There are two main types of farming made available to us: the large commercial or intensive factory farms that normally concentrate on a single crop or animal on a very large scale, or the smaller organic, bio-diverse or naturally-grown crop farms or pasture-reared animal farms, which focus on a variety of produce. By taking a closer look at the different forms of farming, it can help us to make more educated choices about the food we buy and how we can ‘pick’ our way to improved health and physical performance.
Commercial agriculture is the production of crops and/or animals for sale on a very large scale, intended for widespread distribution to wholesalers and retail outlets. Most conventional farms focus on producing one type of crop (mono-cropping) for purposes of mass production and capitalising equipment availability for cheaper harvesting.
Large scale commercial agriculture came about relatively recently after the Second World War. Massive industrialisation of the countryside ensued, and farming in tune with nature and tradition consequently dropped away, due to small-scale farmers being unable to compete with the cheaper produce that was being generated by the substantially larger mono-culture farms. In 1910, German scientists figured out how to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia – a key ingredient in both artificial fertiliser and TNT. After the war, America adopted this technology for agricultural use. Additionally, during experimentation for the battlefield, scientists stumbled upon chemicals that could kill insects, and so chemicals were created for mass farming. Post-war, American ammunition plants were thereby converted into factories that made artificial fertilisers and chemical insecticides and pesticides.
Within the conventional crop farming practices, the growing process involves spraying the crops (by humans wearing gas masks) with chemical fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and insecticides (otherwise known as agrochemicals), to keep pests and disease at bay. This process enables the conventional farmer to sell perfect end products for retail. What goes onto the product from inception to retail is not the issue; it’s about what the product looks like and their end-product yield. Featherstone’s book Grow to Live (1) states that “some 20 per cent of all agrochemicals used serve only to improve the look of the vegetables and fruit.” Farmers understand that most large retail stores will not purchase marked produce, so most will do whatever it takes to farm the most perfect looking food, with the highest market yields.
Every day, the environmental and health consequences of conventional farming become more apparent. As long ago as 1992, The World Summit on Sustainable Development raised the alarm bells with regards to the dangers of pollution: nitrates from fertilisers and chemical residues from agrochemicals had, at this time, been detected in ground water. In fact, these pollutants have been detected as far from civilisation as the North and South Poles and in the deepest reaches of the ocean. Certainly, the food that we eat has easily detectable levels of these chemicals: Erlich et al (2) state that a non-organic apple has an average of 16 different pesticides applied to it at least 36 times by the time we get to consume it. Recent studies have indicated that agrochemicals are incredibly toxic to human health, causing a myriad of health problems because our body often can’t detoxify these pollutants. How these chemicals affect us will be explained later in this article.
During the same time period that chemicals were first being applied to crop farming, so too was antibiotic and hormone use rife within factory livestock on international farms. Antibiotics are used to keep diseases among the animals at bay, because they may be living unnaturally in over-crowded factories. Instead of happily grazing on pastures like in the past, these animals might be stepping on each other, scratching and biting one another to retrieve food and water, and they are genuinely being hurt by one another in the cramped conditions, just to survive. Not to mention, they have no choice but to eat genetically modified corn (sprayed with agrochemicals) to stay alive. The hormones that they are injected with increase the growth rates exponentially to stay in line with rushed, mass production. A mentality of complete disregard for animal welfare persists. Animals are forced to grow at rates that are not conducive to their physiological make up, which may mean that they are standing around in agony because of incomplete bone growth, or they are too heavy for their constitution due to this forced growth development (3). These practices are particularly prevalent in the poultry industry, but occur in other meat and fish production too.
Fortunately, a few of Britain’s farms still retain traditional farming practices, where animals are allowed to do what nature intended. But if factory farming practices remain unchallenged, at some point, these animals will be forced off the land into grassless pens, where they will be intensively fed concentrated feed, hormones and antibiotics to artificially fatten them and escalate growth rates. Not only is this an unhealthy practice for our animals, but it has negative consequences to our health.
For some pretty frightening reading on this topic, and for encouragement to never consume battery produce again, read the heart wrenching book Farmageddon (3). An important point to note is that whatever the animal ate or was injected with, so we ingest. I can’t help but ask the question; “Are we assimilating their same sad energy too?”
What we can potentially conclude about conventional and factory farming is that it has short-term economic benefits for the farmer and long-term negative consequences for humans, animals and the environment. Since the intention for good health and prosperity is not evident, this way of farming does not contribute to future health outcomes. How is it that an industry that started out with such good intentions of feeding the world, ends with such sad, negative consequences that place wealth and profits over human health?