Getting More Than You Bargained For

9 Mar

Question: What concerns you about the way you eat or the way your food is created?

 Answer: The true environmental impact industrial farming has.

Unbeknownst to many bargain hunters looking for the best ‘deal’ or cheapest price when purchasing food – there are many major factors that often are neglected. The details in the way in which food today is produced is surprisingly unknown to most, myself included until having read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The way in which food is grown determines the way and extent to which it can effect the world we live in. When purchasing that discount super pack of chicken breasts or the week special of marked down ground beef we are unaware what in reality that particular ‘discount’ product typically is. In order to provide market’s lowest prices, most often the product comes from industrial farms. Industrial farming contributes to environmental quality through decreased soil quality, water pollution, increased fuel emissions, water waste, and decreased animal welfare and happiness. What we uneducated shoppers fail to realize is the price we truly end up paying from purchasing products from industrial farms.

It concerns me to know that although I may have a small victory in purchasing meat for example at the lowest possible price but in reality I’m supporting the sacrifice of the quality of the world in which I live in. Industrially produced products often use ‘synthetic manure’ to fertilize their crops and fields to get a boost in yields. However the use of these synthetic manures “threat[ens] to damage the heath not only of the soil (since the harsh chemicals kill off biological activity in humus) but of ‘the national health’ as well” (Pollan 2006:148). Using synthetic manures can “destroy the fertility of the soil, leave plants vulnerable to pests and disease, and damage the heath of the animals and peoples eating those plants” (Pollan 2006: 148). These chemicals can negatively affect the nutritional properties of plants creating a poorer quality of food. In Pollan’s Ominvore’ s Dillema it explains how “pastures and animals [have] become less robust as a result” (148).  The vulnerability to pests and disease increase the need for the use of toxic pesticides.

In addition to the negative implications of using synthetic fertilizers, in industrial farming often both synthetic and natural manure causes water pollution from water runoff that runs into local water sources. Farms like that of Joel Salatin’s Polyface farm mentioned in The Omnivore’s Dilema that are organic farms to the extreme that emulate the natural ecological ecosystem that once occurred in nature avoid such fertilizer problems. Salatin uses ‘grass farming’ where he uses animals to naturally fertilize and sanitize his lands. He also uses his own ‘homemade compost’ from cow manure and woodchips instead of the soil depleting synthetic fertilizers. Because Salatin carefully controls the amount of manure his animals spread over his grass fields he eliminates the possibility of water pollution from water runoff.

Not only does industrial farming often pollute water sources, they deplete greatly Earth’s limited resources of drinkable water. Salatin’s Polyface farm however actually works to conserve naturally water on their farm. The strategically planted forest helps protect water evaporation from the fields by sheltering it from direct sunlight at all times. In fact the forest even helps to make the grass grow more efficiently by “reduc[ing] the energy it uses keeping its photovoltaic array pointed toward the sun” (Pollan 2006:224).

Industrial farms today mostly feed chickens, cows and pigs corn as their main food source. Corn for all three animals was never originally their food source as nature intended. Transporting corn to feed these animals increases fuel emissions, polluting the environment. Transporting manure and synthetic fertilizers also contribute to fuel emissions. If farms were more like Salatin’s they would eliminate the need to transport feed and fertilizer by utilizing natures natural resources. Chickens that Salatin has graze over the fields after the cows pass through feed on a ‘free lunch’ of “fly larvae in the manure” left by the cattle which results in “making their eggs unusually rich and tasty” (Pollan 2006:211). Not only does Salatin cut down on fuel emissions, he creates a more nutritionally rich product.

Lastly industrial farms remove animals from their natural environments and place them “crowded together beneath a metal roof standing on metal slats suspended over a septic tank” (Pollan 2006:218). The quality of life for these animals is incredibly poor. For example with pigs they are so demoralized that the develop “learned helplessness” (Pollan 2006:218). These “depressed pig[s] will allow his tail to be chewed on to the point of infection” so as a solution, pig’s tails are ‘docked’ (snipped off) to prevent being chewed on (Pollan 2006:218). At Salatin’s farm pigs are allowed to be in environments as nature intended them, rooting through compost in search of mixed in corn, allowed to graze through forests protecting them from getting sunburnt. Happier and healthier animals reduce the need for antibiotics, which when in products consumed by humans can reduce the effectiveness of prescribed antibiotics.

Although products from farms like Joel Salatin’s Polyface farm may be more expensive than industrially produced products the environmental and health benefits from Salatin’s farm far outweighs the dollar cost. “Such a complex system you need to count not only all the products it produces (meat, chicken, eggs) but also all the costs it eliminates: antibiotics, wormers, parasiticides and fertilizers” (Pollan 2006:215).



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