'Overwhelming' Evidence Shows Path is Clear: It's Time to Ditch Industrial Agriculture for Good
New report looks at why, given negative outputs, a massive shift to agroecological approaches hasn't yet taken hold
by Andrea Germanos from Common Dreams
An organic farmer harvests tea leaves in eastern Nepal. (Photo: USAID Nepal/flickr/cc)
If you can count as successes increased greenhouse gases, ecosystem degradation, rises in hunger and obesity, and unbalanced power in food systems, then industrial agriculture has done one heck of a job.
That's according to a panel of experts, whose new report, From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems (pdf), calls for breaking the chains that lock monocultures and industrial-scale feedlots to the dominant farming systems in order to unleash truly sustainable approaches—ones that use holistic strategies, eschew chemical inputs, foster biodiversity, and ensure farmer livelihoods.
As the authors write, "The evidence in favor of a major transformation of our food systems is now overwhelming."
The new publication from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), released Thursday, compares the two opposing methods of agricultural systems; looks at why, given the negative outcomes of outcomes of industrial agriculture, it remains in place; and suggests paths for how to move towards widespread adoption of agroecological systems.
"Many of the problems in food systems are linked specifically to the uniformity at the heart of industrial agriculture, and its reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides," stated Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and leader of the panel. "Simply tweaking industrial agriculture will not provide long-term solutions to the multiple problems it generates."
For example, the report notes that food systems are responsible for about one-third of all GHGs, "Aquifer exploitation and water table depletion are now occurring at alarming rates, particularly in industrial cropping zones such as the U.S. Midwest," and pesticide exposure has been linked to numerous health problems.
Among the factors keeping the dominant system in place, the report notes, is the flawed "feed the world" approach that frames industrial agriculture as the solution while ignoring power relations and poverty, as well as policies that keep fossil fuels cheap and short term political thinking that demands immediate results.
As De Schutter added: "It is not a lack of evidence holding back the agroecological alternative. It is the mismatch between its huge potential to improve outcomes across food systems, and its much smaller potential to generate profits for agribusiness firms."
Among the key messages, as noted by IPES-Food
Factory Farming and the Environment
from Farm Sanctuary
With over nine billion animals raised and slaughtered for human consumption each year in the U.S. alone, modern animal agriculture puts an incredible strain on natural resources like land, water, and fossil fuel. Factory farms yield a relatively small amount of meat, dairy, and eggs for this input, and in return produce staggering quantities of waste and greenhouse gases, polluting our land, air, and water and contributing to climate change.
- Industrial agriculture and the ‘industrial food systems’ that have developed around it are locked in place by a series of vicious cycles. For example, the way food systems are currently structured allows value to accrue to a limited number of actors, reinforcing their economic and political power, and thus their ability to influence the governance of food systems.
The new publication, presented at the invite-only Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity in Norway, follows a call in November 2015 by United Nations expert Hilal Elver to ditch industrial agriculture.
"There is a need for a major shift from industrial agriculture to transformative systems such as agroecology that support the local food movement, protect small holder farmers, respect human rights, food democracy and cultural traditions, and at the same time maintain environmental sustainability and facilitate a healthy diet," she said at the time.
by Erin Eberle from Farm Forward
Factory Farming is Risky BusinessEveryone knows that factory farming is bad for animals, humans, and the environment. Now, with our help, a growing number of financial institutions are realizing that it’s bad for investors, too. With input from Farm Forward, a groundbreaking new report calls into question the wisdom of investing in industrialized animal agriculture. Published by Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR), the report highlights the risks to investors posed by a wide array of environmental, governance, and social issues that stem from factory farming.
Environmental IssuesThe FAIRR report calls upon investors to carefully consider the material risks factory farms pose to successful investment. Climate change and increasing water scarcity top this list of problems with industrial farms that demand more investor scrutiny. The report suggests that the profitability of factory farming is threatened by some of the very problems that it creates. For instance, factory farms are both significant contributors to climate change (livestock operations emit more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector). andare likely to face severe financial strain as the planet heats up (a 21 percent increase in “heat stress” days is predicted for the cattle industry by 2045). Similarly, California dairies are currently losing millions of dollars in the midst of the state’s historic drought, even as factory farms continue to use more of California’s water resources than any other industry.
Governance IssuesSavvy investors will also consider the inherent fragility of factory farming as a result of its reliance on direct and indirect government subsidies. Factory farms in the US enjoy approximately four billion dollars in annual benefits from the of grain subsidies provided by the US government. From 1997 to 2005, the Farm Bill put more than a billion dollars per year into the pockets of large corporate interests in the broiler industry, accelerating consolidation in the sector even though the Farm Bill should, hypothetically, support small farmers. Plus, factory farms benefit from the millions of dollars spent every year by the public to mitigate and remediate water pollution that they cause.
Because industrialized agriculture relies so heavily on government assistance, FAIRR warns that “Changes in government policy, particularly subsidy support, present significant financial risks to animal factory farming.”
Social IssuesFAIRR points to the risk of diseases like swine and avian influenza as another key concern for investors. In 2009, for instance, H1N1 Swine flu killed 150,000 people and cost the industry billions of dollars in lost revenue. According to Columbia University’s Raul Rabadan, evidence points to a factory farm as the origin of that outbreak. Just as alarming, however, is the rise of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, which public health officials have linked to the vast overuse of antibiotics in farmed animal production (80 percent of antibiotics in the US now go to farmed animals).
Such overuse is especially problematic in the poultry industry, which continues to rely on antibiotics to keep breeding birds alive even as it has begun raising their offspring without them (to meet the growing demand for “antibiotic-free” chicken and turkey, increasingly the meat birds themselves aren’t being fed antibiotics). As FAIRR’s report puts it,
If we see more comprehensive bans on antibiotics that constrain drug use in the entire chain of chicken production (including parent birds), we would see even more significant financial harm--it would require a complete restructuring of the infrastructure of the animal factory farm model.
Investing in the New Future of FoodAs the risks of investing in factory farming become more apparent, plant-based companies dedicated to providing alternatives to factory-farmed products have become an increasingly attractive option. Meat consumption continues to fall in the US; meanwhile, companies like Hampton Creek Foods and Beyond Meat are growing at incredible speeds because they recognize the need for a new future of food that’s more humane and sustainable than industrial-scale animal agriculture.
With smarter companies, smarter investors, and smarter consumers joining forces to shift the market away from factory farming, the future looks brighter than ever. Farm Forward is leading the way with innovative tools like BuyingPoultry, which makes it easy for consumers to add their voices to the cause and find food that aligns with their values.