Methane Climate Bomb in the Far North: The Final Warning?
Take Action to Tell Congress that Organic Agriculture is the Solution to Climate Change! In the wake of the failed climate talks in Durban, South Africa; a record-breaking 5.9% increase in greenhouse gas pollution in 2010; and recent, extremely alarming reports by scientists of plumes of methane gas gushing up from the thawing sea beds of the Siberian Arctic, we find ourselves standing at the end of the road. 1
If we allow the infamous "one percent" to continue with business as usual, we will soon be arriving at civilization's last stop, climate hell. If we allow the U.S. and global fossil fuel/military industrial/corporate agribusiness economy to keep turning up the planet's delicately balanced thermostat, raising average global temperatures by two degrees Celsius or more, we will soon pass the point of no return, detonating runaway global warming. Among the catastrophic consequences of runaway global warming will be the release of a significant portion of the 1.7 trillion tons of deadly methane now sequestered in the shallow Arctic seabeds and permafrost (equivalent to twice the amount of total greenhouse gas pollution currently in the atmosphere). As the International Energy Agency warned on November 9, the world is accelerating toward irreversible climate change. We will lose the chance to avert catastrophic warming if we don't take bold action in the next five years to sharply reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; drastically increase energy efficiency in the food, transportation, utilities, and housing sectors; and safely sequester billions of tons of greenhouse gases in our soils, plants, and forests through organic soil management and permaculture practices. In other words we have approximately 1800 days left to avert catastrophe.
One of our major tasks as farmers or food consumers is to educate the public to the heretofore-undisclosed fact that the world's energy and chemical- intensive industrial food system is the major cause of global warming. That is the central message of this rather detailed essay. We go into depth and explain the details of this deadly state of affairs, because our fate and the fate of the human species depends upon rapidly changing what we farm and what we eat. The good news is that we can stop and reverse this suicidal food and farming system by taking decisive action, not only in the political policy realm and through our growing street protests and occupations; but also by voting with our farms, gardens, and forks for an organic, sustainable, and re-localized food and farming system. This new agro-ecological system will drastically reduce GHG emissions, and at the same time naturally sequester billions of tons of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases, in our soils, plants, and trees. But the hour is late. We must jumpstart this great transition immediately.
Millions of Americans are still in denial about global warming or else waiting vainly for Washington to pass laws and regulations to alleviate the problem. Many of those aware of the crisis are calling for cap and trade, or a carbon tax, or a ban on coal and tar sands, or stronger emissions standards, and energy efficiency. A large part of the agenda for reversing global warming involves reducing fossil fuels use by 90% over the next 40 years. But with non-stop advertising from the polluters and a do-nothing, indentured congress, that gets millions from the fossil fuel industry, the likelihood of federal legislation, at least in the near future, to solve the problem appears remote. Only persistent campaigning and the encircling of the White House by 15,000 demonstrators finally got the President's attention about the dangers of the Keystone tar sands pipeline.
Of course we must stop the coal industry, natural gas fracking, the nuclear industry, and the tar sands juggernaught. We must unite a critical mass of the 99% to cut Wall Street and the corporate elite down to size and implement a 21st century New Deal that not only brings about full employment and economic justice, but also environmental and climate sustainability. But there's something else we can do, immediately, and it's as close as our back yard, our farm field, or the knife and fork in our hands.
The failed climate conferences in Kyoto, Copenhagen, Cancun, and Durban have concentrated most of their energy and effort on fossil fuel emissions, but very little on emissions from industrial agriculture, and the demonstrated ability of organic food and farming to cool the planet and sequester climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases. Recent research and reports, however, conclude that factory farming in the U.S. is responsible for more GHG emissions than the entire transportation and industrial sector combined; including cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, trains, boats, and factories.
The main climate and health issues with the U.S. industrial farming system are:
a) Enormous quantities of greenhouse gasses emitted from fertilizers, animals, animal feed production, animal processing, and the shipping, cooling, and freezing of all food products;
b) Huge subsidies to the wealthiest, chemical and energy-intensive farmers for growing unhealthy food;
c) Too much emphasis on meat production and other harmful, fatty foods.
Despite these serious problems, the U.S. government and big agriculture aggressively promote our factory farming system to developing countries as a solution to their hunger problems.
Factory Farming's Real Greenhouse Gas Emissions
In studies done from 2004 to 2009, the United Nations (FAO) Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) all estimated that CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. agriculture were relatively low, ranging from 7% (USDA) to 18% (FAO). 2
Unfortunately, all three agencies repeatedly underestimated emissions from billions of factory-farmed animals (burps, farts and defecations) and from fertilization. They also completely neglected to include greenhouse gasses emitted from petroleum-fueled vehicles (trucks, tractors, combines, etc.), freezing, cooling and heating foods, or shipping the foods to market. The fact that transportation and storage emissions were not counted is especially deceptive, since food in the U.S. travels from 1500 to 3000 miles and food must be either cooled or frozen in transit or storage. They also largely ignored nitrous oxide emissions, which are likely the most destructive greenhouse gasses emitted from farming.
In contrast, recent research by scientists at the normally conservative World Bank, concluded that the FAO, U.S. EPA and the USDA greatly underestimated the dangerous emissions from industrial farming. They concluded that animal agriculture alone was responsible for 51% of the world's greenhouse gasses. 3 Although factory farming apologists argue that 51% is a ridiculously high estimate, significantly more than 80% of U.S. agriculture is devoted to livestock, and hundreds of millions of acres are growing livestock feed. 4
In fact, when we analyze the numbers on land devoted to animals versus land devoted to all other human foods, we find that 92.5% of farm and ranch land in the U.S. is used to grow food for or pasture animals. Clearly, the U.S. form of agricultural land-use is heavily skewed toward animals. Only 7.5% of total U.S. farmland, and only 14% of our cropland, is devoted to non-animal based foods. This data leads us to contend that half of the greenhouse gases in the U.S. are attributable to agriculture and that 80 to 90% of these GHGs come from factory farms that primarily produce meat and other animal products.
Many non-government scientists estimate that from 30% to 40% of U.S. greenhouse gases are emitted from factory farms. This is still the highest for any industrial sector and dramatically higher than the 7% to 18% that the federal agencies and the UN estimate for farming. 5
In fact, even these numbers vastly underestimate the deadly impact of industrial agriculture and factory farms on the environment and climate because they leave out the predominate role of industrial agriculture in global deforestation and wetlands destruction. Industrial agriculture, genetically engineered soybeans, biofuels, and cattle grazing-including whacking down the last remaining tropical rainforests in Latin America and Asia for animal feed and biofuels-are the main driving forces in global deforestation and wetlands destruction, which generate, according to scientific consensus, 20% of all climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases.
In other words the direct and indirect impacts of industrial agriculture and factory-farmed food are the major cause of global warming. No strategy for reducing excess greenhouse gases back to the "safe" level of 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere (or 393 ppm of all GHGs including methane and nitrous oxide) can be successful without drastically reducing emissions from industrial agriculture and sequestering billions of tons of greenhouse gases in the soil through organic and sustainable farming, ranching, land restoration, and forestry practices. And of course this "Great Transition" in agriculture will have to be driven by mass consumer demand for farm products that are organic, locally or regionally-produced, and climate friendly.
Whether agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions hover at 40%, 51%, or more we can be sure after looking at these numbers that most GHGs in the U.S. are attributable to livestock production, at levels much higher than our federal agencies and the UN estimate.
U.S. factory farming emits three greenhouse gases that are especially destructive to the environment and the climate. These three gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O).
Since a significant portion of the carbon dioxide emitted by industrial farming comes from long distance transportation, heating, freezing, and processing; consumers can greatly reduce the CO2 emissions they are responsible for by purchasing their food from local organic growers.
While CO2 receives most of the attention and analysis, scientists have concluded that methane has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 25 times more damaging than carbon dioxide when measured over a one hundred year period and 72 times more destructive when measured over a 20 year period. 6 Part of the reason for the enormous impact of methane in the first 20 years is that it has a shorter life span in the atmosphere than CO2 or nitrous oxide. Most of the methane largely dissipates in 12 years whereas CO2 lasts for longer than five hundred years.
The dramatic increase in confinement animal practices since 1995 greatly increased methane emissions. In 1995, 75% of U.S. hogs were raised in outside pens or on pasture. In 2010, more than 95% of hogs, 96% of broiler chickens, 95% of laying hens, 99% of turkeys, and 78% of beef cows were raised on confinement farms. Since more than eighty percent of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing food for and managing closely caged animals, the changes that are needed to reduce methane emissions obviously need to focus on animal production and consumption.
Nitrous oxide emissions, obviously are much more damaging per ton than either methane or carbon dioxide. When measured over a one hundred year period, nitrous oxide is 298 times more damaging than carbon dioxide, and is still more than half as damaging 500 years after being emitted, and 153 times more damaging than CO2.
Most of the nitrous oxide emissions come from synthetic fertilizer manufacture and use, the billions of tons of animal manure from cattle herds and poultry flocks, and the billions of tons of sewage sludge applied to farmland.
Industrial fertilizer manufacture alone is estimated to emit 6.6 pounds of nitrous oxide for each pound of nitrogen produced. But, these emissions are not attributable to agriculture by any government agencies; instead they are listed under manufacturing.
Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizer
The National agriculture statistical service (NASS) of the USDA reported that U.S. farmers used an average of 24 billion, 661 million pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per year from 1998 to 2007. 7 So, they must know (if they bothered to connect the dots) that chemical corporations emitted 162 billion, 769 million pounds of nitrous oxide related green house gasses just to manufacture the nitrogen that NASS claimed farmers used every year. In addition to the greenhouse gasses emitted in manufacture, we must also include those attributable to the transportation and application of this mountain of fertilizer every year. (24,661,000,000 pounds of fertilizer is equal to 12,330,000 one-ton pallets, which would cover 10,960 football fields-that is almost half of the football fields in the U.S.).
UN (FAO), EPA, and USDA estimates don't include emissions from producing, shipping, or applying synthetic nitrogen, yet as these numbers illustrate, emissions of the most damaging gases are huge, and contribute to making factory farming the largest single polluter. Obviously, something is wrong with the government number crunching. Why don't the regulators make these connections and act to stop these destructive practices? Because our regulatory agencies work to protect the elite 1%, the polluters, not us, the environment or climate stability.
The currently excessive, but largely ignored, level of our agricultural emissions must be reduced. If our agricultural sector does not change the way they farm, process, and ship food the U.S. will fail to significantly reduce emissions and curb the climate chaos that they produce. The changes necessary require major paradigm shifts in farming practices, food handling, and food consumption.
Since so much of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing confined meat (beef, dairy, hogs, poultry), any reduction in the amount of factory-farmed meat eaten is going to reduce the amount of methane and nitrous oxide released and indirectly reduce the amount of CO2 required to ship these expensive foods to markets.
Besides synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, and environmentally destructive meat, a serious problem in the U.S. is the increasing use of sludge from sewage treatment plants to fertilize farmland. Currently, about 100 billion pounds of sewage sludge is applied to U.S. farmland each year. 8 Sewage sludge often contains all manner of industrial chemicals, medical waste, resistant bacteria, resistant viruses, and flame-retardants. Sludge is also an increasingly worrisome greenhouse gas emitter. Sixty percent of all the sludge produced in the U.S. is applied to millions of acres of farmland. This is a cheap but dangerous way to reduce the cost of increasingly expensive fertilizers.
Sludge applications continue to increase because the powerful Carlisle Group controls the hauling. And the U.S. regulation of sludge is near the worst in the world. Unless we stop this practice we could render millions of acres sterile because of heavy metal concentrations and high resistant bacteria and viral populations. A majority of the sewage-sludged land is used to grow cattle feed or to graze animals, which is another reason to avoid factory-farmed meat.
The new insurgent movement in the U.S. must demand a progressively elevated carbon tax imposed on all these pollutants! In the meantime consumers must boycott them. These are dire realities. The future will be bleak if we do not act.
Fixing the Problem
If we do act, farmers know from our experience that we can address these problems readily and rapidly with sustainable organic techniques, and more locally focused production and marketing strategies. If farmers do change, farmland could become a significant sequester pool for greenhouse gasses and provide carbon credits to farmers who convert.
If raising animals for human food creates more greenhouse gasses than fossil fueled vehicles and industry combined, we better reduce our meat consumption. Since 90% of meat comes from CAFOs and confinement operations, this means boycotting all factory-farmed meat, eggs, and dairy. Nearly all scientists agree with that conclusion! While we rail about coal, and gasoline, and diesel, and jet fuel, the biggest part of the problem is sitting at our dinner tables. Our diets, our habits, our excesses are a major part of the problem, and a major part of the solution. Our bad food choices, our food over-consumption, and our enormous food waste (we throw away more than a third of our food, most of which ends up non-composted in municipal landfills, releasing enormous amounts of methane) are the elephants in the room!
If U.S. consumers cut their meat consumption from the current 12 ounces to 6 ounces per day it would be the equivalent of taking almost 50 million cars off the road. Six ounces of meat is still more than twice the world average, so cutting our consumption in half would give consumers their meat, while cutting in half the environmental damage. We especially must stop eating factory-farmed meat, because it is the most damaging to both the environment and our bodies. 9
Even meat advocates like Simon Fairlie recommend that we cut our consumption by half:
Now if you are a privileged white middle class Briton like myself,...then halving the amount of meat and dairy in one's diet seems quite tolerable, generous even. 10
Fairlie argues for this reduction even though Brits only eat 8 ounces of meat and animal products per day, which would cut Fairlie's daily portion to 4 ounces. Fairlie also argues that our meat should come from herds and flocks that are rotationally grazed on organically managed land that is not arable enough for vegetable, grain, and fruit production. 11 Meat grown like Fairlie proposes is a much better food choice, both for the environment and for customers.
Since meat production uses so many billions of acres around the world, we need to adopt herd management strategies that replicate wild herd habits. This involves large or small herds rotationally grazing only the top grasses of small pastures, defecating and urinating and forcing the stubble into the topsoil and staying on the grasses for short periods of time. After the grasses recover then the herd or flocks are returned for a few days to harvest the most nutritious grasses again.
Our current cow-calf system of management leaves the animals on the pastures too long, which inhibits the pasture's ability to rebound and lowers the quality of the grasses. It also takes the calves off to finish them in enormous feedlots with corn, soybeans, cotton seed cake, cotton gin trash, sludge-fertilized hay, and waste industrial products. Cows are not grain or garbage eaters by choice. Their preferred foods are mixed grasses.
It is not just factory-farmed meat that we need to reduce in our diets; we also need to cut out the majority of overly processed carbohydrates that we habitually consume. That means white bread, white flour pastas, corn, cane, beet syrups and sugars, and fake sugars (Aspartame-Equil, Saccharin, Splenda, etc.), colas, and other soft and power drinks. The U.S. diet currently consists of more than 80% processed, junk, and fake foods. That is not a sustainable food system. While it is profitable for the food processing giants, it is devastating for the environment and our health!
So, the issue isn't between meat eating and veganism. The issue is about what kind of food you eat and what the consequences are. Don't eat meat, vegetables, and fruit from factory farms. Eat organic, fresh, and environmentally friendly fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy and reduce the fattening and unhealthy crap in your diet. In general, try to eat more vegetables and fruit than meat, fish, or dairy products. We don't abhor meat, but it takes a lot of energy to digest, so, we restrict our occasional meat dishes to fish and shellfish and an occasional bite of a fabulous range-fed organic ham, poultry, or beef cut. Think about your diet and the diet of your kids. Most importantly, your wise food choices will protect yourself as well as the soil that grows your food and the environment your kids will inherit.
Our Delicately Balanced World
We have five major carbon pools on the planet, they are: farmland, oceans, forests, atmosphere, and fossilized carbon. Currently, both the forests and the farmland soils are degraded so seriously that they are not capable of sequestering more carbon than they are already doing. Consequently, the atmosphere and the ocean pools are nearly maxed in their capacity to accept carbon without even more serious disruptions in climate and sea life. This is a long festering problem, which unfortunately has come due on our watch.
Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana has pointed out how small changes in numbers can have huge consequences. Miss a free throw and lose the championship. If the economy goes into a few percentage point dip, millions will lose their jobs and houses. A three-degree rise in body temperature will make you very sick.
Sharpless adds that:
Nowhere, however, are the big consequences of little numbers becoming clearer than in the health of our oceans. There, a chemical shift of just 0.1 - that's right, just one tenth of a point - is already causing ocean acidification.
Since the 1830s we have been sending massive clouds of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other industrial aromatics into the atmosphere and the oceans. The oceans have absorbed at least 30 million tons of carbon dioxide every day for the last several decades. When carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases enter the ocean they promote chemical reactions that make the water more acidic, thus lowering the pH.
Before industrialization the average pH was 8.2, mildly alkaline on the acid-alkaline pH scale. Now it is about 8.1. No big deal, right? After 180 years of industrial and fossil fuel pollution it only dropped a 10th of a percentage point. If you thought this slight rise was ok, you would be wrong! Because of the way the pH scale works, this drop of only 0.1 represents a 26% increase in ocean acidity.
Oceanic scientists estimate that the ocean pH will fall to 7.8 by 2100. The four tenths of a point drop from 1830 to 2100 will cause the oceans to experience a 150% increase in acidity, unless we act to curb the emissions! 12
The damage to the oceans and the atmosphere is long-standing, and did not begin with industrialization. It began in the U.S. with agricultural and forestry mining operations by Europeans along the entire east coast. As early as 1800 the eastern seaboard had been so badly farmed and logged that 30% to 50% of the carbon was lost from the soil, and formerly forested land had been clear-cut and devoted to sheep farms. By the early 1800s, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut were all 80% deforested sheep farms.
As early as 1813, John Taylor lamented the loss of soil organic matter.
Our country is nearly ruined. We certainly have drawn out of the earth three-fourths of the vegetable matter it contained, within reach of the plow. 13
In 1852, David Wells at the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard analyzed soils to determine whether the mineral content of the soil was more important or the humus content (organic matter). Wells found that the amount of humus or organic matter determined how fertile or infertile the soil was. On soils with identical mineral content, the soils with high organic matter had high fertility; those with low organic matter had poor fertility and yield. Those soils abused the longest usually had little or no organic matter left, with consequent low fertility and yield. 14
For nearly 200 years, since John Taylor's time, U.S. farmers knew about the need for high soil organic matter. Before the Second World War only 5% of the nitrogen used in the U.S. was synthetic nitrogen. But, after the Green Revolution of the 1950s most of the farmers in the U.S. stopped feeding the soil with fertilizer crops and composts and switched to using synthetic nitrogen and triple phosphate to feed the plants.
In the U.S., the soil pool's lack of capability in sequestering carbon deteriorated due to land abuse during and after the 1950s and the enormous increase in the use of nitrogen mostly to raise grains for meat and milk animals. The soil pool should be a sink for excess carbon but since it has lost about 50% of its organic matter it is less than half as effective as a sink or pool for sequestering greenhouse gasses. Many of our most productive agricultural lands have been degraded or desertified because of industrial production.
Recent studies on the University of Illinois Morrow plots (the oldest continuously farmed experimental plots in the U.S.) have shown that since 1955, when synthetic nitrogen was first used, from 40% to 190% too much nitrogen was applied and yet yields dropped and organic matter declined dramatically. These problems on the Morrow plots are writ large on millions of acres of agricultural soils that have been degraded by synthetic fertilizer all over this country. 15
Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is also responsible for the nitrate poisoning of two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is the major cause of the 405 oceanic dead zones around the world (including the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and the coasts of California and Oregon). Synthetic Nitrogen fertilizer is a killer of soil life, including earthworms and microorganisms, such as: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and actinomicetes. 16
The forest pool's lack of capacity for sequestering carbon is similar to the decline in agricultural lands and the declining capacities of other plant communities. Too many forests have been degraded, or clear-cut, or over grazed and even over-fertilized with nitrogen. Too much land has been developed, exploited, and then abandoned. The solutions here are similar to organic farming solutions. We need to practice sustainable forestry management strategies that restore the micorrhizal and other forest fungi, replant clear-cut areas with high-density plantings. Manage the reforestation, including thinning and pest control. Avoid the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers because they damage fungi and other microorganisms, which are the foundations of a successful reforestation program. With reforestation and restoration of the forest floor microorganisms, our forests would be able to sequester many more millions of tons of carbon.
If we convert our acreage to organic we can reverse this long-term decline in the agricultural and forest soil pools and sequester enough carbon to reverse the global trajectory toward increasingly chaotic weather patterns. Initially this involves building up the soil organic matter and eliminating chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Damaged land can usually be restored rapidly, eroded land is more difficult and a longer-term project, but it is very doable organically. Wherever fertilizer crops and animal manure composts replace synthetic fertilizer, organic agriculture reduces carbon emissions and becomes much more effective as a sink for sequestering CO2 equivalents.
In the organic systems, soil carbon increased 15 to 28%, demonstrating the ability of the organic systems to sequester significant quantities of atmospheric carbon. Specifically, the Rodale organic manure system showed an average increase of soil carbon of about 1000 lbs per acre-foot of soil per year, or about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre-ft per year sequestered. When multiplied over the 165 million acres of corn /soybeans that are produced nationally, a potential of an increase of 580 billion pounds of carbon dioxide per year would be sequestered by farmers switching from conventional chemically based farming systems to organic grain farming methods. Over the 23 year lifespan of the Rodale test, the conventional system showed no significant increases in either soil carbon or nitrogen. 17
Of course, the organic conversion and significant changes in our eating habits seems herculean, since only about 5% of U.S. acreage is organic at this point in time and only 7.5% of our agricultural lands produce non animal crops. But, don't forget that as late as the mid-1970s more than 40% of the U.S. population smoked tobacco, now, less than 17% smoke, a drop of 57.5% in 35 years.
If we can have such success on this hardest to cure habit in such a short time, we should be able to do something about our excessive consumption of factory-farmed meat and junk food. Just as it was in the public's best health interest to quit smoking, it is in the public's health interest to reduce our consumption of meat and other products that are destroying public health, the environment, and climate stability.
We all know that it is going to take radical policy changes to change our fossil fuel and coal addictions. The organic food and farming movement must join ranks with the climate justice movement and the Occupy movement to bring about fundamental change, a shift of political and economic power from the corporatocracy, the 1%, to the grassroots majority, followed by huge infrastructure investment and development. In the meantime, let's take action with our farms and forks.
With food, as with tobacco, we don't need a massive infrastructure development to change our consumer habits. There is an abundance of safe organic food on the market today, and thousands of growers willing to grow it if the demand increases. As with tobacco, the public and especially the kids need to be educated about the relationship between chemically produced food and climate change, and the direct relationship between factory-farmed food and cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
If the U.S. population could reduce its addiction to unhealthy, environmentally destructive, and climate destabilizing foods by 57.5% in the next 35 years, (the same way we've reduced smoking) we could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in the same way we reduced the incidence of lung cancer, emphysema, osteoporosis, and chronic bronchitis when tobacco habits were broken. Sure, we need more environmentally responsible energy choices and we should push for those choices as soon as possible. But, we can change a lot, before we ever get the new fuels or the infrastructure they require, by changing our eating habits.
The government, energy, and automobile corporations, at least for now, still dictate the pace on how fast we convert to cleaner fuels. But, we make the decisions about which types of food we eat, just like we control whether we smoke or not. We must begin a national safe eating campaign, similar to the national non-smoking effort that has been so successful. We look forward to the day when the surviving McDonald Big-Mac addicts have to eat their burgers in the alley with the cigarette addicts still smoking tobacco.
We need to demonize factory farm food just like tobacco was demonized. Why? Because factory farmed meat is sick meat that is full of antibiotics and hormones to keep the sick and abused animals alive until slaughter time. It is ironic that we as a society are upset over athletes dosing themselves with sex hormones but are uncritical of our beef and milk products that are full of sex and growth hormones - which we and our kids eat and drink!
Beyond hormones, all non-organic meat and milk products from factory farms are dosed with antibiotics from the day they are born until just prior to being slaughtered. And all of the confined animals are routinely abused, including beef, milk cows, chickens for eggs or meat, and especially turkeys. Factory farmed turkeys can't even reproduce themselves, they are all artificially inseminated. They are so delicate, since they are enormous, crippled, and vulnerable to dozens of ailments, that they require the most antibiotics of all the factory farmed meats just to keep most of them alive long enough to make it to the slaughterhouse. Turkey sandwich, anyone?
Factory farmed chickens are not much safer or less abused than turkeys. Their illness rates are extremely high. In January 2007 Consumer Reports published their study of bacterial contamination of chicken sold in the US. They purchased 525 broiler chickens from various kinds of food stores in 23 states and tested them for types of bacteria that caused food-borne illnesses. Laboratory results indicated that 83% of these chickens were infected with campylobacter and 15% were also infected with salmonella. That means that maybe 17 out of one hundred chickens were safe. In 2009, Consumer Reports again tested chicken broilers and found that 68% were infected with campylobacter, an improvement, but hardly a badge of safety. Chicken wings, yum!
Vegetables and fruits are no different than meats. Apples are often sprayed 20 times a year, artichokes 26, grapes are sprayed weekly during the growing season, sweet corn every five days for the last 5 weeks before harvest, and strawberries get about 300 pounds of pesticides and 300 pounds of synthetic fertilizer per acre - every year!
We have an agriculture system that is both abusive and bankrupt, but is kept on life support with government subsidies and corporate handouts. This government funding and corporate dominance enables the U.S. food system to cause diabetes, heart disease, cancer, strokes, obesity, water pollution, oceanic dead zones, excessive greenhouse gas emissions, and soil and water degeneration.
One of the critical elements in the fight against tobacco was the damage caused by second hand smoke. The second hand smoke of industrial farming is the damage caused by land and water abuse, pesticides and pesticide drift, toxic fertilizers, hormones, excessive use of antibiotics, genetic manipulation, and, most deadly of all, greenhouse gas emissions. As with second hand smoke, the victims have no control over the source of the pollution, or when or where the polluter "lights-up". Protect yourself and your family.
For the first time in history, the entire human species are confronted with a deadly universal threat: climate catastrophe. The good news is that this common threat gives us the potential, for the first time ever, to unite the world's population in a cooperative effort to save the human species. Farmers and gardeners: vote with your farming and gardening practices to save the Earth and the climate. Consumers: vote with your fork and knife to stop this destructive form of food production and distribution!
Will Allen is an organic farmer, author, rural community activist, and a civil rights and anti-war activist. He serves on the Policy Advisory board of Organic Consumers Association, and the board of Willing Hands.
Ronnie Cummins is the co-founder and National Director of the Organic Consumers Association.
1. Gillis, Justin, As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks, The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2011, p. A1
See also the more alarming story: Connor, Steve, Shock as Retreat of Arctic Sea Ice Releases Deadly Greenhouse Gas, The Independent (UK) Dec. 13, 2011
2. Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, November, 2006 and Climate Change: Greenhouse Gas Inventory: Global Change Program Office, Office of the Chief
Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Technical Bulletin No. 1907. 163 pp. March 2004.
3. Goodland, Robert and Jeffery Anhang, Livestock and Climate Change. World Watch Magazine, November 1, 2009.
4. USDA National Agricultural Statistical Service, Acreage Distributions per crop, 2002, and 2008.
5. Shiva, Vandana, 2008 Manifesto on Climate Change and the Future of Food Security. Published and co-authored by the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture and LaSalle, Tim, 2008 Paper delivered to the Eco Expo East Conference and Trade Show.
6. International Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report, Table 2-14. Chapter 2, p. 212. Excerpt.
7. USDA, National Agricultural Statistical Service. Fertilizer Use Statistics, 1998-2007.
8. The Carlisle Group, which is the largest U.S. distributor of sludge, contends that about 135 billion pounds of sludge are applied to farmland each year.
9. Carus, Felicity, 2010. "UN Urges Global Move to Meat and Dairy Free Diet. The Guardian
10. Fairlie, Simon 2010. Meat: A Benign Extravagance. pg. 39. Chelsea Green, White River Junction, Vermont.
11. ibid., pp. 35-43
12. Andrew Sharpless. January 21, 2011 Ocean acidity: Small Change, Catastrophic Results. McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
13.Taylor, John 1813, The Arator.
14. Wells, David 1852,
15. Mulvaney, Richard, Saeed Khan, and Tim Ellsworth, 2009 "Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizers Deplete Soil Nitrogen: A Global Dilemma for Sustainable Cereal Production," Journal of Environmental Quality,
16. Diaz, R.J. and R. Rosenberg. 2008. Spreading dead zones and consequences for marine ecosystems. Science 321:926-928.
17. Hepperly, Paul. 2003, "Organic farming sequesters atmospheric carbon and nutrients in soils." New Farm Trials, The Rodale Institute