Modern agricultural practices have been a threat to life on Earth and are a factor in virtually every growing environmental and health problem. Farmers 100 years ago would have laughed at such a thing happening, as agriculture is necessary for food production and, therefore, life. However, it is indisputable today we are drastically and negatively affecting air, soil and water.
Scientists are now calling for the definition of a new geological age, moving Earth from the Holocene era of stability into Anthropocene, marked by significant and permanent changes to the Earth from mankind. In the past decades, food production has focused on efficiency and lowering immediate costs.
This approach has been responsible for skyrocketing disease statistics and a faltering ecosystem struggling with rapidly reducing clean water supplies and soil unable to support plant life. Toxic agricultural chemicals are polluting the air and waterways, threatening the entire food chain and disrupting normal rainfall patterns.
Poorly Designed Food Production Negatively Impacts the Environment
Today's large agrichemical businesses were designed to increase production and financial gains. While traditional farming sustained mankind for thousands of years, industrial farming has managed to create a series of unsustainable situations in less than 70 years. For instance, topsoil destruction and erosion are exacerbated by monocropping and tilling.
Maria-Helena Semedo of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has warned at the current rate of topsoil degradation, all the world's topsoil will be gone in less than 60 years.1
These changes can potentially create another dust bowl. In the 1930s farmers plowed the Southern Plains. After three consecutive drought years the area turned into an uninhabitable and unworkable dust bowl. Current research suggests modern agricultural methods will not protect us from a repeat of those devastating conditions.2
Bioethicist George Dvorsky3 believes a common expectation is a dust bowl would not occur since 30 percent of produce production is irrigated in the U.S., and corn is not planted in severely drought-stricken places. However, according to simulations, if the U.S. were to experience the same kind of drought today, we’d lose nearly 40 percent of our commodity crops.
Degradation of topsoil and industrial farming, which uses an estimated 80 percent of our freshwater supply,4 means much water is wasted as it washes through the soil and passes the plants’ root systems. In seeking efficiency, large-scale industrialized agricultural endeavors have created a reduction in diversity.
Monoculture farming significantly contributes to dietary changes promoting poor health in both humans and the soil. According to a report by the Royal Botanic Gardens in the U.K., one-fifth of all plants worldwide are threatened with extinction, primarily through the expansion of agriculture and monoculture farming.5
EAT-Lancet Commission Goals Are Far-Reaching, but Results Fall Short
In 2016, the Stockholm Resilience Centre,6 Lancet7 and EAT announced the EAT-Lansing Commission to investigate connections between nutrition, health and the ability of the planet to sustain the food supply. According to their site, EAT is:8,9
“[A] global, nonprofit startup dedicated to transforming our global food system through sound science, impatient disruption and novel partnerships … founded by the Stordalen Foundation, Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Wellcome Trust to catalyze a food system transformation.
To ensure success, we connect and partner across science, policy, business and civil society to achieve five urgent and radical transformations by 2050.”
The commission acknowledged food systems are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and users of freshwater, each leading to biodiversity loss and land-use changes, and triggering dead zones in lakes and coastal areas.
The commission’s goals were to bring together scientists from around the globe to reach a scientific consensus defining a healthy diet, a sustainable food system, how to achieve a healthy diet from a sustainable food system and the solutions and policies needed.10
To date the American Heart Association,11 American Diabetes Association12 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention13 do not have a solid consensus on what constitutes a healthy diet. However, many of their experts do acknowledge lowering carbohydrates and sugar intake, and increasing amounts of vegetables and healthy fats are important steps.
One of the initiatives of EAT is to bring together an “ambitious global business partnership” for a “systemic approach across the food system to drive industry change.” Their partners14 include Bayer, Cargill, DuPont, Kellogg's and Syngenta, each with its own desire to maintain financial health through product promotion, including genetically engineered (GE) seeds, insecticides, pesticides and cereals.