Most Modern Farming Methods Stink!

by updated 2008/07/15

  I almost broke my rules and used a “bad” word, but stink will have to do. I am straying form my normal course of trying to be passive and gentle in my persuasion. When it come to industrial farming practices, though, it is hard to have a discussion and keep a level head. I am talking about the huge multi thousand acre mono-culture farms, not the farms run by smaller business people. Although many of the smaller farms have had to adopt practices similar to the industrial giants, most farmers have to respect their land and their animals if they want to continue to make a living from the farm.

For more than a year now, I have been saying we need to bring about a move towards “Ethical Food”. Every part of our food supply chain needs to be judged not just by how low the cost in dollars is, but by how high the hidden costs are to consumer health, farmer health, societal health, animal health, and the health of the earth. Many make the argument that today our food supply is healthier and more varied than it has ever been. On the surface this can appear to be true, but scratch a little deeper and things look a bit different. As just one example on a grand scale, look at what farm runoff is doing to thousands of square mile of ocean in the Gulf of Mexico. Farm runoff, especially from big agri-businesses, is affecting the health of people, animals, water, and land all over the world.

I would not be surprised if the recent salmonella contamination of the water supply in Alamosa, Colorado was the result of farm or feedlot runoff into the ground water. Maybe not, I suppose it could have entered the system in many different ways. But, when farm runoff reaches the water supply as it inevitably does, the danger is not just from bacteria. Other chemicals like antibiotics, hormones, herbicides, and pesticides are contamination worries also.

So today I am writing again about our water supply. I know it has been 4 posts on the topic in the past 10 days, but this needs to be pointed out. Last week the news people were talking about the “big story” that factory farm feedlots are contaminating our water tables and drinking water supply. When stories like this break, I feel like shouting at the TV, “wake up, this is news so old that it is not even funny”! I understand that with the recent news about pharmaceuticals in drinking water, the topic of pollution of our water is on the front burner. But really folks, check this article out. It is from July of 1990, 18 years ago! And, it was written by a conventional school of agriculture in the heart of the U.S. “breadbasket”. We have known about this problem for decades. On the other hand, it is important to keep these issues publicized.

Modern industrial scaled agriculture can be a difficult thing to evaluate. Some factory farms and feed lots are horrible places. Others do their best to be responsible in their farming methods. I agree that any argument against modern farming methods has to be countered by realities of our abundant and varied food choices here in the U.S. Recent increases in many food items like wheat and corn are hitting families in the pocketbook. It is tempting and understandable to look only at the price on the package of meat or the bag of peppers. But there can be hidden costs associated with our food. These are hidden expenses to our wallets, to our health, to the health of animals brought to market, and to the health of the planet.

Now I have to say that I do look at the cost of food when I shop. I do eat meat, but, I wish I had more choice and that there was a greater availability of meat that was ethically and organically produced. I am sure I eat other food that is not produced in an ethical manner. It is impossible to know the sources of everything that goes in to all the many things we buy and feed to ourselves and our families. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is very applicable to our modern food supply. There are some things you can do, however.

On a daily basis, think about the sources of your food. Ask questions of the places you buy your food. Try to think in terms of Ethical Food. Don’t just choose organic for the sake of organic. An organic bag of lettuce from a huge corporation in California is not necessarily a better choice than a bag of uncertified lettuce from your local farmers market, food co-op, or health food grocery. It may sometimes be a cheaper, but often not a more ethical choice.

Spread the word and use the term “Ethical Food”. Make this an important consideration when you shop. Buy local as much as you can. This is harder in the winter, but should be easy almost everywhere in the spring, summer, and fall. If you live rurally, you have many opportunities to grow or buy locally produced food. If you live in a city, you have more choices of places to shop. Find a business that makes an ethically considered decision about the food they sell. And then thank them for doing that. We can all improve our food choices, and in the process improve our health and the health of the world’s food supply.

If you agree this is an issue that needs to be publicized as much as possible, a Digg, Stumble, or any other publicity to get the cause of Ethical Food spread far and wide would be appreciated. Thanks!



Will Sig

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