Industrial agriculture, characterized by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and vast swatches of genetically engineered (GE) monocrops, claims to be the solution to ending world hunger.
They downplay the fact that their version of farming is destroying the environment with excessive waste and chemical pollutants, water overuse and the spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the premise that without this relatively new intensive farming, people around the world would starve.
The United Nations has even declared that world food production must double by 2050 in order to feed 9 billion people, but this may only double the environmental toll such productions are already taking, while doing little to relieve world hunger.1
Certainly, when GMO and pesticide makers Monsanto and DuPont make their claims of feeding the world, many people envision their crops feeding people in impoverished undeveloped countries, like Rwanda and Ethiopia. The reality is a far cry from this industry-spread ideal.
Just 0.5 Percent of US Exports Went to 19 Impoverished Countries in 2015
A new Environmental Working Group (EWG) report clearly dispels the myth that industrial agriculture is the solution to feeding the world. “Poverty is the root cause of hunger, not too few exports of U.S. wheat, corn, soybeans and meat. American exports go to people who can afford to buy them,” EWG noted.2
In other words, the vast majority of corn, wheat, soy and CAFO meat produced in the U.S. is going to countries with low rates of hunger.
In fact, EWG cites data from the U.N. Development Program, which found 86 percent of the value of U.S. agricultural exports in 2015 went to 20 destinations with low numbers of hungry people and high rates of human development scores.3 The top recipient? Canada.
In addition, only 0.5 percent of the value of U.S. agricultural exports went to the 19 countries with high or very high levels of undernourishment (such as Haiti, Yemen, Rwanda and Ethiopia).
In 2013 as well, U.S. farms contributed only 2.3 percent of the food supply to the countries with the most starving people.4 Such countries, unbeknownst to many Americans, actually produce most of their own food already.
What they need is not for the U.S. to step up its production of corn, soy and CAFO meat but to be given resources to distribute and increase access to food while helping local farmers to earn a good living. EWG reported:5
“Reducing poverty, increasing income for women, providing nutrition education, improving infrastructure like roads and markets to increase access to food, and ceasing wars and conflict could all help undernourished populations better feed themselves.”
Glyphosate Found in Baby Food
While the (literal and proverbial) “fruits” of Big Ag’s industrial labors are doing little in the way of relieving world hunger, they’re serving Americans a not-so-healthy dose of weed killer in a shockingly diverse array of foods.
The latest to be revealed, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing, is oat products, including oat cereals for babies.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, was detected in a variety of instant oatmeal, including strawberry, banana, cinnamon spice and maple brown sugar flavors.6
Glyphosate has made headlines recently because it’s the most used agricultural chemical in history and also because the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined it is a probable carcinogen.
An Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) investigation previously detected glyphosate in a variety of additional foods including bagels, bread and wheat cereal. This, they noted, is likely the result of the common practice of using glyphosate as a desiccant shortly before harvest.
Ten out of 24 breakfast foods tested in ANH’s analysis had detectable levels of glyphosate. This included oatmeal, bagels, coffee creamer, organic bread and even organic, cage-free, antibiotic-free eggs.
In addition, advocacy group Moms Across America sent 10 wine samples to be tested for glyphosate. All of the samples tested positive for glyphosate — even organic wines, although their levels were significantly lower.7
A study of glyphosate residues by the Munich Environmental Institute also found glyphosate in 14 best-selling German beers.8
Investors Pulling the Plug on CAFOs
Seventy percent of meat worldwide, and 99 percent of meat in the U.S., comes from CAFOs, but this could soon change as investors grow increasingly weary over the industry’s unsustainable practices and poor public image.
“Nothing will force businesses to change faster than the risk of their financial backing being pulled out from under them,” Lea Garces, director of Compassion in World Farming USA, told Food Navigator.9
CAFOs, with their strong potential for causing pandemic illness and proven track record of pollution, are considered high-risk investments, and a group of investors that collectively manage more than $1 trillion have joined the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return Initiative, to conduct negative risk screening on the CAFO model.
The destructive nature of CAFOs to society, the environment and the animals, has become too blatant to ignore. Among the reasons investors may shy away from these high-risk investments are:
Antibiotics overuse and contribution to antibiotic-resistant disease
Ethical issues in the treatment of animals
The absurdity of continuing to invest money in an industry that must be supported by government bailouts is not lost on investors, either. Garces cited a $40 million U.S. government bailout given to the chicken industry in 2011 because it overproduced and could not sell its product. She told Food Navigator:10
“Any other business would have had to declare bankruptcy. Continuing to invest in a system that needs to be propped up by government bails out [sic] and subsidies creates environment[al] havoc, is cruel to animals, disenfranchises farmers and threatens our health is simply ludicrous.
It is wasting, and destroying, precious arable land and water on producing feed for factory farmed animals, when we could be directly us[ing] those resources to feed ourselves in a more sustainable and efficient way.”
Agro-Ecology Is the Secret to Feeding the World
A team of 900 scientists funded by the World Bank and United Nations determined that the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops is simply NOT a meaningful solution to the complex situation of world hunger.11
Instead, the scientists suggested that “agro-ecological” methods would provide the most viable means to ensure global food security, including the use of traditional seed varieties and local farming practices already adapted to the local ecology.
Industrial agriculture ensures that the business of food is highly concentrated, not only in terms of being a monoculture with very few crop varieties available, but also in terms of ownership of these few precious crops. This concentrated power of food diversity and of the food supply actually ensures food insecurity.
Meanwhile, problems with hunger are typically not related to a shortage in food production but rather to poverty, problems with the way that food is used and distributed and the types of food being grown in the first place.
The Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience Blog explained that there is plenty of food to go around, but much of it is wasted:12
“Instead of becoming more conservative and conscious of the food resources available, many nations have become overly consumerist and wasteful … 1.2-2 billion tons of all food produced ends up as waste, which is 30 [percent] to 50 [percent] of total food production in the world, and it is not only a waste of food but a waste of energy, water and other resources that go into producing it.
In the meantime, while there is a global food surplus taking place there is still starvation in developing countries throughout the world. Many people are not getting enough to eat and the main contributor is a large-scale social problem that no one can seem to tackle fully: poverty.
Poverty is not merely a social problem; it is a major health hazard and humanitarian disaster. And it is largely because of inequality that poverty is allowed to sit at the table unwelcome, removing the possibility of providing the food resources needed by everyone, but tolerated by present, past and likely future generations nevertheless.”
The Way We Are Producing Food Is ‘No Longer Acceptable’
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations Director-General José Graziano da Silva is among those who understand the need for urgent changes in industrial agriculture.
Increasing production is not the solution, as today the world produces enough food to feed everyone — but 805 million people still do not have enough to eat.13 Graziano da Silva expressed the need for a paradigm shift so food systems can be “more sustainable, inclusive and resilient,” adding that the current methods of food production are “no longer acceptable” and are contributing to soil degradation and loss of biodiversity.14
He, too, cited agro-ecology as a practical solution to improve food security and nutrition — ending hunger and malnutrition — worldwide. At present, most governments around the world are subsidizing and/or promoting a food production system that is unsustainable.
Moreover, it’s done at the cost of both human and environmental health. Yet, research suggests a switch to sustainable agriculture could easily be done, allowing farmers to produce the same amount of food on the same amount of land while cutting out chemical fertilizers.
You can help to prompt significant change in the agricultural industry by boycotting CAFO and GE products and instead only purchasing food grown by local farmers who are using natural methods and soil-regenerative techniques, such as no-till, cover crops, composting and livestock integration.
Look for farmers markets, food co-ops, and direct-from-the-farm sales in your area — these sustainable alternatives are growing rapidly across the U.S. and will offer you fresher, healthier food and the satisfaction of knowing you are helping to drive permanent positive changes in food production. Small changes in the right direction are even occurring in Washington D.C., like the addition of the White House vegetable garden, which is meant to be a global symbol of local food.15
If you need help finding sustainable food sources, every state has a sustainable agriculture organization or biological farming organization that is the nucleus of the farmers in that state. You can also find an ever-increasing number of “eat local” and “buy local” directories in which local farms will be listed.