silent spring, as Rachel Carson feared.

It is not clear, based on current research, whether pesticide exposure is a major factor associated with US honeybee health declines. ~ US Department of Agriculture in 2012

As aforementioned, neonicotinoids are merely more toxic to insects than mammals. Unsurprisingly, these pesticides damage fish, avian, and mammalian nervous systems too.

“Although vertebrates are less susceptible than arthropods, consumption of small numbers of dressed seeds offers a potential route for direct mortality in granivorous birds and mammals, for such birds need to eat only a few spilt seeds to receive a lethal dose. Lower doses lead to a range of symptoms including lethargy, reduced fecundity, and impaired immune function.” ~ Maarten van Lexmond et al

Early exposure to pesticides is especially destructive, causing developmental detriments, including autism in children. Autism has surged in the US in the 21st century owing to pollution. The state with largest leap is New Jersey, which is heavily polluted, due partly to hosting many toxic chemical plants.

“Far from protecting food production, the use of neonicotinoid insecticides is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it.” ~ Jean-Marc Bonmatin

“Pesticides simply are not ecologically sensible. Their effects are more damaging, and widespread, than has been assumed. Honeybees and other pollinators are poisoned by pesticides on plants that were never sprayed.

In the past, we underestimated the risks of widely used pesticides.” ~ Chinese ecologist Guangming Zeng et al


“The first duty of the agriculturalist must always be to understand that he is a part of Nature and cannot escape from his environment. He must therefore obey Nature’s rules.” ~ Albert Howard

A significant fraction of the temporary productivity gains in agriculture during the Green Revolution are attributed to the pesticide use.

“It is astonishing we have learned so little. After Silent Spring revealed the unfortunate side-effects of those chemicals, there was a big backlash. But we seem to have gone back to exactly what we were doing in the 1950s. It is just history repeating itself. The pervasive nature of these chemicals mean they are found everywhere now.” ~ English ecologist Dave Goulson

2.7 million tonnes of pesticides are applied worldwide every year. The US sprays 22% of the pesticides: 600 tonnes, an average of 1 kg per hectare of arable land.

Despite heavy dosing, the US does not use pesticides as intensely as some other countries. Japan smears 5.9 kg of pesticides per hectare on its crops; China 4.7 kg; Italy 2.5 kg; and 1.3 kg per hectare in the British Isles.

Besides grotesque overapplication, pesticides are not very effective. At best, only 1% reach their intended target.

Not using pesticides reduces crop yields by only ~10%; even less if crops are planted with vegetative buffers (polyculture) to give ravenous insects something else to eat and help disguise the food hoard so as not to blatantly advertise and attract the little buggers in the first place. But that sort of smart farming is practiced practically nowhere. Instead, monocropping is ubiquitous.

Further, the meager positive power of pesticides has waned. From 1950 to 2000, despite increasing pesticide use by 800%, US crop losses from insects nearly doubled: from 7% to 13% of the total harvest.

“There is a chance for an immunity to manifest itself in increasing degree as the insects become acclimatized.” ~ American entomologist A.L. Melander in 1914

Evolved resistance to insecticides and herbicides has been known for well over a century. The chemists who concoct killer compounds only care that their creations destroy the intended targets without being lethal to humans in the applied doses. All else is incidental.

“Insect and weed evolution may outstrip our ability to replace outmoded chemicals.” ~ American entomologist Fred Gould

It is not a matter of if but when we are going to lose chemical control of weeds. ~ American botanist Adam Davis

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“Industrial agriculture has become a war against ecosystems. The chemicals on which industrial agriculture is based were originally designed for chemical warfare.” ~ Vandana Shiva

“Ultimately, pesticides affect all members of an ecosystem, from the tiniest invertebrates to humans and other large animals living at the top of their food chains.” ~ American pesticide maven Monica Moore

Deadly Adjuvants

Billions of pounds of formulation and tank adjuvants, including organosilicone adjuvants, are released into US environments each year, making them an important component of the chemical landscape to which bees are exposed. ~ American entomologist Julia Fine

Adjuvants are substances added to pesticides and herbicides to improve their performance. Owing to potency, one of the most widely used is organosilicone, which is applied to wine grapes and tree fruits, including almond trees. These chemicals are commonly used during crop blooming periods, when pollinators are most present.

There are no regulations on use of adjuvants, as the US EPA classifies them as biologically inert. But that is not true. Honeybees exposed to organosilicone adjuvants are much more susceptible to viral infection, and more likely to quickly succumb.

The adjuvant is enhancing the damaging effects of the virus. It causes synergistic mortality. ~ Julia Fine


When earth is rich it bids defiance to droughts, yields in abundance, and of the best quality. ~ American farmer and US President Thomas Jefferson

The effects of pesticides run deep. Herbicides reduce earthworm casting, which promotes soil health. The toxins damage earthworm fertility, and so hurt soil quality.

In a natural environment, topsoil builds via decaying plant matter and weathering rock. The soil is protected by erosion by growing plants.

In soil made vulnerable by agriculture, erosion reduces productivity by up to 65% per year.

The former prairie lands that constitute the US breadbasket have lost half of their topsoil after being farmed for a century. Soil is eroding 30 times faster than the natural formation rate.

It takes 500 years for Nature to replace an inch of topsoil. Reforming damaged topsoil to a depth for agriculture takes 3,000 years.

Food crops are much hungrier than the parsimonious grasses that once covered the Great Plains. Much of the soil there is now little more than a sponge into which synthetic fertilizers are poured to produce crops.

Erosion rates are rising throughout the world.

China is losing 36 tonnes of topsoil per hectare each year. During the spring planting season, Chinese soil can be found in the air as far away as Hawaii.

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China exceeded its capacity to feed itself by the late 1980s. The Chinese import prodigious quantities of grain while pushing their croplands to the limit with artificial fertilizers and pesticides to eke out what they can.

Agricultural productivity has declined in parts of Africa by 50% due to soil erosion and desertification. (8,000 years ago, agriculture and the introduction of livestock in North Africa culminated in the creation of the Sahara Desert, which had before been verdant land.) Production losses in the range of 20% have been reported in India, Pakistan, and several Middle Eastern countries, thanks to the farming practices advocated by Green Revolutionaries.

Contrary to the myth that industrialized agriculture is superior, studies have shown that indigenous natural systems are more efficient in terms of yields, labor, and energy.

Both from the point of view of food productivity and of food entitlements, industrial agriculture is deficient as compared to sustainable farming systems based on diversity and internal inputs. ~ Vandana Shiva

Further, agriculture reliant upon chemical fertilizers and pesticides is environmentally unsustainable: the toll on the soil and pollinators is too much for plants to bear.

All the great agricultural systems which have survived have made it their business never to deplete the earth of its fertility without at the same time beginning the process of restoration. ~ Albert Howard

Pollinator Downfall

The whole fabric of our planet is built on plants and insects, and the relationship between the two. ~ American ecologist Scott Black

Birds, bees, butterflies, beetles, bats, and wasps all have 2 things in common: they pollinate plants, and their numbers are dwindling fast.

Pollinators play a key role in the agricultural system, which also employs millions of humans to feed their world. 35% of the crops grown worldwide, with an annual value of $577 billion, depend upon pollination.

Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot. Flies, moths, and butterflies are as important as bees for many flowering plants. Flying insects provide food for many animals. Flies, beetles, and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and generally cleaning up the place. ~ English zoologist Lynn Dicks

The abundance of flying insects in German Nature preserves plunged by 76% in the quarter century 1989–2016. That finding is likely to be typical of the worldwide trend.

This decline happened in Nature reserves, which are meant to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. ~ Dutch ecologist Caspar Hallmann

Insects make up about 2/3rds of all life on Earth, but there has been some kind of horrific decline. We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse. ~ Dave Goulson

Many pollinators face impending extinction, including at least 9% of bees and butterflies, and 16% of nectar-loving vertebrates like birds and bats.

In the US, beekeepers lost 41% of their honeybee colonies in 2018. This continued a 21st-century trend of accelerating debility in commercial colonies.

The causes of the decline are entirely man-made. Farming, roads, and buildings eliminate wildflowers and other plants pollinators depend upon. Decades of pesticides have decimated insect populations, and weakened those left alive, leaving them easy prey to parasites and pathogens. Honey all around the world is contaminated with pesticides known to harm honeybees.

Even managing pollinators takes a toll. Trucking honeybee hives around, as done extensively in the US, is disorienting to the captives. Their health suffers, and so contributes to pollinator decline.

If you look at what’s driving honeybee declines, industrial agriculture certainly plays a major role. ~ American geoscientist Kelly Watson

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Theoretical computer modeling suggests that plants can tolerate losing most pollinator species as long as other pollinators take up the slack. Instead, the plant-pollinator relationship is not so casual. Sustaining relations during a flowering season are important to plant fecundity. In a study of Rocky Mountain larkspur wildflowers, removing a single bumblebee population from pollinating services had profound consequences.

These wildflowers produce 1/3rd fewer seeds in the absence of just 1 bumblebee species. ~ American ecologist Berry Brosi

While particular flower populations are in bloom, certain insect pollinators favor them with fidelity, thus maximizing cross-pollination among the plants.

Most pollinators visit several plant species over their lifetime, but often they display floral fidelity over shorter time periods. They’ll tend to focus on one plant while it’s in bloom, then a few weeks later move on to the next species in bloom. You might think of them as serial monogamists. ~ Berry Brosi

When bees are promiscuous, visiting plants of more than one species during a single foraging session, they are much less effective as pollinators. ~ American biologist Heather Briggs

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A 2016 survey revealed that US crop production is in dire threat from pollinator downfall. The foolishness of assuming it was safe to spray pesticides at industrial scales across entire landscapes is a harbinger of doom.


“Farmland has very little to offer any wild creature.” ~ German entomologist Martin Sorg

The agricultural system is driving environmental harm. In turn, environmental harm is threatening the agricultural system. In producing food as an industrial exercise, man has created a feedback gyre of self-destruction.

Agriculture is the single-largest use of freshwater on the planet. It contributes 24% of world greenhouse emissions. 62% of globally threatened species are affected by agriculture.

Over the past century, diets and agricultural systems have simplified. While the diversity on offer has never been higher, global food consumption is becoming more homogenized. 75% of the world’s food today is derived from just 12 crops and 5 animal species. Over 60% of crop output comes from specialized, high-yield varieties. Rice, wheat, corn, and potatoes provide over half of the world’s plant-derived calories.

This leaves global food supply vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through monoculture croplands, as happened during the Irish potato famine, when millions starved to death. Ongoing pollution, deficient food-production practices, and fast-changing climate will continue to cut yields as global population rises, at least until famine takes its toll.

“Man reaps what he sows.” ~ Galatians 6:7, The Bible

Nutritional Quality

Commercial food has steadily become less nutritious for 2 reasons: soil depletion and crop selection. Modern intensive agricultural methods have incrementally impoverished the soil in which food is grown, as well as lacing the ground with toxic chemicals.

A British study of 20 vegetables found a 15–20% drop in various nutrients from 1930 to 1980. The US Department of Agriculture found “reliable declines” from 1950 to 1999 in all nutritional metrics for 43 different fruits and vegetables. Other studies have sussed similar results.

Efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance, and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly, but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth. ~ American biochemist Donald Davis

Phytonutrients are a vast array of compounds – over 25,000 – that confer health benefits. These crucial phytochemicals typically have a bitter taste, so growers select varieties that are sweeter but less nutritious.

Grapefruit exemplify. In 1985, Florida – the grapefruit capital of North America – produced 27 million boxes of white grapefruit, and 23 million boxes of the colored varieties. Today, Florida growers ship twice as many red and pink grapefruit as they do white ones.

White grapefruit is high in naringin, a bitter phytonutrient with anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, and anti-cancer properties. Pink and red grapefruit achieve their sweetness in large part by having substantially less naringin.

“Eating fruits and vegetables without phytochemicals would be analogous to drinking the empty calories of a can of soda.” ~ American nutritional biochemist Jed Fahey

Genetically Modified Organisms

Gene editing is super-powerful, but so far a lot of trial and error. The way it works has been a black box with a lot of assumptions. ~ American molecular biologist Jacob Corn in 2018

Genetics as a science dealing with the principle of heredity and variation emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. Its application to practical problems came decades later; but ignorance of genetics had not been a detriment to breeding advances. American horticulturist Luther Burbank had impressive success with varieties of vegetables and fruits without any knowledge of genetic principles.

“New biotech crops will not solve industrial agriculture’s problems, but will compound them, and consolidate control of the world’s food supply in the hands of a few large corporations.” ~ Andrew Kimbrell

Genetics has not been a godsend to agriculture: to the contrary. The application of genetics to food production has had negative environmental and health impacts. The ability to play God with Nature does not bode well when profit is the sole motivation.

“A lot of naïve science has been involved in pushing this technology. 30 years ago we didn’t know that when you throw any gene into a different genome, the genome reacts to it. But now anyone in this field knows the genome is not a static environment. Inserted genes can be transformed by several different means, and it can happen generations later.” ~ American cytologist David Williams in 2013

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A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism, whether microbe, plant, or animal, whose genetic material has been directly manipulated via human engineering. The term transgenic is also used to refer organisms subjected to such artificial mutations. GMOs became controversial because of artificial genetic insertions into food crops.

By selecting various strains of plants and breeds of animals as livestock, humans have been making indirect genetic selections since the dawn of agriculture. Almost all crops harvested today descended from ancestors that were much different.

Carrots were originally pale or purple, not the orange as we know them. Sweet potatoes were bred 8,000 years ago out of the swollen tubers of regular potato roots. They did not exist before human tinkering.

GMOs represent more than simply the next step in agricultural advance. The momentous distinction is in directly inserting an artificial gene which otherwise would not be there. It is the unnaturalness that has been unsettling to some.

The first genetic tinkering was on E. coli bacteria in 1973. That was just the GMO jumping-off point to a focus on agriculture and food production.

Antibiotic-resistant GM tobacco was developed in 1982. Tobacco plants were then engineered for herbicide resistance in 1986.

In 1987, tobacco plants were stuffed with genetic material that the soil-dwelling bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) uses to produce insecticidal proteins. Other Bt crops followed, including potatoes, cotton, and corn: food with biocides built in.

E. coli bacteria engineered to make the enzyme chymosin were the first GMO food product approved by the FDA. Chymosin is widely used as a ripening agent in the production of cheese.

Prior to employing GMO bacteria as a source, chymosin was harvested from the stomachs of butchered nursing calves as a by-product of the veal industry. Now 80% of the hard cheeses sold in the US are made via GM chymosin.

The first commercial foray in genetic produce was the Flavr Savr tomato. The result was a tomato with a long shelf life but unappealing taste. The Flavr Savr was in supermarket bins for only 3 years in the mid-1990s before its disappearance, at a net loss of tens of millions of dollars to its developer.


Glyphosate is virtually ideal: a highly effective broad-spectrum herbicide, yet very toxicologically and environmentally safe. ~ US government herbicide researcher Stephen Duke & Australian herbicide researcher Stephen Powles

The greatest reaping of GMO profits has come from genetically engineering food crops to withstand the application of the herbicide glyphosate.

Glyphosate was first synthesized in 1950 by Swiss chemist Henry Martin. Corporate chemists at Monsanto rediscovered the compound in 1970, which it markets as Roundup®.

Glyphosate adsorbs strongly to soil and is degraded by microbes there. Its half-life in water is almost a half-year. Vegetables grown under its application, including root vegetables, are invariably laden with the herbicide.

The landscape-scale application of large quantities of pesticides has negative consequences that are often hard to predict. ~ Dave Goulson

Though supposedly just an herbicide, insect pollinators of glyphosate crops are poisoned, as their gut flora are devastated by exposure to the chemical.

Exposing bees to glyphosate alters the bee gut community and increases susceptibility to infection by opportunistic pathogens. ~ American evolutionary biologist Nancy Moran et al

The use of glyphosate combined with the dominance of genetically engineered crops has produced a looming public health threat both in the US and around the world. ~ American biologist and ecologist Mary Ellen Kustin

Internal emails reveal that Monsanto paid academics to sign off on reports ghostwritten by the company.

… us doing the writing and they would just edit and sign their names…. ~ Monsanto executive William Heydens

Government regulators and other researchers, funded by industry, examined glyphosate for animal safety by testing only the compound itself, not the toxic cocktail into which glyphosate is mixed to make the weed killer that is used. Thus, the product’s mutagenic and carcinogenic properties, as well as other detrimental effects on the body, were overlooked.

Monsanto specifically went out of its way to bully and to fight independent researchers. They fought science. ~ American attorney Brent Wisner, after reviewing Monsanto internal emails

Herbicides are not designed to affect animals, but we are learning that they can have a wide range of surprising effects by altering how hormones work in the bodies of animals. ~ American biologist Rick Relyea

Prior to the introduction of genetically modified foods, very few people had detectable levels of glyphosate. Our exposure to these chemicals has increased significantly over the years, but most people are unaware that they are consuming them through their diet. ~ American physician Paul Mills

To develop crops resilient to glyphosate, genetic material was taken from bacteria resistant to glyphosate, then inserted into target plants. Monsanto genetically engineered soybeans, then corn, canola, alfalfa, cotton, sorghum, and wheat. GM seeds are sold at a premium price by Monsanto under restrictive licenses using the trade name Roundup-Ready.

Farmers have sprayed billions of pounds of a chemical now considered a probable human carcinogen over the past decade. Spraying has increased to multiple times a year recently on the majority of US cropland. The sheer volume of use of this toxic weedkiller is a clear indication that this chemical dependency is a case of farming gone wrong. ~ Mary Ellen Kustin

The widespread use of glyphosate accelerated the ability of weeds to resist the herbicide. This was countered by farmers using even more Roundup, which exacerbated the problem.

Resistance problems result from overuse and mismanagement. ~ American botanist Carol Mallory-Smith


We’re on a road to nowhere. People are using ever-more complicated combinations of poisons on crops, with ever-more complex consequences. ~ American environmental biologist Nathan Donley

Weeds getting the upper hand on Roundup had Monsanto roll out a more deadly, broad-spectrum herbicide: dicamba. Dicamba is highly volatile: vaporizing from treated fields and spreading to neighboring crops, where it indiscriminately kills.

(Dicamba has been known for decades. Because of its volatility, dicamba was historically used to kill weeds prior to planting crops months later.)

Monsanto did very little volatility field work. ~ American agronomist Jason Norsworthy

Monsanto sells soybeans which are dicamba-resistant, having been genetically modified to survive the chemical onslaught. Regular soybeans readily succumb to dicamba. In 2016, ~5% of the American soybean crop (1.3 million hectares) was destroyed or damaged by dicamba.

“Dicamba is not manageable.” ~ American agronomist Bob Hartzler


Though Monsanto has the lion’s share of the weed-and-seed market, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience, Dow Chemical, and BASF are also major sellers. The worldwide chemicals industry underwent consolidation in the mid-2110s as profit margins shrank, most notably for chemicals used in the agricultural sector. This is just one of innumerable examples of the natural trend toward oligopolization under modern capitalism.

Monsanto’s wish to commercialize GM wheat withered with outcry from international buyers who threatened to boycott US wheat exports if the product was introduced.

In 2014, 1.6 billion hectares worldwide were under cultivation. 11.3% of that acreage – 181.5 million hectares – grew GM crops; 50% of which were soybeans, and 30% GM corn. Cotton came in 3rd at 14%.


“A plant that includes a gene or genes from another organism, such as bacteria, is considered a GMO.” ~ Chinese botanist Yi Li

Genome editing involves using bacterial gene segments – called CRISPR – to introduce foreign genes, or to modify existing genes.

CRISPR was adapted from the defense systems of bacteria. These bacterial CRISPR systems have been modified to edit the DNA of plants, animals, human cells, and microorganisms. ~ Yi Li

Because CRISPR makes it easier to edit the genome of a targeted organism, it has become the ubiquitous technique for genetic modification.

Whereas the definition of genetic modification is straightforward, the American government decided to split imaginary hairs and declare genetically modified organisms as non-GMO. On 28 March 2018, the USDA stated that it did not consider plants modified by “genome editing” to be GMO.

“USDA does not regulate or have any plans to regulate plants developed through genome editing.” ~ USDA (28 March 2018)


Genetic manipulation of the food supply has been like that of a pyromaniac having found a box of matches. No human attempts at altering Nature have ever gone without unexpected consequences.

Pesticides, and even synthetic fertilizers, are excellent examples. Chemists did not anticipate the biological and environmental damage that they had brewed and set loose. It took decades to discover their folly.

In the US, 33% of all drugs approved by the FDA are later found unsafe. Commercial and public service chemists are unable to establish safety for chemical compounds explicitly and extensively tested for their health effects.

In creating genetically modified organisms, geneticists have been proceeding with much less surety in their foundation of comprehension than those chemists did.

To date, all genetic modifications have been to introduce a single gene package into an organism. Geneticists know next-to-nothing about the functional interrelationships between genes, or even the dynamics within a single gene complex. What is being discovered is that genes have intricate, unexpected relationships.

Even more damning is that geneticists understand little about genomes, period. Genetic modification efforts to manipulate insect pests have failed.

“Small genetic variations within species can seriously impact the effectiveness of attempts using genetic technology.” ~ American biologist Michael Wade

Due appreciation of the importance of epigenetics – intricate changes in the employment of genes – is recent and remains a crucial variable outside geneticists’ control.

“All mechanisms are interrelated. Epigenetics are responsible for a considerable part of the phenotype of complex organisms.” ~ American molecular biologist Gary Felsenfeld

Moreover, geneticists do not know how microbiomes work with host cells, and how those interactions affect the host genome. Healthy microbiomes are essential to the lives of macroscopic animals. Artificial genetic modifications necessarily involve setting off dynamics with unknown consequences.

It is known that gene editing is a stress which may cause cells to reject the injected mutagens. As CRISPR is derived from bacteria, immune systems may attack gene edits as foreign agents.

Accurate gene editing is problematic. Edits may target the wrong sites. Even if properly placed, a gene edit can affect DNA in a distant location via unknown interactions. CRISPR can cause large chunks of the chromosome to rearrange itself.

CRISPR editing works more efficiently in cancer cells than normal cells, which rightly resist the interference. Geneticists have yet to discover that gene editing incites cancer in animals, but such a finding would be unsurprising given its disruption.

That genetic manipulation would somehow be exempt from negative environmental side effects is unimaginable. That does not matter. Proceeding with speculative ventures is a sine qua non of human behavior – economists celebrate risk-taking exuberance as entrepreneurship. The point is that profiteers simply don’t care about anything but profiteering – genetics may be complex, but commercial motivation is quite simple. As the touted technological edge in industrialized agriculture, GMOs benefit the promoting chemical companies and food producers rather than consumers, who pay whatever the costs turn out to be.

Herbicide-resistant GM strains have engendered excessive use of herbicides – a known peril over an unknown peril. Evolutionary reaction by the weeds under threat ensures that the war will only escalate.

Strong selection pressure exists for the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds because management tactics vary so little between crops. ~ US National Research Council

Conversely, Bt GMO has facilitated using fewer pesticides. Less spraying has allowed arthropod predators to survive, thus affording natural pest control that otherwise would not be available. Meanwhile, consumers eat the toxins geneticists build into the food crops.


GMO is certainly an uncontrolled experiment in genetic drift, as artificial modifications inevitably make their way to other plants, animals, and microbes. Transgenic traits spread through populations that sexually reproduce, such as with flowering plants and animals.

To say that genes don’t cross the species barrier in Nature, that’s just simple ignorance. ~ American plant geneticist Alan McHugen

Genetic engineering is like letting an unknown genie out of the bottle. All outcomes propagate.

Any GM aimed at targeted pests has a limited lifespan, as adaptive evolution weighs in to grace the besieged with survival. How such evolutionary gyres may play out is unknown.

After 3 decades, it may be too soon to adjudge the long-term environmental consequences of this unnatural naturalization. But the health implications of GMO are not sanguine, despite innumerable studies which spuriously contend that GM foods are safe. These studies universally rely upon phony statistics which confuse correlation with causation, and that is after positing statistically specious premises.

Italian biotechnologist Alessandro Nicolia and associates published in 2013 a meta-review of the previous decade of GMO research, including 770 studies which related to animal safety.

“So far, there is no reason for concern.” ~ Alessandro Nicolia

Such confidence is false. Meta-studies are simply compilations of studies: an abuse of statistics in which addition cannot yield a clearer result; nor can statistics ever assign causality (only correlation).

Despite the mountain of studies and assurances, suspicion lingers, as most research is funded by interests disposed to deploying genetic modifications.

Whether it’s conscious or not, it’s in their interest to promote this field, and they’re not objective. ~ David Williams

For instance, Nicolia’s team was unscientifically biased, as evidenced by their celebratory tone of GMO.

“The technology to produce genetically engineered (GE) plants is celebrating its 30th anniversary and one of the major achievements has been the development of GE crops.” ~ Alessandro Nicolia et al

Suspected bias has spelled continuing concern; with good reason. The data about GMO is invariably subject to interpretation.

Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food. Genetically modified foods pose a threat to consumers’ health. ~ American physician Amy Dean, American Academy of Environmental Medicine

The heavy-duty herbicides sprayed onto and pesticides built into GM crops are ingested by consumers. There is no disputing that these are toxins, not food, fed directly to the gut microbiome: the little ones responsible for digesting our food. No testing has been done on how GM food affects human gut flora. Results to date have been damning to GMO advocates.

Various health ills have been attributed to eating the produce of GM crops. The most common complaint is allergic reaction: a sure sign of bodily rejection. Numerous animal studies and events indicate that consuming, or even being near, GM crops can be bad for one’s health.

Long-term health effects can be subtle, and nearly impossible to link to specific environmental changes. Scientists have long believed that cancers and many other debilitating diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, are more than mere genetic destinies. Instead, they have ecological components which often have been devilishly difficult to spot.

“You’d certainly find out if the result is that the plant doesn’t grow very well. But will you find the change if it results in the production of proteins with long-term effects on the health of the people eating it?” ~ David Williams

Beyond bias, a primary problem with GMO is inadequate testing. Bt is exemplary.

“Documenting the full range of impacts on the environment and public health associated with Bt plants remains a challenging and largely ignored task.” ~ American agricultural economist Charles Benbrook

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) stores multiple toxic proteins. The Bt DNA sequences inserted into transgenic crops are altered from their natural state to make insecticidal action more vigorous. In many instances, the amino acid sequence of the toxin is altered to make the compound more soluble in a plant cell. As these are unnatural genes, GM plants have no adaptation for mitigating introduction of this DNA into their cells. These essentially parasitic genes alter plant growth to include generating alien proteins that do nothing but be toxic.

Tests related to Bt crops in North America have been done on the toxicity to mammals of the natural Bt toxins, but not on the synthetic genes in GM crops. Regulators naïvely allowed the assumption that the 2 were the same.

As the different Bt toxins invoke their own individual actions on animal cells, that assumption is ill-founded. Studies show retention of Bt toxins in the body of animals that consume Bt food crops, and cellular damage to mammals from certain Bt toxins produced in transgenic plants.

GM crops are the insidious introduction of poison into food. To pretend that such practice can be healthy for food consumers is absurd. One thing is certain about GM crops: they do nothing to improve yields. Genetic modification has proven a waste of resources as well as a peril.

 Tapioca Debacle

“Mosaic viruses cause damaging diseases in several important crops.” ~ Swiss botanist Hervé Vanderschuren

The cassava plant, also called manioc or yuca, is a staple root vegetable crop for its tuberous starch: tapioca. Cassava is subject to the mosaic virus, which retards growth and reduces yield.

Geneticists used CRISPR to try to make manioc resistant to the virus. The attempt failed spectacularly: provoking the virus to sharpen its virulence.

“CRISPR applied to the virus encouraged it to evolve in a way that increased resistance to intervention.” ~ Indian geneticist Devang Mehta

Food Irradiation

Investigation into applications of radioactivity began at the end of the 19th century. Patents for ionizing radiation to kill bacteria in foods were granted in the US and UK in the 1st decade of the 20th century.

Interest in irradiating foods spiked immediately after World War 2, when researchers found that meat and other foods could be sterilized by high-energy ionization. The process was viewed favorably as a way to preserve food for military troops in the field.

To establish the safety and effectiveness of irradiation, the US Army experimented in the 1950s. At the behest of the army, the FDA approved in 1963 the irradiated bacon that became a staple of the military diet.

Then it came to light that lab animals fed irradiated food suffered numerous health problems and early death. In 1968, the FDA rescinded the army’s permission to serve irradiated bacon to its personnel. Nonetheless, on the heels of funding and promotion by the federal government at the behest of the food industry, irradiation become largely accepted by the mid-1980s. The FDA gave permission to irradiate the US food supply in 1986.

Irradiated food in the US is supposed to be signified by the symbol shown, but the labeling is often remiss.

Today, globalized food producers widely use irradiation on fruits and vegetables because it increases shelf life. Most meat products are irradiated as a sanitation shortcut.

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Radiation is one of the more destructive forces in Nature. Doses powerful enough to kill living organisms are also powerful enough to fundamentally alter the food itself. ~ Wenonah Hauter

Irradiation damages food by tearing molecules asunder and creating free radicals. The ionization and free radicals kill some bacteria, but they also damage vitamins and enzymes in the food, and combine with existing chemicals, particularly pesticides, to form new compounds, some of which are known toxins.

Even the earliest experiments on food irradiation showed an inherent loss of nutritional value, especially vitamins. Irradiation damages the natural digestive enzymes found in raw foods, which means the body’s gut flora have to work harder to digest them, furthering nutritional loss.

The longest study on the long-term health effects of irradiated foods has been 15 weeks. The FDA based its approval of irradiation on short-term small-scale tests coupled to theoretical calculations.

No studies have been done on the most vulnerable segment of the population: children. As aforementioned, studies on other mammals show ill effects.

Most importantly, the effectiveness of irradiation is problematic. Because irradiation fails to deliver a lethal dose to all the microbes in food, whatever pathogens survive are all hardier for the experience. Hence, irradiation may actually engender what it aims to eliminate.

Organic Farming

In a sad twist of fate, the type of agriculture that our great-grandparents practiced is more expensive today than chemical-intensive agriculture. ~ Wenonah Hauter

The term organic is a political label attached to foods produced in a manner consistent with government guidelines. Owing to the onerous paperwork requirements, these guidelines were designed to exclude small farmers, and give large concerns an advantage in sourcing products anywhere in the world where they are the cheapest to produce. Most of the organic brands on supermarket shelves are ultimately from a small group of conventional food processors.

The parent companies of organic brands rarely use their name in advertising their organic subsidiary. As expert marketers, the giant food corporations understand that organic customers do not trust them; and for good cause. ~ Wenonah Hauter

In the US, the government is a patsy for the large food corporations who successfully lobbied to mock the meaning of the term organic.

In a back-room deal, the Organic Trade Association lobbied Congress to legalize the adulteration of organic food with basically any toxic additive a manufacturer may want to use, including substances that do not need to appear on ingredient panels. ~ American organic food producer Eden Foods

The US government has approved antibiotics, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers for organic food production. Artificial additives are allowed in organic foods. In short, products labeled as organic are not necessarily produced under natural conditions: that is, free of the artifices of chemists.

Despite flaws, an ordained organic has been important in providing customers with a labeled alternative to foods produced using unregulated levels of pesticides and other utterly perilous practices.


“But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh, we deprive a soul of the sun, and light, and of that proportion of life and time they had been born into the world to enjoy.” ~ 1st-century Greek historian Plutarch

People are much bigger meat eaters than the apes they descended from. The modern age has brought industrial production techniques to satisfying the human hunger for animal flesh.

Worldwide, over 70 billion farm animals are reared for food every year. This tally continues to grow.

1/3rd of the world’s arable land is dedicated to feeding livestock. Livestock take up 26% of Earth’s ice-free surface.

In 1950, each American consumed, on average, 9.5 kilos of chicken in 1950. 616,000 chickens were eaten. In 2000, Americans ate 8 billion chickens: 34.9 kilos per person – 3.6 times more chicken per person than in 1950.

Dogs, cats, and other pets eat ~30% of meat consumed in the US.

“The world’s increasing appetite for animal food products of all kinds – pork, dairy, beef, poultry, and eggs – is placing unsustainable pressures on the planet’s ecosystems.” ~ American environmental scientist Daniel Imhoff

Livestock in the US generate 3 times more raw waste than the human population. Runoff from factory farms pollutes the water supply more than all other industrial sources combined (fossil fuel extraction aside).

Producing poultry, pork, eggs, and dairy are 2–6 times less efficient, per consumed calorie, than growing potatoes or grains. But these are minor league compared to red meat.

Putting steak on the table is environmentally extravagant. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef.

In the current US regime, producing beef uses 28 times more land, 11 times more water, and 6 times the fertilizer of other livestock. 58% of American dietary meat is red meat.

Cattle ranching also generates 5 times more greenhouse gas emissions, as cow flatuses are methane laden. All told, livestock produce ~35% of the world’s methane emissions. Huge cesspools of animal feces and urine also emit copious volumes of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.

The egregious environmental impact of raising beef cattle versus poultry and swine obscures other ills, notably the treatment of the animals bound for consumption. Animal welfare is incidental to meat-growing operations, which aim solely at profit.

In most factory farms, animals subsist in filthy, cramped and often windowless environments, commonly confined in cages and steel-bar crates. They get no exercise, and do not have fresh air to breathe, owing to their packed and putrid living conditions. Many farms liberally spray pesticides to prevent sickness.

Livestock abuse has a long history. In 16th-century England, pigs were sometimes kept in conditions so cramped that they could not turn around. Robert Southwell, a large English landowner, marveled at a “new invention of an ox-house, where the cattle are to eat and drink in the same crib and not stir until they be fitted for the slaughter.”

For centuries, poultry and game were keep in the dark, with their feet nailed to the floor or cut off, as it was thought this made their meat more tender. In France to this day, geese are force-fed to produce foie gras.

“The principle of confinement in so-called animal science is derived from the industrial version of efficiency. The designers of animal factories appear to have had in mind the example of concentration camps or prisons, the aim of which is to house and feed the greatest numbers in the smallest space at the least expense of money, labor, and attention.” ~ Wendell Berry

All this cruelty is generously subsidized. European governments pay livestock owners more to keep their cows per day than what half of the world’s population lives on.

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Livestock are given growth hormones to maximize size and turnover, and copious antibiotics to ward off the epidemics which would arise otherwise rage from such squeezed squalor. In some countries, 80% of antibiotic use is on farm animals, not people. In all countries with industrialized agriculture, even those where growth hormones are banned, more antibiotics on are used on livestock than by people. Animals treated with antibiotics develop bacteria resistant to the drugs, and pass these microbes directly to humans, through food and contact with farm workers.

“The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.” ~ Japanese physician Kazuaki Miyagishima in 2017

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Eating meat is itself unhealthy, and especially so in light of livestock being dosed with antibiotics and growth hormones. On top of that, contamination at meat processing plants is long-standing and ongoing. A 2018 study found that 60% of British meat factories had poor hygienic practices.


The common chicken is a subspecies of the Red Junglefowl, which was domesticated 5,000 years ago in Asia, then taken around the world for its eggs and meat.

Chickens are no dumb chicks. Their communication skills are on par with primates. Fowl employ sophisticated sounds and gestures to convey their intentions.

Sociality necessitates considerable intelligence. Chickens are gregarious. Roosters and hens have their own social hierarchies: the proverbial pecking order.

A chicken takes account of its experiences and knowledge in making a decision. Chickens can solve complex problems. They empathize with individuals in danger, indicating theory of mind (understanding that others have minds which are different than their own).

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Over 90% of the land animals consumed by Americans are chickens. 9 billion chickens are eaten in the US each year. Over 260 billion chicken eggs are consumed by Americans per annum.

95% of all laying hens in the US live packed in small cages, stacked several tiers high in long rows, inside huge windowless buildings. They are afforded no natural behaviors. Unlike their wily wild cousins, industrial chickens are typically zombified.

To avoid chickens caged together from pecking each other, their beaks are cut off or burned. To prevent disease epidemics amid the squalor that are industrial chicken pens, antibiotics are pumped into the chickens.

Chickens have a natural lifespan of over a decade. Industrial (egg) laying hens are exhausted by the time they are 2 years old. Spent hens are slaughtered.

In the 1940s, the US government ran a series of competitions for farmers to breed the “Chicken of Tomorrow.” The aim was to produce “one bird chunky enough for the whole family – chicken with breast meat so thick you could carve it into steaks, with drumsticks that contain a minimum of bone buried in layers of juicy dark meat.”

Via selective breeding and drugs, chickens grown for consumption (broilers) are oversized physical wreaks: 90% have leg problems and structural deformities. Over 25% suffer chronic pain from bone disease.

The University of Arkansas poultry science department reported that if people grew like industrial chickens, “we’d weight 349 pounds by our 2nd birthday.”

“From beginning to end, the entire process is filled with pain and suffering.” ~ US Humane Society on industrial chicken life

On the disassembly line to their demise, live broilers are hung upside down via shackled legs. Their heads are dipped in electrified water to stun them before their throats are slit.

“Electric stunning has been found to be ineffective in consistently inducing unconsciousness.” ~ US Humane Society

There are no American federal rules for the humane treatment of animals. Ignorant chicken eaters don’t care. They just want cheap meat.

To compensate for the unsanitary conditions on US poultry farms, American chicken meat is washed in chlorine. The European Union banned the importation of this tainted meat in 1997.


“Pigs are cognitively complex.” ~ American behavioral zoologist Lori Marino & American-English zoologist Christina Colvin

Domestic pigs descended from wild boars: a gregarious species first domesticated in the Near East 9,000 years ago.

Domestication was not difficult. Drawn to feeding on human scraps, all it took to pen pigs was to put a fence around people’s leftovers. Selective breeding took some of the feistiness while favoring plumper pigs.

That swine are savvy is indisputable. These highly social creatures can solve complex problems at least as well as chimps, are playful and empathic, have excellent memories, and share the emotional range common to humans, other mammals, and birds.

“Pigs really are rather clever.” ~ English evolutionary psychologist Richard Byrne

Though taboo in the Middle East and Muslim world, pork is the most widely eaten meat: over 1 billion pigs are slaughtered worldwide every year. Americans consume 120 million of them. The US is 3rd in global porcine production, following Brazil and China, which slaughters 500 million pigs annually.

97% of American swine are kept in cruel industrial pens. This kills over 10% of the pigs before they can be slaughtered for food.

Per-capita pig consumption in China every year is 39 kilograms; about 1/3rd of a hog. Americans belly up to 27 kg per person per year.

Pigs have long been at the center of Chinese culture, cuisine, and family life. Pork is the country’s main meat. The Chinese eat the whole hog; everything from trotter to tail.

The Chinese character for family is a pig under a roof. Meat and pork are the same word in Mandarin.

Into the 1980s, every rural home in China had a hog. Pigs were part of the household recycling system. They consumed otherwise inedible waste and were valued for their manure.

Following a fatal outbreak of porcine blue-ear disease in 2006 that killed millions of pigs and sent pork prices skyrocketing, China set up a strategic national pork reserve of frozen pork and live pigs. China’s pig production has become almost as industrialized as America’s, with dismal confines for porcine.


Cattle are one of the oldest forms of wealth, and their rustling one the earliest forms of larceny.

Cattle are classified as a single species in the genus Bos, with 3 subspecies which may interbreed. Hybridization with closely related species is also possible, though not with more distantly related bovines, such as the Asian water buffalo or American buffalo.

There were 1.5 billion cattle in the world in 2015, taking up 25% of global landmass, and consuming enough grain to feed many millions of people. 35% of global cattle were in Asia, 23% in South America, 17% in Africa, 12% in North America, 10% in Europe, and 3% in Australia and Oceania.

Cattle are kept for their meat and milk; exclusively so in the Americas. In the aftermath, their hides render leather.

In the East, cattle are principally employed as draft animals; meat and milk are secondary.

“The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection.” ~ Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi

Cattle are considered sacred in a few religions, most notably Indian Hinduism. Religious sects in ancient Egypt, Greece, Israel, and Rome held similar beliefs. In poor countries, cattle dung is used as fuel as well as manure.

Cattle are not in the intellectual league of pigs or poultry, but they are not the dumb animals commonly presumed. Cows are quite gregarious and possess multi-dimensional personalities. Strong-willed individuals, cattle are good judges of character: of other cows, and of people.

When at liberty, cattle form intense friendships. Cows talk among themselves, invent games, babysit, forecast the weather, and know how to open closed gates.

Unsurprisingly, cattle remember the best grazing spots. When feeling poorly, cows eat the medicinal plants they need for remedy.

Even short-term isolation is extremely stressful to a cow. Temperament and level of stress affect milk yield and meat quality.

Unlike other industrial livestock, cattle are sometimes allowed to graze on open land, particularly when farmers are attempting to raise quality milk or meat. More often, cattle experience the industrial norm: living in filthy, overcrowded sheds or lots.

For a dairy cow to continually produce milk, she must be repeatedly impregnated. (Like other mammals, cows only lactate for offspring.) A newborn calf is taken from its mother so that the mother’s milk can be sold. If the calf is a male, he is sent to a veal farm to suffer an excruciating, abbreviated life. A female calf is the nothing more than the next generation of milk machine.

Constantly giving birth takes its toll. A cow might naturally live to 20 years, but one in the dairy business only lasts around 4 years. Once a cow is considered “spent,” it is sent to slaughter, where it is transformed into ground beef.


Veal is the flesh of a slaughtered calf. Prized for its tenderness, veal is expensive compared to other meats.

A healthy calf has well developed, oxygenated muscles. Its veal would have an undesirable elasticity. So, calves destined to become veal are depravedly deprived of proper nutrition and development before being slaughtered at a tender age.

Male offspring of dairy cows, never able to yield milk, are caged tightly in crates, unable to move. Most of the time they are chained to prevent them from standing up. Thus their muscles cannot be exercised.

Rather than being fed mother’s milk, newborn males are given synthetic food that leaves them anemic, and so with tender flesh. A short life filled with incessant suffering produces the tastiest veal.

 New Zealand Cow Seep

Dairy cows were introduced into New Zealand in the early 19th century. Growth in dairy farming was modest until after World War 2. In the 21st century, accelerating production accompanied oligopolization of the local diary industry. Some 6.6 million cattle are now squeezed into a country with 4.7 million people, transforming the landscape made famous in the Lord of the Rings films into a country of cattle.

Water in most of New Zealand used to be clean enough to drink with minimal treatment. No longer. Cow wastes have polluted New Zealand’s water supply to a dangerous level, as well as damaging the native flora and fauna. Over 70% of native freshwater fish are threatened with extinction.

Water pollution will only get worse. It can take decades for pollutants to move through groundwater and emerge in lakes.

New Zealand is a rainy place, but rivers have shriveled, and groundwater levels fallen in cow-intensive areas. 2,000 of the thirstiest dairies consume as much water as 60 million people would: equivalent to the combined populations of London, New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Rio de Janeiro.

“The ever-increasing cattle population is wreaking havoc on Earth’s ecosystems. Cattle raising is a primary factor in the destruction of the world’s remaining tropical rain forests. Cattle herding is responsible for much of the spreading desertification. Organic runoff from feedlots is a major source of groundwater pollution.” ~ American economist Jeremy Rifkin


The prices of supermarket foods produced using industrialized methods represent a fraction of their costs. These costs are uncaptured externalities for polluted water, land, and air, all of which have health impacts on humans and wildlife. In this, food production is no different than other forms of industrialization: all have had a cost far exceeding market price or benefit for individuals, societies, or life on Earth.

The Future of Food

“We will not end hunger.” ~ United Nations in 2017

Based upon current population growth projections, from 2015 to 2050, world food production will need to increase some 60%. This is unlikely to happen.

Despite the increase in investment in agricultural R&D, the relative rate of yield gain for the major food crops has decreased. ~ Argentinian American agronomist Patricio Grassini et al

Already, the number of people in the world that cannot get enough to eat is rising, reaching 815 million in 2016: 11% of the global population.

Agriculture accounts for 70% of global water demand. In the decades to come, there won’t be enough water for the crops.

Productivity going up is improbable. Indications throughout much of the world are of crop yield plateaus or abrupt decreases. Climate change has already hurt food production.

Reducing waste is the best prospect for getting more food out of the current regime. Alas, efficiency is not a human forte, and the commercial food system is unlikely to much change its ways without government intervention that is both improbable and doubtful in its ability to attain an efficacious outcome.

Deforestation has already decimated biomes across the planet. Furthering this trend to bring vast tracts of new land under cultivation is more likely to accelerate the extinction event already well underway than it is to feed a ravenous humanity. Accelerating climate change is a surefire formula for decreasing crop yields, regardless of acreage.

“A very real and devasting food crisis is looming on the horizon.” ~ American agronomist Craig Idso in 2011