4 Reasons Why 'Modern' Agriculture Is Bad For You
by Natasha Chart
categories: Community Development, Corporate Kneebiters, Farm Economics, Health, Livestock, Pest Management, Policy, Pollution
Published May 07, 2009 @ 10:35AM PST
The agribusiness and crop chemical companies are enamored of the word "sustainability" these days because, I guess, they think it's a magic word that can wipe the slate clean.
I just don't think anything can be considered sustainable that has such obviously bad effects on our health, and the health of the world around us. Swine flu's all the rage these days, but industrial agriculture didn't start being bad for us just this year.
So here are four of the negative effects of industrial agriculture on the well-being of people and the ecosystems we depend on, things that I don't think we can afford to keep doing in the long-term:
Genital feminization of male humans and animals: This one always gets them where it hurts, but the industrial pesticides used in agriculture are among the class of chemicals that mimics or stimulates estrogenic activity in the body and are linked, or suspected of being linked, to decreased sperm counts and genital abnormalities in male animals up and down the food chain.
Herbicides linked to cancer, neurological disorders: Nanaimo, British Columbia, has recently banned the use of herbicides on residential lawns based on the growing body of evidence that they're linked to a host of cancers, reproductive problems, respiratory illness and neurological effects from learning disorders to full-blown Parkinson's disease. The herbicides used on lawns are often just repackaged versions of the same chemicals, like Roundup, sold in bulk to farmers.
Antibiotics fed to livestock have created antibiotic-resistant bacteria: Called MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, these difficult to treat infections commonly only attack people with compromised immune systems and were once more commonly associated with hospital environments. They don't seem to have developed forms that are very easily transmissible, but they keep showing up in farm environments where low-dose antibiotics are used as growth promoters and infection preventives.
Plants absorb antibiotics from soil amendments: If you use manure from an animal that's been given lots of antibiotics as a plant fertilizer, the plants will incorporate those antibiotics into their tissue. Even people who eat organic food, even people who have a totally vegan diet, can thus get our livestock antibiotics passed on to them in low, irregular doses - just about the worst possible way to take antibiotics. The genes that confer antibiotic resistance in bacteria don't necessarily help them survive any better in the environment at large; which is why penicillin has become useful again, because the resistance genes faded from the active bacterial population after it fell into disuse. Maintaining regular exposure of bacterial populations to antibiotics puts positive selection pressure on antibiotic resistance genes.
And these are just a few of the lowlights of factory farm and livestock production. I could go on.
Sustainability very specifically means something we can afford to keep doing for the forseeable future, but this ... How much more poison can the living things on this planet, including us, take? How much more endocrine system damage, - how many more birth defects, can be incurred without risking the most basic means of continuing animal life on Earth? How many more superbug evolutions can we encourage without setting off a global pandemic that our rapid international travel can spread around the entire planet in days?
Any single one of these practices poses serious health threats if continued, in fact, poses serious health threats now. Is becoming steadily sicker and weaker as a population a sustainable proposition? Is our food going to literally kill us, and not just because of the diabetes and heart disease?
Truly sustainable agriculture needs to take into account not only issues such as phosphorus scarcity, but the injury limits on the health reserves of living beings.