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Agriculture Is One of the Most Polluting and Dangerous Industries

Industrial ag supplies most of our food, yet its lack of regulation may be more of a threat than Wall Street's.

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For more than one hundred years U.S. and European safe food activists' demanded real regulation of farm chemicals. But, it was always a pipe dream, since chemical firms, the universities and the government all alleged that the pesticides were safe and that farmers couldn't get good yields without chemicals. So, the regulators looked the other way. However, farmers around the world have demonstrated that they can produce as good or better yields of quality food and fiber without dangerous and damaging chemicals. Still, the regulators continue to look the other way and still refuse to stop the poisoning.

Salmonella contaminated pistachios, peanuts, tomatoes, melons, and jalapenos and the slaughtering of downer beef are glaring examples of sloppy farming and processing combined with regulatory failure. All of these regulatory failures and bad farming practices didn't just cause bankruptcy or a huge cut in 401-Ks, they sickened hundreds of millions and killed hundreds of thousands of people over the last thirty years!

Each day seems to bring more pesticide spills and injuries, more poisoned food, more contaminated drinking water, more dead zones and more residues on our food. Consequently, immediate regulation of and a rapid phase-out of the most toxic farm chemicals now seem like urgencies, instead of pipe dreams.

If We Can't Fix it, Let's Change it!: While U.S. factory farming can't be fixed, the good news is that changing U.S. agriculture it is not an unattainably complex goal. However, it does call for a paradigm shift. We must stop pretending that fossil based fertilizer and fuel is endless, sustainable, or environmentally justifiable. The Green Revolution is over! After one hundred years of use the jury is in. What looked in 1909 like a cheap and efficient fertilizer has polluted our drinking water, turned deadly to the oceans, is increasingly more expensive, and today is doing more harm than good. We must dramatically reduce the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and began an immediate phase out.

In 1945, only five percent of the nitrogen used on U.S. farms was synthetic. Now, more than ninety-five percent is. Before the synthetic takeover, farmers grew fertilizer crops and applied small amounts of composted manure for fertility and tilth, to increase organic matter, and to feed the microorganisms. These techniques and more modern ones are used by both organic and non-organic farmers today and enable them to produce high yields of quality produce, meat, fiber, oilseeds, and grains. Farmers all over the world are getting higher yields of calories per acre on diversified organic farms than on monocultural chemical or GMO farms.

We can solve the dead zone problem by switching back from synthetic nitrogen and soluble phosphorous fertilizers to organic plant-based fertility. This is not rocket science and it is not a long shot with outmoded technology. It is, in fact, achievable within a few years. As a plus, fertilizer crops sequester carbon, which our currently barren soils in the fall and winter don't.

We can eliminate the cancer and birth defect clusters and high pesticide residues on our favorite foods by using biological IPM strategies to control pests and diseases. Releasing beneficial insects, altering our growing practices, rotation of crops, soil balancing, and careful monitoring of pest damage are a few of the successful techniques that thousands of farmers are using to control pests and eliminate poisonous pesticides on their farms.

This is a challenging time for farmers, with many sorting out how can they produce their own energy on the farm as well as auditing and reducing their use. Most of us know that the cheap era of fossil fuel is over. With agriculture being responsible for such a large percentage of fossil fuel consumption, it is essential that resources be invested in alternative energy strategies by farmers, entrepreneurs, and by state and federal government agencies.

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