FATAL HARVEST: The Seven Myths of Industrial Agriculture

Myth Seven – Biotechnology Will Solve the Problems of Industrial Agriculture


From Fatal Harvest
The Seven Myths of Industrial Agriculture

5/12/09 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

The Truth

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. Biotechnology will destroy biodiversity and food security, and drive self-sufficient farmers off their land.

The myths of industrial agriculture share one underlying and interwoven concept-they demand that we accept that technology always equals progress. This blind belief has often shielded us from the consequences of many farming technologies. Now, however, many are asking the logical questions of technology: A given technology may be progress, but progress toward what? What future will that technology bring us? We see that pesticide technology is bringing us a future of cancer epidemics, toxic water and air, and the widespread destruction of biodiversity. We see that nuclear technology, made part of our food through irradiation, is bringing us a future of undisposable nuclear waste, massive clean-up expenses, and again multiple threats to human and environmental health. As a growing portion of society realizes that pesticides, fertilizers, monoculturing, and factory farming are little more than a fatal harvest, even the major agribusiness corporations are starting to admit that some problems exist. Their solution to the damage caused by the previous generation of agricultural technologies is-you guessed it-more technology. “Better” technology, biotechnology, a technology that will fix the problems caused by chemically intensive agriculture. In short, the mythmakers are back at work. But looking past the rhetoric, a careful examination of the new claims about genetic engineering reveals that instead of solving the problems of modern agriculture, biotechnology only makes them worse.

Will Biotechnology Feed The World?
In an attempt to convince consumers to accept food biotechnology, the industry has relentlessly pushed the myth that biotechnology will conquer world hunger. This claim rests on two fallacies: first that people are hungry because there is not enough food produced in the world, and second that genetic engineering increases food productivity.

In reality, the world produces more than enough to feed the current population. The hunger problem lies not with the amount of food being produced, but rather with how this food is distributed. Too many people are simply too poor to buy the food that is available, and too few people have the land or the financial capability to grow food for themselves. The result is starvation. If biotech corporations really wanted to feed the hungry, they would encourage land reform, which puts farmers back on the land, and push for wealth redistribution, which would allow the poor to buy food.

The second fallacy is that genetic engineering boosts food production. Currently there are two principal types of biotechnology seeds in production: herbicide resistant and “pest” resistant. Monsanto makes “Roundup Ready” seeds, which are engineered to withstand its herbicide, Roundup. The seeds-usually soybeans, cotton, or canola-allow farmers to apply this herbicide in ever greater amounts without killing the crops. Monsanto and other companies also produce “Bt” seeds-usually corn, potatoes, and cotton-that are engineered so that each plant produces its own insecticide.

Myth Six – Industrial Agriculture Benefits the Environment and Wildlife


From Fatal Harvest
The Seven Myths of Industrial Agriculture

5/2/09 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

The Truth

Industrial agriculture is the largest single threat to the earth’s biodiversity. Fence-row-to-fence-row plowing, planting, and harvesting techniques decimate wildlife habitats, while massive chemical use poisons the soil and water, and kills off countless plant and animal communities.

Industrial agriculture’s mythmakers have been so successful in their efforts to shape opinion that they must believe we’ll swallow just about anything. They now assure us that intensive farming methods that rely on chemicals and biotechnology somehow protect the environment. This myth, as illogical as it may sound to an informed reader, is increasingly widespread in America today and is increasingly accepted as valid. What’s worse, agribusiness is saturating the media with misleading reports of the purported ecological risks of organic and other environmentally sustainable agricultural practices.

A typical claim of the industrial apologists is that the industrial style of agriculture has prevented some 15 million square miles of wildlands from being plowed under for “low-yield” food production. They continuously assert that the biggest challenge of the 21st century is to increase food yields through modern advances in agricultural science, which include the genetic engineering of commercial food crops. They also claim that if the world does not fully embrace industrial agriculture, hundreds of thousands of wildlife species will be lost to low-yield crops and ranging livestock.

There is a plethora of evidence that busts this myth. At the outset, the idea that sustainable agriculture is low-yield and would result in plowing under millions of square miles of wildlands is simply wrong. Relatively smaller farm sizes are much more productive per unit acre—in fact 2 to 10 times more productive—than larger ones, according to numerous government studies. In fact, the smallest farms, those of 27 acres or less, are more than ten times as productive (in terms of dollar output per acre) than large farms (6,000 acres or more), and extremely small farms (4 acres or less) can be over a hundred times as productive.

Myth Five – Industrial Food Offers More Choices


From Fatal Harvest
The Seven Myths of Industrial Agriculture

4/20/09 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

The Truth

What the consumer actually gets in the supermarket is an illusion of choice. Food labeling does not even tell us what pesticides are on our food or what products have been genetically engineered. Most importantly, the myth of choice masks the tragic loss of tens of thousands of crop varieties caused by industrial agriculture.

A persistent myth created and sustained by food manufacturers is that only industrial production could provide consumers with the wide variety of food choices available today. Industrial farming and processing, so the myth goes, have broken down limitations on food choices imposed by growing seasons, plants’ geographical ranges, and crop failures. Wandering the aisles of a 40,000-square-foot supermarket, we may be readily taken in by the myth. The breakfast cereal section, for example, may contain upwards of 50 different brand names, each one uniquely packaged and presented. Take a minute, however, and try to find a variety made primarily of a grain other than corn, rice, wheat, or oats. For an equally daunting challenge, try to find a box that does not list sugar and salt among the leading ingredients.

With one simple test, the myth of industrial food variety begins to break down. We begin to see that despite clever packaging and constant advertising blitzes, much of what is presented to us as variety is actually little more the repackaging of extremely similar products. Meanwhile, most of the vastly diverse foods available to humanity since the beginning of agricultural history have been virtually eradicated, never making their way to modern supermarket shelves.

The Loss of Diversity
A seldom-mentioned impact of industrial agriculture is that it deprives consumers of real choice by favoring only a few varieties of crops that allow efficient harvesting, processing, and packaging. Consider the apple. It is true that without industrial processes we might not be able to eat a “fresh” Red Delicious apple 365 days a year. However, we would be able to enjoy many of the thousands of varieties grown in this country during the last century that have now all but disappeared. Because of the industrial agriculture system, the majority of those varieties are extinct today; two varieties alone account for more than 50 percent of the current apple market. Similarly, in 2000, 73 percent of all the lettuce grown in the United States was iceberg. This relatively bland variety is often the only choice consumers have. Meanwhile, we have lost hundreds of varieties of lettuce with flavors ranging from bitter to sweet and colors from dark purple to light green. The monoculture of industrial agriculture has similarly reduced the natural diversity of nearly every major food crop in terms of varieties grown, color, size, and flavor.

Myth Four – Industrial Agriculture is Efficient


From Fatal Harvest
The Seven Myths of Industrial Agriculture

4/6/09 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

The Truth
Small farms produce more agricultural output per unit area than large farms. Moreover, larger, less diverse farms require far more mechanical and chemical inputs. These ever increasing inputs are devastating to the environment and make these farms far less efficient than smaller, more sustainable farms.

Proponents of industrial agriculture claim that ”bigger is better” when it comes to food production. They argue that the larger the farm, the more efficient it is. They admit that these huge corporate farms mean the loss of family farms and rural communities, but they maintain that this is simply the inevitable cost of efficient food production. And agribusiness advocates don’t just promote big farms; they also push big technology. They typically ridicule small-scale farm technology as grossly inefficient, while heralding intensive use of chemicals, massive machinery, computerization, and genetic engineering whose affordability and implementation are only feasible on large farms. The marriage of huge farms with ”mega-technology” is sold to the public as the basic requirement for efficient food production. Argue against size and technology the two staples of modern agricultureand, they insist, you’re undermining production efficiency and endangering the world’s food supply.

Myth Three – Industrial Food is Cheap


From Fatal Harvest
The Seven Myths of Industrial Agriculture

3/31/09 Ukiah, North California

The Truth If you added the real cost of industrial food—its health, environmental, and social costs—to the current supermarket price, not even our wealthiest citizens could afford to buy it.

In America, politicians, business leaders, and the media continue to reassure us that our food is the cheapest in the world. They repeat their mantra that the more we apply chemicals and technology to agriculture, the more food will be produced and the lower the price will be to the consumer. This myth of cheap food is routinely used by agribusiness as a kind of economic blackmail against any who point out the devastating impacts of modern food production. Get rid of the industrial system, we are told, and you won’t be able to afford food. Using this “big lie,” the industry has even succeeded in portraying supporters of organic food production as wealthy elitists who don’t care about how much the poor will have to pay for food.

Under closer analysis, our supposedly cheap food supply becomes monumentally expensive. The myth of cheapness completely ignores the staggering externalized costs of our food, costs that do not appear on our grocery checkout receipts. Conventional analyses of the cost of food completely ignore the exponentially increasing social and environmental costs customers are currently paying and will have to pay in the future. We expend tens of billions of dollars in taxes, medical expenses, toxic clean-ups, insurance premiums, and other pass-along costs to subsidize industrial food producers. Given the ever-increasing health, environmental, and social destruction involved in industrial agriculture, the real price of this food production for future generations is incalculable.

Environmental Costs
Industrial agriculture’s most significant external cost is its widespread destruction of the environment. Intensive use of pesticides and fertilizers seriously pollutes our water, soil, and air. This pollution problem grows worse over time, as pests become immune to the chemicals and more and more poisons are required. Meanwhile, our animal factories produce 1.3 billion tons of manure each year. Laden with chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones, the manure leaches into rivers and water tables, polluting drinking supplies and causing fish kills in the tens of millions.

Myth Two – Industrial Food is Safe, Healthy and Nutritious


From Fatal Harvest
The Seven Myths of Industrial Agriculture

3/27/09 Ukiah, North California

The Truth

Industrial agriculture contaminates our vegetables and fruits with pesticides, slips dangerous bacteria into our lettuce, and puts genetically engineered growth hormones into our milk. It is not surprising that cancer, food-borne illnesses, and obesity are at an all-time high.

A modern supermarket produce aisle presents a perfect illusion of food safety. Consistency is a hallmark. Dozens of apples are on display, waxed and polished to a uniform luster, few if any bearing a bruise or dent or other distinguishing characteristics. Nearby sit stacked pyramids of oranges dyed an exact hue to connote ripeness. Perhaps we find a shopper comparing two perfectly similar cellophane-wrapped heads of lettuce, as if trying to distinguish between a set of identical twins. Elsewhere, throughout the store, processed foods sit front and center on perfectly spaced shelves, their bright, attractive cans, jars, and boxes bearing colorful photographs of exquisitely prepared and presented foods. They all look unthreatening, perfectly safe, even good for you. And for decades, agribusiness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have proclaimed boldly that the United States has the safest food supply in the world.

As with all the myths of industrial agriculture, things are not exactly as they appear. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that between 1970 and 1999, food-borne illnesses increased more than tenfold. And according to the FDA, at least 53 pesticides classified as carcinogenic are presently applied in massive amounts to our major food crops. While the industrialization of the food supply progresses, we are witnessing an explosion in human health risks and a significant decrease in the nutritional value of our meals.

Increased Cancer Risk
A central component of the industrialized food system is the large-scale introduction of toxic chemicals.
This toxic contamination of our food shows no signs of decreasing. Since 1989, overall pesticide use has risen by about 8 percent, or 60 million pounds. The use of pesticides that leave residues on food has increased even more. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that more than 1 million Americans drink water laced with pesticide runoff from industrial farms. Our increasing use of these chemicals has been paralleled by an exponential growth in health risks, to both farmers and consumers.

The primary concern associated with this toxic dependency is cancer. The EPA has already identified more than 165 pesticides as potentially carcinogenic, with numerous chemical mixtures remaining untested. Residues from potentially carcinogenic pesticides are left behind on some of our favorite fruits and vegetables. In 1998, the FDA found pesticide residues in over 35 percent of the food tested. Many U.S. products have tested as being more toxic than those from other countries. What’s worse, current standards for pesticides in food do not yet include specific protections for fetuses, infants, or young children, despite major changes to federal pesticide laws in 1996 requiring such reforms. Many scientists believe that pesticides play a major role in the current cancer “epidemic” among children. And the cancer risk does not just affect consumers; it also imperils tens of thousands of farmers, field hands, and migrant laborers. A National Cancer Institute study found that farmers who used industrial herbicides were six times more likely than non-farmers to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer. Along with their cancer risk, pesticides can cause myriad other health problems, especially for young people. For example, exposure to neurotoxic compounds like PCBs and organophosphate insecticides during critical periods of development can cause permanent, long-term damage to the brain, nervous, and reproductive systems.

Myth One – Industrial Agriculture Will Feed The World


From Fatal Harvest
The Seven Myths of Industrial Agriculture

3/23/09 Ukiah, North California

The Truth
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.

There is no myth about the existence of hunger. It is estimated that nearly 800 million people go hungry each day. And millions live on the brink of disaster, as malnutrition and related illnesses kill as many as 12 million children per year. Famine continues in the 21st century, though few of us are aware of the truly global nature of the problem. In Brazil, 70 million people cannot afford enough to eat, and in India, 200 million go hungry every day. Even in the United States, the world’s number one exporter of food, 33 million men, women, and children are considered among the world’s hungry.

There is, however, a myth about what is causing this tragic hunger epidemic and what it will take to alleviate it. Industrial agriculture proponents spend millions on advertising campaigns each year claiming that people are starving because there is not enough food to feed the current population, much less a continually growing one. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? 10 billion by 2030″ proclaimed an old headline on Monsanto’s Web page. The company warns of the “growing pressures on the Earth’s natural resources to feed more people” and claims that low-technology agriculture “will not produce sufficient crop yield increases to feed the world’s burgeoning population.” Their answer is pesticide- and technology-intensive agriculture that will produce the maximum output from the land in the shortest amount of time. Global food corporations, they say, will have to serve as “saviors” of the world’s hungry.

Fatal Harvest – The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture


From Fatal Harvest
The Seven Myths of Industrial Agriculture

3/17/09 Ukiah, North California

Industrial agriculture is devastating our land, water, and air, and is now threatening the sustainability of the biosphere. Its massive chemical and biological inputs cause widespread environmental havoc as well as human disease and death. Its monoculturing reduces the diversity of our plants and animals. Its habitat destruction endangers wildlife. Its factory farming practices cause untold animal suffering. Its centralized corporate ownership destroys farm communities around the world, leading to mass poverty and hunger. The industrial agriculture system is clearly unsustainable. It has truly become a fatal harvest.

However, despite these devastating impacts, the industrial paradigm in agriculture still gets a free ride from our media and policy makers. It is rare to hear questioning, much less a call for the overthrow, of this increasingly catastrophic food production system. This troubling quiescence can be attributed, in part, to the enormous success that agribusiness has had in utilizing the ”big lie,” a technique familiar to all purveyors of propaganda. Corporate agriculture has flooded, and continues to inundate the public with self-serving myths about modern food production. For decades, the industry has effectively countered virtually every critique of industrial agriculture with the ”big lie” strategy.

These agribusiness myths have become all too familiar. Most farmers, activists, and policy makers who question the industrial food paradigm know the litany of lies by heart: industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world, to provide us with safe, nutritious, cheap food, to produce food more efficiently, to offer us more choices, and, of all things, to save the environment. Additionally, when confronted with the indisputable environmental and health impacts of industrial agriculture, the industry immediately points to technological advances, especially recent achievements in biotechnology, as the panacea that will solve all problems. These claims are broadcast far and wide by way of industry lobbying efforts, product promotions, and multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns, including television, newspaper, magazine, farm journal, and radio ads. Moreover, as the industry becomes more consolidated-with biotech companies owning the seed and chemical businesses and a handful of companies controlling a majority of seeds and food brands — the strategies for promulgating these myths become ever more concerted and the messages ever more honed. Archer Daniels Midland is now known to us all as the ”supermarket to the world,” while Monsanto offers us ”Food, Health, Hope.”

These myths about industrial agriculture have been, and are being, repeated so often that they are taken as virtually unassailable. A central goal of [these essays] is to conceptually debunk the myths that have for too long been used to promote and defend industrial agriculture. This myth busting is an essential step in exposing the impacts of current agriculture practices and educating the public about the realities of the food they are consuming.

We identify the seven central myths of industrial agriculture, note their assumptions and dangers, and provide direct and clear refutations. This is specifically designed to provide consumers, activists, and policy makers with clear, compact, and concise answers to counter the industry’s well-funded misinformation campaigns about the benefits of industrial agriculture. We encourage you to utilize these seven short essays whenever you are faced with the ”big lies” being used by corporate agribusiness to hide the true effects of their fatal harvest.

Intro
Myth One – Industrial Agriculture Will Feed The World

Myth Two – Industrial Food Is Safe, Healthy and Nutritious
Myth Three – Industrial Food Is Cheap
Myth Four –  Industrial Agriculture Is Efficient

Myth Five –  Industrial Food Offers More Choices

Myth Six – Industrial Agriculture Benefits the Environment and Wildlife
Myth Seven – Biotechnology Will Solve the Problems of Industrial Agriculture

Excerpted with permission
Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture

Edited by Andrew Kimbrell
Published by Island Press

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See also Ingredients of Kraft Guacamole

…and We Will Need Fifty Million Farmers
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