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MYTH#1: We Need Industrial Agriculture to Feed the World
Last modified: 2012-11-05 18:03:37

MYTH#1: We Need Industrial Agriculture to Feed the World

You can view the full video and find a companion reading guide with more discussion at www.foodmyths.org.

The world's population keeps growing. By 2050, we'll have to double food production. For that we'll need genetic engineering, advanced pesticides, and fertilizer - lots of fertilizer. That's why we're working every day, hand-in-hand with farmers and their families.

Hold on. Messages like this one seem to be popping up everywhere. But who's really behind them? Turns out it's the corporations profiting from this way of farming - like those selling the pesticides, fertilizers, and chemicals.

They're spending billions to warn us that their way is the only way, with industry groups like the Alliance to Feed the Future, whose members include the Association for Dressings and Sauces and The National Frozen Pizza Institute.

But ask farmers who really know how to feed us and you'll get a very different story-a heartbreaking and hopeful story that I've heard talking to hundreds of families like this one.

Fifty years of this myth - and lobbying dollars to support it - have tilted the playing field to favor corporate controlled, chemical agriculture, giving farmers little or no support for any other path. So it's easy to understand a lot of farmers feel it's either "get on board or get out."

"Getting on board" means farmers stop practices that keep soil healthy and go for single crops. Livestock that used to be raised on the farm get crammed into polluting factories. To keep this unnatural system going, these farmers now buy expensive inputs, all from ever-fewer corporations demanding ever-rising prices.

It's a quick addiction: pests become resistant so you've got to use more chemicals; livestock become sicker so you've got to use more drugs; soil loses its natural fertility so you've got to use more chemical fertilizer.

Then, on the other side, when farmers try to sell their crops, they face only a few big buyers offering unpredictable prices. The economics don't work for long.

Over the last fifty years, millions of desperate farmers have had to sign contracts with corporations that dictate their every move or have lost their farms altogether. More and more, farm income is concentrating at the top so now only one in ten U.S. farms can support a family.

In many other countries, a similar thing is happening. Small farmers who buy into the promise that corporate agriculture is the solution often get trapped by debt and dependency.

So yes, corporate agriculture is good for some folks - including some of the largest growers - but not the typical farm family. And that's strike one for this myth.

But we have to feed the world, right? If not this way, what choice do we have? A great one. We just don't see ads for it and it certainly isn't getting the subsidies going to corporate ag. State-of-the-art sustainable farming ends this unnatural chemical addiction. It uses better practices, not ever-more expensive purchases.

Sustainable farmers build healthy soil by planting a variety of crops and rotating them. They raise their animals on the farm, not in cramped factories. They fertilize using compost and livestock or planting soil-nourishing crops. Healthier plants with good crop rotation also help keep pests in check without hurting the bugs we need - like those all-important pollinators.

And how does this choice impact everyone else? Massively. Industrial farms degrade and erode precious topsoil - 64 tons per acre are being lost every year in some spots in our heartland. They suck up huge amounts of water - a lot of it from deep underground - essentially irreplaceable. And they use millions of pounds of antibiotics - a practice that leads to dangerous new bacteria. They also produce toxic run-off that pollutes our rivers, our oceans, and us!

The average American already has at least 13 pesticides in our bodies. And thanks to chemicals in the field, farmers and farm-workers have higher rates of many cancers.

So the sustainable farm is better for farmers and the environment but can it really feed the world? Study after study is saying yes! Sustainable farms produce as well... and in drought years even better. This is important news for small farmers who already grow 70 percent of the world's food - to increase production they don't have to follow the chemical path.

And the future we're all talking about feeding? The industrial farm requires more fossil fuels, water, and mined minerals - all stuff that will only get more expensive as it runs out. So down the line, the chemical path not only can't work for farmers; it won't be a choice at all.

Corporate agriculture doesn't reliably grow more food in the future - or even today. And that's strike two for this myth.

But we still haven't looked at the biggest hole of all. They say we need to double food production or we'll go hungry. Really?

We already have almost 3,000 calories a day available for every human being on Earth - more than enough. And that's after wasting a third of all food grown, and a lot of what is grown isn't food we eat directly. A third of the world's grain is going to livestock.

In the U.S. our biggest crop is corn, but less than one percent of all corn planted is what we eat. Most goes to fuel or feed. Staying on this track, we could increase production and still have more hunger. To end it, everybody has to have the power to buy or grow the food they need. And that's what sustainable farming is all about. Strike three for this dangerous myth.

So the next time someone who makes frozen pizza - or toxic pesticides - tells you there's only one way to feed the future, tell them their story is full of holes.

The evidence is clear: sustainable farmers prove we all can enjoy healthy food - and we each have power to make this happen. We can redirect our own food dollars and the billions in public money now going into the pockets of Big Ag. We can stand up and speak out for sustainable farmers here and around the world.

For video, source and footnoted article, visit FoodMyths.org to learn more, connect with the hundreds of groups at the frontlines of this struggle, and get involved.

Keywords: FoodMyths.org, sustainable farming, myths, small farmers, feed the world
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