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Industrial Agriculture Essay

Research Question: Should the governments set standards for the food producing multinational companies to ensure the safety of its citizens and the environment?


As a necessary part of human survival, food is a human right. Small, local family farms were the bedrock of traditional rural communities and the global food security which was the ability of countries to produce the food they need to survive in a more sustainable way. Yet the global food supply is increasingly falling under the control of giant multinational corporations with policies that are not environmentally sustainable. Sustainable agriculture preserves biodiversity, maintains soil fertility and water purity, conserves and improves the chemical, physical and biological qualities of the soil, recycles natural resources and conserves energy. Furthermore, sustainable agriculture produces diverse forms of high quality foods, fibers and medicines. Likewise, this system respects the ecological principles of diversity and mutually dependent and uses the understandings of modern science to improve rather than displace the traditional wisdom accumulated over centuries by countless farmers around the world.

Although the food industry encompasses all those who are involved in growing, processing, manufacturing or distributing food, from the farm to retail shops and restaurants, the threat to human health and the environment is ignored. The major problem is that there is not a sustainable agriculture system anymore with the start of the “Green Revolution” in Mexico. Sustainable agriculture is a model of social and economic organization based on an fair and participatory vision of development which recognizes the environment and natural resources as the foundation of economic activity. Agriculture is sustainable when it is ecologically sound, economically possible, culturally appropriate and based on a general scientific approach. The global corporatization of agriculture has had disastrous effects on farmers, food security, and the environment. To minimize these effects, governments of the world should set policies for the companies that produce food in order to protect their citizens’ health and for a more sustainable environment.


Industrial Agriculture contaminates fruits, vegetables and water with pesticides. Pesticides have been known to start illnesses and contribute to the increase of deaths caused by diseases. They seep into the soil which creates contamination of the crops produced and the nearby water sources. They are a costly and a time consuming form of insecticides and herbicides to clean. They are used greatly and without proper regulation in the entire agricultural environment. Standards for toxicological and microbiological hazards, and instituting procedures and practices to ensure that the standards are met should be set. In his writings, the Andrew Kimbrell shows evidence about this problem, “Since 1989, overall pesticide use has risen by about 8 percent, or 60 million pounds”(Kimbrell 11). This article was written in 2002. At the present year, 2012, this number has undoubtedly increased. Issues here include leaching of nutrients and pesticides, water extraction and drainage and flooding.

Contamination of both ground and surface waters caused by high levels of production and use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers is a serious problem, particularly in areas of livestock or specialized crop production. Agricultural practices have been found to contribute to non-point source water pollutants that include: sediments, fertilizers (nitrates and phosphorus), pesticides, and manures. Pesticides from every chemical class have been detected in groundwater and are commonly found in groundwater beneath agricultural areas which are widespread in surface waters. These reduce the water quality which impacts agricultural production, drinking water supplies, and fishery production. The deaths that are caused by chemicals and the risk of cancer would increase.

“Many popular pesticides appear capable of compromising the body’s ability to fight an infection, an extensive study finds. If true, pesticide use ‘could be a hidden killer’ – especially in developing countries, ‘where infections are a leading cause of death,’ says Robert Repetto, vice president of the Washington D.C. based World Resources Institute ( WRI) and a co-author of the new report” (Science News 1). A progressive budget system can be developed in order to support research on production of healthy food. Another solution is to determine and evaluate the chemicals that exist in the agricultural environment. Certain criteria such as evaluating statistics of illness and death caused by these chemicals, how government officials are regulating pesticidal use, and establishing alternmative methods of living need to be included when evaluating this dilemma.

Genetically Modified Products

Genetically modified products are not natural and increases the risk of cancer. These products are both plants and animals. For plants, the genetics of the crops are changed in order repel insects and other unwanted weeds to increase yield. However, the changing of the genetics make these crops unnatural which is a potential threat to human health. The genetic modification for animals are done in a different way, but it has the same goal as the plants. To meet the need for the unlimited goods, scientists have found ways to either increase the body mass of an animal for more meat or to increase the amount of milk that could be obtained from cows at an unnatural level. Corporations such as Monsanto not only are in control of the crops, but also the dairy industry. Cows are given chemicals to increase production of milk, but the milk causes cancer.

“In 1994, the FDA approved the sale of Monsanto’s controversial GE recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) — injected into dairy cows to force them to produce more milk — even though scientists warned that significantly higher levels (400-500% or more) of a potent chemical hormone, Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1), in the milk and dairy products of injected cows, could pose serious hazards for human breast, prostate, and colon cancer” (Cummins). These chemical hormones are serious risks of cancer. Drinking something natural as milk should not be harmful for a person. If nothing is done in order to prevent such a dilemma, the risk of cancer would increase for everyone because dairy products are an important part of person’s dietary needs. To solve this problem, an independent body of organization can be established which would be authorized to test and develop standards on food production. Also for international organizations developing safety standards to ban any trade agreement which products contain genetically modified substances.

The Environmental Damage

Industrial agriculture have replaced the family farm practices which were mostly sustainable and also taken an extra toll on the environment that is not reflected in consumer prices. The currently dominant system of industrial agriculture impacts the environment in many ways. It uses huge amounts of water, energy, and chemicals, often with little regard to long-term adverse effects. The overuse of fertilizers and chemicals, overgrazing, and the unenforced regulation of factory farm dumping of agricultural byproducts such as excrement and pesticides into rivers and streams all damage the quality of air, water, and soil, which are of everyone’s shared resources. Irrigation systems are pumping water from reservoirs faster than they are being recharged. Water scarcity in many places is due to overuse of surface and ground water for irrigation with little concern for the natural cycle that maintains stable water availability. Toxic herbicides and insecticides are accumulating in ground and surface waters.

Chemical fertilizers are running off the fields into water systems where they generate damaging blooms of oxygen-depleting microorganisms that disrupt ecosystems and kill fish. “In Chesapeake Bay, native sea grasses, fish, and shellfish populations have declined dramatically in number in the last few decades due to extremely high nitrogen and phosphorous levels caused by the excessive use of chemical fertilizers”(Kimbrell 30). Agriculture’s environmental impact has grown since farmers became dependent on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Since the 1950s, fertilizer and pesticide use has increased substantially worldwide. If the hazardous chemicals are overused, the ecological balance in nature would be at risk. Many of the negative effects of industrial agriculture extend far from fields and farms.

For example, in the United States of America, nitrogen compounds from Midwestern farms, travel down the Mississippi river to damage coastal fisheries and create a large “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico where aquatic life cannot survive. But other adverse effects are showing up within agricultural production systems themselves with the overuse of herbicides and insecticides which has led to rapidly developing resistance among pests that is rendering these chemicals increasingly ineffective. Agriculture’s link to global climate change is just beginning to be appreciated. Destruction of tropical forests and other native vegetation for agricultural production has a role in elevated levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The governments should pass laws that standarizes the use of these chemicals to protect the environment. Laws and regulations on sanitary standards should guarantee high quality and safe food for consumers and the environment.

Other Side of the Argument

There are also positive sides to the development of industrial agriculture which people such as Norman Borlaug says that biotech in agriculture will not harm biodiversity. Norman Borlaug, who is the father of the “Green Revolution” which started in the 1940’s was the main starting point of the industrial agriculture we have today. Borlaug claims, “If we grow our food and fiber on the land best suited to farming with the technology that we have and what’s coming, including proper use of genetic engineering and biotechnology, we will leave untouched vast tracts of land, with all of their plant and animal diversity” (Bailey 6).

However, the problems that the Green Revolution or industrial agriculture itself has brought and will bring most indubitably outweigh the benefits. One of the core things the Green Revolution has brought was the high-yielding seeds, fertilizers and irrigation projects. Nevertheless, most high-yielding seeds use up more energy to process because most varieties are not resistant to drought and new diseases. This leads to the use of heavy applications of expensive fertilizers and pesticides. And then expensive herbicides must be used because fertilizers not only stimulate plant growth but also weed growth. These heavy doses of many chemicals end up ruining the soil.This agricultural system is not environmentally sustainable, it only provides enough resources in the short run.


A number of food control problems are currently being debated at the national and international levels, regarding genetically modified foods, contaminants (including pesticides), irradiation and nutrition labelling. There is an apprehension about the consequences for the quality and safety of the food supply concerning the increasing use of pesticides and drugs, as well as introducing genetically-modified organisms.There are many solutions for this crisis because food is a human right that demands the governments to set national policies to encourage food security. For example, local and diverse production of food should be supported by the governments and companies to guarantee satisfactory and accessible nutrition for all citizens. Governments must maintain the ability to pass laws for the national safety of their population to ensure food sovereignty. For governments, there is the need for enforceable standards that are convincing for both consumers and the industry.

The industry needs standards that permit flexibility and efficiency in producing and marketing foods that will serve their customers because it is important for consumers that food control system provide meaningful protection against real and important hazards. Consumers can play a critical role in creating a sustainable food system. Through their purchases, they send strong messages to producers, retailers and others in the system about what they think is important. Food cost and nutritional quality have always influenced consumer choices. The challenge now is to find strategies that broaden consumer perspectives, so that environmental quality, resource use, and social equity issues are also considered in shopping decisions. Finally, new policies and institution must be created to enable producers using sustainable practices to market their goods to a wider public.

Work Cited

Bailey, Jay. “Billions Served: Norman Borlaug interviewed by Ronald Bailey”. Reason Magazine. April 2000 Cummins, Ronnie. “Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops: Why We Need A Global Moratorium”. Motion Magazine. August 29, 1999. <> Kimbrell, Andrew. “The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture”. Island Press. 2002

Rosset, Peter. “Lessons from the Green Revolution” Grove Press. April 8, 2000

Raloff, Johnathan. “Pesticides May Challenge Human Immunity”. Science News. 9 March 1996.

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