The True Cost of Cheap Meat

farmageddon

Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat

By Philip Lymbery with Isobel Oakeshott

Bloomsbury Press (2014)

Book Review

Farmageddon is about the false economy of industrial meat production. While the corporations that promote factory farming applaud themselves for producing “cheap meat” for poor people, when societal costs are counted, industrially produced meat costs society approximately 25 times the sticker price. So as not to infringe on corporate profits, the excess costs (for environmental clean-up and a myriad of health problems) are transferred to the taxpayer.

Lymbery, a long time organic farming proponent, provides an extremely thorough and compelling expose of the numerous drawbacks of raising livestock in concrete warehouses. The side effects of living adjacent to a factory farm include air and water pollution by toxic herbicides and pesticides, nitrates, pathogenic bacteria and arsenic; loss of songbirds, bees and other insect species; reduced life expectancy,* increased exposure to disease carrying mosquitoes, loss of earthworms (due to fertilizer-related soil acidification), increased incidence (by threefold) of childhood asthma; increased antibiotic resistance (due to routine feeding of antibiotics to factory farmed cows, pigs and chickens); reduced sperm counts and increased breast cancer and renal tumors related to Roundup, the herbicide used with GMO crops.

Lymbery also includes a section on industrially farmed fish and they risks they pose to the health of wild fish populations.

His final chapter includes a variety of policy recommendations that could facilitate a move away from industrial farming to safer, less environmentally destructive traditional farming.


*Individuals who live adjacent to intensive dairy farms have a ten year decrease in life expectancy.

How Plants Control Us

The Botany of Desire

Directed by Michael Schwarz and Edward Gray (2009)

Film Review

The Botany of Desire is a 2009 PBS documentary based on Michael Pollan’s 2001 book The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the Word. Both concern the co-evolution of plants and human beings and the vital symbiotic relationships they form.  Pollan focuses specifically on the apple, the tulip, the cannabis plant and the potato, detailing how each has evolved to deliberately appeal to human desire. In addition to tracing each plant to its region of origin, he highlights specific biological adaptations it has made to make it appealing to human beings.

The film is full of fascinating factual tidbits, eg that apple trees still grow wild in Kazakhstan and poke up through sidewalk cracks and that potatoes were essential in fueling the development of northern Europe (which is prone to erratic grain harvests) and the industrial revolution.

In addition to providing lavish detail about the art and science of indoor cannabis cultivation, Pollan also examines research into specific cannabis receptors in the human brain. The latter play an important role in helping us forget painful and/or irrelevant memories.

The video concludes by focusing on some of the drawbacks of industrial agriculture, especially our over-reliance on monoculture crops. The loss of diversity in our corporatized foods system makes our food crops far more susceptible to pests. This, in turn, makes us over reliant on toxic pesticides, herbicides and GMOs.

As Pollan stresses at the end of the film, the solution to problems caused by monoculture isn’t more technology. The solution is to end monoculture by diversifying food production.

My only point of disagreement was Pollan’s statement (in 2009) that plants lack consciousness. More recent research suggests that they’re more aware of their environment than we are. See Are Plants Smarter than We Are?

YouTube has taken the film down for copyrights reasons but it can be viewed free at PBS videos

Mushrooms, Bees and Cancer

Paul Stamets – How Mushrooms Can Save Bees & Our Food Supply

Bioneers (2014)

Paul Stamets is a mycologist who studies the complex role played by the vast network of fungal mycelium that underlies all natural forests and grassland. As many organic gardeners are learning, deforestation and plowing, herbicides and pesticides associated with industrial agriculture are killing this mycelium. It’s in this way that important antibacterial (most antibiotics are derived from fungi) and antiviral properties are lost that are vital to both the plant and animal kingdom

Stamets first became interested in the role of fungi in bee health when he saw honeybees sucking the mycelium out of wood chips on his farm. Through subsequent research, he would learn that specific fungi contain compounds that suppress the virus carried by veroa mites – implicated in colony collapse syndrome. The same antiviral fungi are also play a role in protecting animals against zoonotic* viruses, such as bird flu and H1N1.

Stamets believes that wide scale deforestation has destroyed the fungi that bees have traditionally relied on and this is partly responsible for the 40% reduction in bee populations. He also blames deforestation for growing pandemics of zoonotic illnesses like bird flu, H1N1, MERS and possibly ebola.

In the second video, Stamets discusses his research into turkey tail mushrooms as an adjunct treatment in terminal breast cancer.

More about the successful $2.25 million National Institute of Health Study at the link below. Owing to their positive effect on the microbiome (intestinal bacteria), turkey tail mushrooms are also helpful in

  • Infections and inflammations of the upper respiratory tract
  • Infections of the urinary tract
  • Infections and irritations of the digestive tract
  • Pulmonary diseases
  • Chronic congestion
  • General lack of energy and malaise

*A zoonotic disease is one that can be passed between animals and people

Western Medicine: Still Stuck in the 20th Century

Origins

well.org (2014)

Film Review

In brief, Origins is a film about saving the planet by improving your diet and lifestyle. The filmmakers assert that a healthier diet will enable people to think more clearly about the imminent crises confronting civilization. While I totally disagree with the premise – I don’t believe real change is possible without confronting corporate corruption and growing inequality – I liked the film. It offers the clearest explanation yet of the fundamental role of the microbiome* in human health and the rhizophere** in plant health.

Western medicine, as currently practiced, has become totally obsolete owing to its inability to view the human body as a holistic integrated unit. The end result is that roughly half of us are in really poor health. While I disagree with the premise of the film, I’m willing to concede that many of us aren’t healthy or fit enough to tackle major social or political change.

A secondary premise of the film is that we need to fundamentally rethink the way we use technology – mainly because we’re systematically poisoning ourselves through air pollution and toxic endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen in our bodies. This heavy estrogen effect is a major factor in an epidemic of breast, prostate and other cancers, as well as infertility, obesity and anxiety/depression.

My favorite part of the documentary concerns the microbiome, which turns out to be primary source of our immunity. Owing to the overuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture (in livestock feed), most of us have experienced a mass extinction of our intestinal bacteria. This, in turn, plays an even bigger role than toxic chemicals in diseases triggered by inflammation, such as obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and autoimmune illnesses.

Origins goes on to stress the importance of vaginal birth and breast feeding in establishing a healthy microbiome in infants and the avoidance of antibiotics, antibiotic soaps and commercial household cleaners and toxic chemicals in keeping it that way. Letting kids play in the dirt is another important source of beneficial bacteria. As are are fermented foods and fresh (unprocessed) chemical free foods.

I was also pleased to see the filmmakers brutally debunk the low fat, high sugar, high carbohydrate diet*** Food Inc and western medicine have been trying to sell us for the last fifty years. This is the number one reason half of Americans suffer from “diabesity” (aka metabolic syndrome), even though many of them may not realize it yet.

To their credit, thousands of doctors (according to filmmakers) are taking their patients off GMO foods, resulting in rapid relief of allergies, chronic illnesses and infertility.

I was also pleased to see the comparison filmmakers make between the soil rhizosphere and the gut microbiome. While we’ve been destroying our intestinal bacteria with antibiotics, Food Inc has been systematically destroying essential soil bacteria with pesticides, herbicides and GMOs.

Citing a recent UN study, Origins explodes the myth that GMO technology is the only solution to world hunger. According to the UN, we could double current crop yields in ten years simply by switching to organic farming methods that restore the health and integrity of our soil.

Ignore the background music (I hate documentaries with soppy background music). It’s worth putting up with for the excellent section on diet.


* Microbiome, as defined in this film, refers to the millions of intestinal bacteria that are essential to healthy digestion and immunity.

** The rhizosphere is the narrow region of soil that is directly influenced by root secretions and associated soil microorganisms.

***For a great book summarizing the research that debunks the low fat diet, see Why the Low Fat Diet Makes You Fat and Gives You Heart Disease, Cancer and Tooth Decay

Farming Without Machines: A Revolutionary Agricultural Technology

how to grow more vegetables

How to Grow More Vegetables (and fruits, nuts, berries, grains, and other crops) than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine

By John Jeavons

2002 Edition

Ten Speed Press

Book Review

Originally published in 1974, How to Grow More Vegetables remains a vital resource for farmers, agricultural researchers and planners, sustainability activists and home gardeners, as the world confronts the challenge of feeding a global population of 7-9 billion without access to the cheap fossil fuels that have run “industrial” agriculture for the last century. Thanks to skyrocketing oil prices, Peak Oil is no longer just a theory. The failure of oil production to increase at the same rate as heavy demand from developing countries like China and India has driven the price of oil to record levels. Owing to the heavy use of fossil fuels in contemporary agriculture, food prices have tended to increase at a comparable rate. Scientists predict that food shortages related to the loss of mechanized agriculture will likely be compounded by droughts, floods and other extreme weather events related to climate change.

Growing Soil, Not Crops

Jeavon’s book is unique in that it combines theory and research (with a fifty-three page bibliography) with a cookbook-style manual for households preparing for a future in which they grow most or all of their own food. The GROW BIOINTENSIVE approach, developed by Jeavons and Ecology Action of the Midpenninsula (Palo Alto), is centered around preserving the microbial life (bacteria and fungi) that are abundant in healthy soil and which are essential to plant health and growth. Up to 6 billion microbial life-forms live in one 5-gram sample of cured compost (about the size of a quarter). This microbial life, so essential to plant development, is destroyed by specific aspects of industrial farming. This is the main reason for the relatively poor yields of factory farms (in contrast to traditional biointensive methods). It’s also responsible for the extensive destruction of our topsoil. Repeated plowing and chemical fertilizers disrupt the delicate ecology of topsoil organisms, and pesticides and herbicides are as deadly to soil bacteria and fungi as they are to insects and weeds. In his introduction, Jeavons reveals that industrial farming destroys approximately six pounds of topsoil for each pound of food it produces. China’s soils, for example, remained productive for more than 4,000 years, until the adoption of mechanized chemical agricultural techniques led to the destruction of 15-33% of their agricultural soil. Another example is North Africa, which was the granary for Rome until overfarming transformed it into a desert. According to Jeavons, the world only has enough topsoil left to last 42-84 years.

Quadrupling Crop Yields

Based on thirty-plus years of horticultural research, Ecology Action members have ascertained that the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method, in the hands of a skilled practitioner, can produce enough food to feed one person (on a vegan diet) with 4,000 square feet of land. This contrasts with the 7,000 square feet required to feed a vegan using fossil fuels, farm machinery and conventional chemical or organic techniques. Without fossil fuels and machines, the amount of land required (using conventional chemical or organic techniques) would be 21,000-28,000 square feet. At present it takes 31,000-63,000 square feet per person to produce an average US diet (including eggs, milk, cheese, and meat), using fossil fuels and mechanization and conventional chemical or organic techniques. In addition to increasing caloric production by 200-400% per unit of area, the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method also significantly reduces water consumption (by 67-88%) and increases soil fertility (by 100%).

A Manual for Novice, Intermediate and Advanced Gardeners

Most of How to Grow More Vegetables is a detailed instruction manual describing how an average family (1-4 people) can grow the right kind of crops to supply most, if not all, their food requirements. Nearly half the book consists of tables with basic information about the spacing, care and calorie and protein content of specific crops and master charts showing where, when and how much of each variety to plant.

Originally published in Dissident Voice

Rethinking Industrial Agriculture

food forest

Small food forest

(This is the second of two posts about dramatic changes that are occurring in food production and marketing, as well as consumer food choices.  Part II addresses the application of design technology to water and soil management, which is revolutionizing the movement towards local food production.)

Applying Design Technology to Farming

Most food localization initiatives have been accompanied by radical technological advances that apply design principles to the way food is grown. The design technology employed in the rapidly growing fields of permaculture and biointensive farming is based on a radically different approach to water and soil management, modeled on nature’s ecosystem design principles. Anyone who studies natural ecosystems can’t help but notice there are no neat rows or bare soil in natural forests and prairies. Nature crams as many living organisms as possible, all with complex symbiotic relationships, into every square inch.

Ironically this “revolutionary” technology happens to be 4,000 years old. Chinese farmers discovered around 2,000 B.C. that designing their fields to replicate natural ecosystems produced the highest yields. This approach is well-described in F.H. King’s 1911 book Farmers of Forty Centuries. The US Department of Agriculture sent King to China in the early 1900s to investigate why Chinese farms were so amazingly productive. What he discovered was a highly sophisticated system of water and soil management that emphasized species diversity and rational utilization of ecological relationships among plants and between plants and animals.

The Watershed Model of Water Management

Despite King’s innovative work, it has taken English-speaking countries a full century for the lessons to sink in. Applying capitalist slash and burn mentality to farming clearly hasn’t worked. Agricultural yields in Britain and its former colonies, which all employ similar “modern” methods of water management, have destroyed tons of topsoil and essentially reduced agricultural yields by a third. In a desperate attempt to ramp up yields, chemical insecticides and herbicides were introduced after World War II. These, in turn, systematically killed off microscopic soil organisms essential to plant health.

Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other former British colonies all adopted the “drainage” system of water management. In this approach, trees are systematically cleared (usually by burning) and wetlands and springs are drained. Typically land managed in this way is subject to alternating flooding and drought, creating an unending cycle of economic hardship for farmers and farming communities. Besides destroying existing crops, repeated flooding also washes away topsoil and essential plant nutrients.

In contrast traditional farmers in non-English speaking countries are more likely to use the centuries’ old “water catchment model” of water management, sometimes referred to as terraquaculture. Because they deliberately design their farms to catch and hold water, they aren’t subject to flooding, soil erosion and draught. Chinese farmers wouldn’t dream of draining their wetlands, which are always the most productive areas for high energy food crops, such as rice and other grains.

Plowing “Kills” Soil

Soil technology has also greatly advanced in the last five decades, with the discovery of complex micro-ecosystems that support optimal plant growth. These eocosystems include a myriad of soil yeasts, bacteria and other organisms that live in symbiosis with host plants. Not only do they provide nutrients to the root systems of larger plants, but they also produce a myriad of natural insecticides and herbicides to protect them against pests. Mechanically disrupting the soil through plowing kills these organisms. They can potentially recover if the soil is left undisturbed – unless the grower totally wipes them out with pesticides, herbicides or bacteriocidal GMOs.

Studies show that plant diversity is also essential to a healthy plant ecosystem. Planting a single crop in neat rows surrounded by bare soil is also perfect invitation for weeds and insects to come and attack them.

Permaculture, in contrast, discourages noxious weeds and insect pests by creating “food forests” made up of compatible food-producing trees, shrubs and ground cover crops. Unlike veggie gardens limited to annuals that have to be replanted every year, the food forest is self-sustaining with minimal input. For people worried about the economy collapsing and their gardens being invaded by barbarians from the big city, it’s also virtually indestructible.

To get some idea what a food forest looks like, check out this video by Australian permaculture guru Geoff Lawton:

Attention City Dwellers

Lawton is also a big fan of small space urban permaculture because it’s the most productive in terms of yield per square foot. The following is a video by one of his students about designing a permaculture food growing system on your balcony or terrace:

photo credit: London Permaculture via photopin cc

Originally published in Dissident Voice