Before I start my rant against Al's foolish support of greater and greater intensification for farming, I want to congratulate and pay homage to the multi-generations of farmers who worked the long nights and endless days on their farm by tried and true methods. They made some significant improvements along the way after looking beyond the slick salesmanship of Big Ag and seeing it was the right thing to do. They guarded their soils as a sacred trust, to maintain optimum fertility while protecting the land, water, and air of their farm and their neighbours. They struggled with doing what was right, rather than what was most profitable. These farm families didn't gobble up more farms and more acreage, past the point that could be effectively managed. They quietly and carefully did their job; likely scorned by their more and more intensified neighbours. First Nations people have tried to teach us that we are all stewards for the next 7 generations to come. So too the multi-generations of farmers who refused the temptations of Big Ag and their intensification snake oil. We owe them all a big hug and our heart-felt thanks.
Now, let's get back to Mr. Al Mussell and his controversial viewpoints.
Al proposes that the world can only be saved by even more intensive agriculture, both greater intensity and greater share of the total market. Al thinks small farms and low intensity farms need to go the way of dinosaurs and Dodo birds.
No wonder the George Morris Centre is shutting down, likely due to the bad advice and slanted viewpoints that have been coming out of there; viewpoints that support their Billionaire Big Ag clients no matter what (see Blog posting George Morris Centre: Facts or Rhetoric? ).
Al says that if we don't buy into intensive factory farms, we are forced to chew up more rain forest to convert it to arable land, and that's a bad thing.
That's it? That's his justification for intensive agriculture? Al claims that the alternative to intensive agriculture is even worse, so we have no choice but embrace factory farms and soul-less billionaire trans-national agricultural corporations.
As usual, fallacious arguments rely upon unannounced assumptions, smoke and mirrors, and slight of hand. Al has honed all those skill to be close to perfection. Fortunately, there are a few people who don't fall for this trickery, and can point out the logic bomb.
Al dismisses the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization ("FAO") 2011 report Save and Grow which said:
“The present paradigm of intensive crop production cannot meet the challenges of the new millennium.”
In the more recent UN report Smallholder, Food Security, and the Environment, the UN says that investing in small-scale farmers (not intense farming as Al would have us believe) can help lift over 1 billion people out of poverty. The UN estimated that 2.5 billion people who manage 500 million smallholder farm households provide over 80 per cent of the food consumed in much of the developing world.
Agriculture, as it is done today, is responsible for a full third of the green house gasses produced by all forms of human activity. Intense agriculture is responsible for the lion's share of those climate changing gasses.
Al wants to double and re-double on a system that is the #1 source of climate change. Has Al not heard that continuing to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results is the definition of insanity?
The organic humus content of virgin forests is generally 25% to 30%. Under intensive agriculture (especially N. America, but similarly around the world), that humus level has dropped to just 3.5% or below. That's desertification, 1930's Dust Bowl territory, where on most farms, commercial crops will no longer adequately grow and yield without the application of chemical fertilizers. High humus soils are drought and flood resistant.
Those depleted soils were caused under the banner of intensive agriculture, mainly during the last 50 years. Al wants more of the same, and even more intensified ag?
Give me a break! Give the planet a break. We need a better way, not more and more of the same.
As National Geographic says in its special eight-month Future of Food series:
Kelly Hodkins, doing her Masters at University of Guelph adds some excellent points and summaries at the challenges of feeding 9 Billion people, and seems to conflict with Al's knee jerk solution in favor of a few millionaire farmers acting as the henchmen of the billionaire ag industry conglomerates."But in the long run, it's small-scale farmers in the developing world, using low-tech but sustainable agricultural techniques, who may be best poised to lead the way in adapting to a warmer world and ensuring the security of the global food supply."
"There are more than 500 million family farmers who produce at least 56 percent of the world's food."
I've previously Blogged (see Buried Alive In Chicken Manure ) how intensive chicken farming in Delmarva Peninsula, USA has caused or contributed 94% of the nitrogen that pollutes Chesapeake Bay and many of the streams and estuaries in that region.
Al wants even more intensity? Will Al be satisfied when 100% of the nitrogen pollution comes from CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) chicken factory farms? In that case, Delmarva chicken factories need only push for that last 6.38% "improvement" to get from 94% of the nitrogen pollution to a full 100% market share on the nitrogen pollution and the resulting algal bloom and dead waterways.
A recent report by UNCTD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before it is Too Late, included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world (including a commentary from IATP (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy). The report includes in-depth sections on the needed shift toward more sustainable, resilient agriculture. Resilient agriculture is the opposite to intensive, mega factory farms.
Intense chicken factories in Canada have produced less and less affordable chicken, hurting the poor, the middle class, and the majority of Canadian consumers (see Blog postings LICO Chicken = "Let them Eat Cake" and Unaffordable Chicken In Ontario and Affordable Chicken for the Average Ontario Consumer
Michael Pollan, a world expert in sustainable and industrialized food production, and author of The Omnivore's Dilemna and many other books, says:
"The question of whether you can feed the world sustainably needs to be flipped around."
"The real question is whether you can feed it industrially. What we’re learning about climate change is raising real questions about how long that agricultural model can survive."
"The power of industrial agriculture comes from this paradigm: you start with a very productive seed that under ideal circumstances can produce higher yields than those species ever could before. It’s really impressive. But for those seeds to do their thing and realize their full potential they need lots of water. They need lots of fertilizer. And they need to be defended against pests really vigilantly. Another way of saying that is: you need to protect the environment in which they grow, which farmers have been able to do. But that system depends on consistency. If all we can count on now is that the climate will be variable, that system becomes very brittle."Pollen has also shown that food in grocery stores that was sourced from intensive agriculture required 10 times more energy to produce than what is in the food on the store shelves. For example, an adult needs about 2,200 kcalories of energy every day to survive and be in good health. Intensive agriculture takes 10 times that food energy, mainly oil and natural gas, to produce that food (ie. 22,000 kcalories of oil and gas consumed to make 2,200 kcalories of food). For the first time in human history, our food production is at an energy deficit. What does this mean, you query? Consider a large salmon chasing a small minnow for supper. What happens to that salmon if it expends 10 times more energy trying to catch that bait fish, than the total energy the salmon can gain if it catches the bait fish and eats it. Every time the salmon does that, it moves rapidly towards starvation. How in good conscience can Al recommend the defunct, non-sustainable, energy deficit system of intensive agriculture? It boggles my mind.
If the intensive factory farmed food isn't riddled with growth hormones, chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, and Superbugs (see Choose: Frankenstein Chicken, or Naturally Raised Chicken?), then it may be depleted of all or most of what goodness, vitamins, and nutrition it used to contain; all thanks to industrialized factory farming.
For an example of depleted food, let's talk about potatoes, the #1 vegetable in North America. Potatoes used to be an excellent dietary source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, B6, potassium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, B3, fiber, and pantothenic acid. Over the last 50 year, potatoes have lost 100% of their Vitamin A, lost 50% of their Vitamin C, and lost 30% to 60% loss of most of the other trace nutrients (see Globe & Mail and UK's Guardian).
Big Ag has sold the farmer new varieties of potatoes that have bigger yields (ie. kg of potatoes per acre of land), so that is what high intensity farmers planted. The vitamins and minerals drop as the carbohydrate content goes up; the Dilution Effect. Excess dietary carbs cause or contribute to a host of diseases; including diabetes, obesity, Metabolic Disease, etc.
It isn't just potatoes that have been depleted. Broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, and most other expensive fruits and vegetables have suffered similar fates.
Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side, has shown that heirloom varieties of corn have up to 64.6 times more anthocyanins (ie. a type of phytonutrient that's good for us to eat) than the standard white corn of today.
More and more intense agriculture produces pseudo-food that is similar to undigestible and inert sand plus a spoon of starch and/or sugar; empty calories that fail to satisfy our need and search for nutritious food. No wonder people overeat; their bodies keep seeking the nutrients that are never there in adequate quantities and/or quality.
Read Wheat Belly and Grain Brain for even cheerier news about toxic grains we are duped into buying and eating courtesy of Big Ag and intense agriculture.
Most farmers who practice intense agriculture use chemical fertilizers derived from oil, natural gas, or mines. Manure, which adds organic matter and nutrients back to the soil, is generally regarded by Big Ag as old fashioned, too much work, and less efficient. Of course, Big Ag has huge profits from selling all those un-natural inputs to the farmer, while there is no profit for Big Ag in manure.
While farmers and farming certainly played a major role in reaching the sad state of affairs for intense agriculture of today, not all of the blame sits at the feet of farmers. Where has the Federal & Provincial government bureaucracy been for the last 50 years? What about politicians, farm organizations, doctors, nurses, dieticians, nutritionists, scientists, University professors, ag. consultants like Al Mussell, agrologists, consumer advocacy groups, main stream media and their investigative reporters, and consumers? There is more than enough blame to go around for everybody on how we got here. To get out of this mess in a reasonable period of time, all of these stakeholders (and everybody else) will have to better understand the problems, listen to each other, and work co-operatively to get a solution ASAP.
What more proof does Al need to convince him of the abject failure of intensified agriculture?
Al is obviously a very smart man with decades of education, skills, and experience in agriculture; far more than me. How then, do we explain such a wide gulf between what Al says and the other points of view? Upton Sinclair (1878-1968), author of "The Jungle" (1906) exposing the corrupt US meat packing industry said,
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"Perhaps that is true in Al's case too.
I hope CBC The 180, Jim Brown, and his Producers gives adequate airtime for alternative viewpoints than the trash talk of Al Mussell.