Why Industrial Agriculture is Unsustainable

Fresh: Sustainable Food Production in America

Directed by Ana Sofia Joanes (2009)

Film Review

This documentary examines why industrial agriculture is inevitably doomed to failure. After detailing numerous financial, environmental, and human health crises linked to factory farm systems, the filmmakers explore the growing family farm movement. The latter seeks, above all, to re-localize US food production. The issue of local food production is especially relevant in 2020 with the current breakdown (thanks to COVID19 lockdowns) in globalized industrial food production.

In addition to profiling various family farmers who have abandoned factory farming, the film features Michael Pollan (author of The Botany of Desire and the The Omnivore’s Dilemma); the 2009 president of the National Family Farm Coalition; the manager of an independent farmer-supported supermarket in Kansas City; and Will Allen, former pro basketball star and founder of Growing Power (a community-supported urban farm and training center in Milwaukee).

The film explodes a number of corporate myths about industrial agriculture. First and foremost is the claim that we can’t feed a global population of seven billion without factory farming. There are now three decades of yield research revealing that traditional multi-species farming methods (still practiced by 80% of the world) are far more productive (in calories per acre) than industrialized monoculture. As several farmers in the film reveal, traditional farming methods are also more financially sustainable. Farmers employing traditional methods spend far less on pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, and vet bills because their soils, plants, and animals are much healthier.*

The second major myth the film debunks is that factory farming lowers the cost of food by replacing human labor with technology. While Food Inc CEOs and shareholders pocket their profits, society as a a whole pays the cost of industrial agriculture with increased unemployment, environmental degradation, and health care costs. The latter stems from an epidemic of food contamination (with toxins and harmful pathogens) and chronic illness (obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer).


*Two distinct effects are described: 1) The avoidance of herbicides and pesticides allows soil organisms essential for plant health to thrive and 2) Ruminant livestock thrive on the natural grasses their digestive systems evolved for, in contrast to the grains they are fed on factory farms.

Anyone with a public library card can view the film free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/fresh

Fighting Globalization by Rebuilding Local Economies

White Widows

Directed by David Straub (2019)

Film Review

This documentary concerns work by the Indian-German Peace Foundation to assist rural Indian villages in diversifying their economies. The goal is to make them less vulnerable to exploitation by the global commodities market. The village featured in the film is Dahnoli, which produces cotton. The Foundation is assisting local farmers in constructing a textile facility based on hand looms.

Most of Dahnoli’s current economic problems stem from the introduction, in the 1990s, of Monsanto’s BT resistant cotton seed. Although this genetically engineered seed initially increased yields, over time the cotton plants lost their resistance to BT and other pests and required increasingly heavy application of pesticides. As yields plummeted, farmers sought to return to traditional cotton seed, but it was no longer available.

Owing to the higher costs of patented seed and pesticides, many farmers became indebted to money lenders. Nationwide more than 300,000 farmers committed. Thousands of others have died from pesticide related health problems.

At present 65% of India’s population works in agriculture. When crops fail, many move to the big cities – where a total of 8 million live in slavery.

 

Medical Establishment Ignores Industrial Causes of Women’s Reproductive Illness

Guest post by Gloria

There have been precipitous increases, in the incidences of women’s reproductive-related, diseases and syndromes, in the past 50 years, in America. All of these women’s diseases and syndromes have Increased.

1. Uterine fibroids
2. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
3. Endometriosis
4. Ovarian cysts
5. Pre-eclampsia
6. Dysmenorrhea

The diseases and syndromes all involve reproductive issues. They all affect a woman’s ability to have children. They are all debilitating in some way. They are painful. They can lead to much more serious complications.

The medical establishment will not come out and say that these diseases, are related to Environmental health issues.  Issues like the large increases of estrogenic chemicals in the environment thanks to the petroleum and chemical industries. Chemicals that surround us in our homes, clothes, cars and food. Chemicals that are in plastics and synthetics. Chemical that are in everyday goods and in food packaging. The chemicals are everywhere.

The establishment will not talk about the toxic chemicals and radionuclides, that now flood our environment. Chemicals and isotopes that are highly toxic in very small amounts. Chemicals and elements that cause drastic physiological changes in women’s bodies. These highly potent chemicals, pesticides, and radionuclides cause hormonal disruption in the delicate balance of female reproductive systems.

The worst chemical toxins like dioxins, pthalates and pesticides are teratogenic and can be mutagenic, as well as hormone disruptors.

By far and a cry ahead of the chemical poisons are the radionuclides, that are mutagenic . Radionuclides can cause heritable conditions. Radionuclides disrupt physiological process in very small amounts. They alone could be accountable, for the exponential increases in uterine fibroids, in the past 50 years.

Uterine fibroids are painful. Quite often doctors perform hysterectomies, because of them.

Here is an example of what the medical establishment calls environmental factors for uterine fibroids:  “Environmental factors: Uterine infections, menstruation at an early age, high blood pressure, usage of birth control pills, obesity, vitamin D deficiency, a diet high in red meat but lower in green vegetables, fruit and dairy, and alcohol intake (mainly beer)”

The medical system in America, blames the victims of uterine fibroids and, other female reproductive illnesses. The American medical establishment says these illnesses are from bad lifestyle choices, poor genes, or ethnicity. They study certain Asian and South American populations who happen to have less pollution and radionuclides, in the environment. They find that these demographics and ethnicities have lower incidence, of female reproductive illnesses like uterine fibroids. The American medical establishment will never attribute exposure to chemicals and radionuclides as primary causes or, even a contributing cause, in the divergence between American and other populations.

It seems odd to me that scientists who study radionuclide effects have many studies that document decreases in male sperm count. Studies of male infertility due to radiation and radionuclides showing direct effects. Scientists warn that male human sperm-count is declining precipitously, in males in industrial countries. Industrial countries like China and America.

However the medical establishment refuses to address environmental exposure issues involving female reproductive illness and disease.

It is well known in scientific communities that hormone disruptors and other potent toxins affect women’s reproductive health and related reproductive health issues. The scientific and medical community choose to ignore this issue.

How Industrial Farming Destroys Complex Plant Interrelationships

What Plants Talk About

PBS (2014)

Film Review

The title of this documentary is misleading, as it focuses more on plant behavior than on plant communication. The latter is surprisingly similar to animal behavior in many respects. Research shows plants forage for food (via their roots), just as animals do. Like animals they also have complex social relationships with other plants. Not only do they compete aggressively with other plants for light and nutrients, but they share nutrients with sister plants and band together to fight off predators. For example, plants give off distress hormones when they’re attacked, and selective plants (such as lupins) give off noxious substances that protect all the plants around them.

In forests, mother trees have bee found to nurture daughter trees that are too shaded to produce their own sugars via photosynthesis. By injecting large mother trees with carbon-14, scientists discovered they were transferring sugars through their roots to young saplings that surrounded them.

In a forest trees establish vast cooperative networks with fungi that exchange nutrients they capture from soil for the sugars trees produce.

These complex networks are destroyed by industrial agriculture. Plowing and heavy use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides destroy the vast fungal network essential for healthy plant growth. This is the main reason why organic farming – which preserves vital soil organisms – produces much higher overall yields than industrial agriculture.

Impending Insect Extinction: the Battle to Reverse It

Fighting Insectageddon: Why  Bugs Matter

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This is a brief documentary about three programs in New Zealand, the UK and the US seeking to address an alarming drop in insect populations. A 2017 German study reveals some areas of the world have experienced a 75% drop in insect populations in 27 years. Entomologists blame excessive pesticide use and loss of natural habitat. The survival of the human species is totally dependent on insects, both for food crop pollination and waste decomposition.

The New Zealand program is a industrial-scale wetapunga breeding program at the Auckland zoo. The wetapunga is an enormous prehistoric locust-shaped insect dating from the dinosaur era. Once the nearly extinct wetapunga reach adolescence, they are released to special predator-free islands where there are no introduced mammals (eg  rats, ferrets, stoats, etc) to eat them.

The UK program seeks out abandoned industrial sites (brown fields) to transform into insect reserves. One abandoned, these sites are rapidly reclaimed by wild vegetation. This makes them perfect for insects because the soil is totally pesticide-free.

In the US, an entomologist has invented a special microphone that can be hidden in beehives to monitor for signs of colony collapse.

The Soil Solution to Climate Change

The Soil Solution to Climate Change

SustainableWorld (2014)

Film Review

This informational film, based on the French 4 per 1,000 initiative, proposes an ancient form of carbon sequestration* as an alternative to risky technological methods of carbon sequestration. There is strong scientific consensus that to prevent catastrophic global warming, atmospheric CO2 levels must be reduced from 400 parts per million (ppm) to 350 ppm.

The 4 per 1,000 initiative encourages all UN member countries to increase the carbon in their soils by 0.4% per year by transitioning from industrial agriculture – which tends to strip soil of carbon – to more traditional practices that tend to replenish soil carbon (and simultaneously increase yields: see Organic and Sustainable Farming Increases Yields by 79% or More).

According to the filmmakers, adopting the French initiatiative would also reverse the planet’s rapid depletion of top soil. At present, 50-80% of the world’s top soil has been lost due to loss of carbon. We continue to lose roughly 24 billion tons of topsoil a year due to heavy plowing and use of chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. All three practices kill important soil organisms responsible for replenishing soil carbon.

This systematic lost of carbon, the fibrous matter we find in soil, also destroys water quality – largely by facilitating run-off of these chemicals into our waterways. Healthy carbon-rich soils absorb and retain water like a sponge, helping to prevent both flooding and drought.

The film finishes by exploring organic farming techniques – increased use of cover cops, plant diversity and planned grazing – that assist plants in sequestering carbon.

For more information about the 4 per 1,000 initiative see Join the 4 per 1000 Initiative


*Carbon sequestration – a natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form.

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