Industrial Agriculture

Industrial agriculture is a generic term to describe modern farming techniques that utilize genetic engineering, biotechnology, economic control, and political methods to manage and dominate the industrialized production of livestock, poultry, fish, and crops. Most of the meat, dairy, eggs, fruits, and vegetables available in supermarkets are produced using industrial agricultural methods.

Industrialized agriculture is characterized by several prominent themes:

  • Monoculture
  • A reliance on chemicals to manage plant growth
  • The separation of the natural interdependent nature of animal and plant agriculture.

Monoculture is the practice of growing the same crops on the same land year after year. The problems inherent in monoculture include a dependence on only a few crops, which narrows the gene pool. This opens the door for the potential of devastating disease proliferation. Monoculture also contributes to the depletion of soil nutrients and the infiltration of massive amounts of pests, which then necessitates the application of massive amounts of pesticides in order to yield an efficient harvest.

The application of pesticides, growth hormones to increase yield and other chemicals to manage these vulnerable crops results in mass pollution of the soil, fewer nutrients in the food grown, and the contamination of any nearby water sources through runoff.

For instance, there is a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico where all marine life has died off. Researchers believe it’s caused by the runoff of pesticides and other chemicals from farmland in the Mississippi valley.

For the supporters of agribusiness, industrial agriculture provides the benefits of driving technological innovation and providing cheap, convenient food for the consumer.

However, many researchers, farmers, and environmentalists believe the methods used by industrial agriculture are not sustainable in the long run. There are too many problems:

  • The disruption of the natural order of plant/animal/earth interdependence, which is not a sustainable long term
  • Contamination of natural seed supplies and natural food crops through the propagation of genetically modified plants and sterile seeds
  • Environmental and social costs of large scale agriculture; destruction of natural forests to grow crops, and absorption of indigenous farming methods in pursuit of the profits of industrial crop sales
  • Damage to natural fisheries thorough genetic engineering and offshore fish farms
  • Surface and groundwater pollution by animal waste from factory farms and confined feeding operations
  • The health risks of heavy applications of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides in the food supply
  • Pollution from the heavy use of fossil fuels
  • Topsoil erosion, the devastation of soil health and depletion of nutrients in the food produced

In contrast, sustainable agriculture approaches the growing of food in a natural direction. Sustainable agriculture refers to the ability of a farm to produce food indefinitely, without causing severe or irreversible damage to ecosystem health.

On a sustainable farm, crops are rotated, animals and bugs are allowed to thrive and interact with cropland, and provide the natural substances which replenish both soil and plants. The sustainable farmer works WITH nature, instead of against it.

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