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The Hidden Cost of Industrial Agriculture

By: Sophia W.

In the United States, industrial agriculture is the dominant food production system characterized by large-scale monoculture, heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and meat production in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). Ever since the mid-20th century, industrial agriculture has been sold as a technological miracle that would keep pace with the rapidly growing population. The catch is that this type of agriculture is rapidly damaging farmland and the rural environment.

The soils of the American Corn Belt were once extremely fertile but with industrial agriculture, fertility is seen as a resource to be tapped, not maintained- like the use of monoculture. First, what exactly is monoculture? Well, monoculture is the practice of growing a single crop or plant on the same soil for long periods of time. This practice is bad for the environment because it zaps nutrients from the earth and leaves the soil vulnerable to erosion. An alternative to this practice would be to use polyculture: where more than one crop is grown in the same space at the same time. Industrial farms don’t acknowledge the rich array of life that these more diverse farms do. This results in the land suffering from a shortage of the ecosystem’s services, such as pollination, that a more diverse landscape offers.

Moreover, manure from factory farming pollutes the environment and drinking water of surrounding rural communities. In 2012 livestock and poultry grown in the largest CAFOs in the United States produced 369 million tons of manure, or almost 13 times the waste of the entire U.S. population, according to an analysis of USDA figures done by Food & Water Watch. Pollution from these farms runoff into streams that feed into major waterways like Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico. This contributes to the amounts of algal blooms and dead zones that impact drinking water supplies, marine ecosystems, and people’s everyday lives. In contrast, more diversified farms that raise animals alongside other crops always use manure as fertilizer without polluting water. The difference with factory farms is that the amount of waste produced is being applied to the land in larger quantities than needed.

Some ways to reduce Industrial Agriculture pollution is to eat more plant based foods, minimize consumption of red meat, shop for organic fruits and vegetables (since they are known to carry the most pesticides), and support local farmers by going to farmers markets. Additionally, when buying products from animals look for labels like USDA Certified Organic, Animal Grassfed, Animal Welfare Approved, and No Antibiotics Added.

Discussion Questions:

  • How have you been affected by Industrial Agriculture?

  • What are some other sustainable ways to help eliminate the effects of industrial agriculture?

Work Cited
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