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America’s Industrial Food System: An Environmental Disaster

[ 21 ] November 13, 2012 |

Exhibit A: The rise of 8-legged frogs. These happen at the end of a long ecological chain that begins with farm runoff from our heavily fertilized agricultural landscapes.

Exhibit B: Farm towns in California that can’t drink the water because of agricultural run-off. Not surprisingly, these towns are poor and populated mostly by Latino farmworkers. Typically, those who have the least power and money are disproportionately affected by environmental problems. This story of environmental injustice means that already impoverished schools have to spend precious resources on bottled water instead of playgrounds or teachers or laptops. But hey, I’m sure if we just busted teacher unions that these schools would perform better…..


Comments (21)

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  1. tonycpsu says:

    Spider frog, spider frog
    Does what ever a spider frog does.
    Can he swing, from a web?
    No he cant, he’s a frog.
    Look out, he is a spider frog

  2. Linnaeus says:

    Apparently, there’s some Barry Levinson movie coming out about how steroids in the water runoff from Maryland chicken farms gets into Chesapeake Bay, and results in way-larger-than-normal isopods that infest people and kill them.

    • JoyfulA says:

      Cleaning the runoff that goes into the Susquehanna and then into the Chesapeake Bay has been going on since the 1970s, with more or less energy, depending on who’s the governor of Pennsylvania. The situation is a lot better now, but still not good enough.

  3. Andrew says:

    Is it physically possible for everyone on Earth to be fed if the world’s farms switch to organic, sustainable farming practices? I suspect the answer is “no”.

    • Wouldn’t be interesting to find out? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to try?

      Or should we just say fuck it because Jesus will be here in a decade or so?

      • Arouet says:

        In the United States it may be a good idea to try (though I suspect the results would be quite catastrophic). More broadly, that’s almost an absolutely catastrophic idea. It’s easy for someone with disposable income to say that everyone should eat food that is produced in an environmentally friendly way, but when the choice is industrial food production or not eating because it prices food out of your reach, that’s an entirely different matter.

        • Linnaeus says:

          That’s a fair point. But I don’t think it’s wrong to point out the bad environmental effects of our current regime of food production and consider ways to mitigate or, if possible, eliminate those effects. I don’t think the choice has to be between pollution and starvation.

          • DocAmazing says:

            More to the point, see that word “sustainable”. Soil can tolerate abuse for only so long before it won’t support the growth of edible crops. Use up all of your arable land through rape-and-run farming practices, and you’re SOL in a few decades.

            • Arouet says:

              Fair point. Thankfully, there’s no reason why the quest for more sustainable methods can’t occur even while pursuing the highest yield in the short term.

              So long as “industrial agriculture” isn’t demonized simply because “organic” and “natural” methods are in vogue, I’m happy.

    • GeoX says:

      Well, if the only other option is “keep destroying the world,” then we’re pretty well fucked either way, aren’t we?

      • Andrew says:

        Actually, I was hoping that someone would say that I’m wrong. But if I’m right, I doubt you’d find many volunteers to starve to death in the developing world in order to improve water quality in California.

        • Currants says:

          I do think you’re wrong, but I don’t have the information at hand to explain it. My nephew (plant scientist type) says not only can we, we must. (But he’s the one with the data, not me.)

    • UserGoogol says:

      Probably not, but there’s quite a big middle ground between the status quo and full-blown “organic, sustainable farming.” I don’t have a particularly meaningful understanding of the particulars, but it seems like some incremental reforms (be it more regulations on the use of pesticides or some big increments like massively reducing the consumption of meat) could do some good.

      • Andrew says:

        Agreed that reforms are needed. I just wonder how much environmental damage is inevitable in order to feed 7 billion people.

        • Linnaeus says:

          It’s also not just an issue of environmental damage itself, but also who pays the costs for it. If at least some damage can’t be avoided, then we need to do a better job of distributing the costs.

      • Currants says:

        Yes, and that’s the transition to “organic”–and more to the point, sustainable (by whatever definition you assign that word, and the two need not go hand-in-hand).
        You do, however, want to make the adjustment in a carefully planned way, because putting some farmers out of business is a possible consequence, and not necessarily a good one (depending, depending…).

    • joel hanes says:

      Conclusion: donate to Planned Parenthood

  4. […] 3. Our industrial food system produces a metric shit-ton of calories, but we’re not paying much attention to its accompanying environmental costs. […]

  5. Annie Hall says:

    I just read a really plausible novel called The Prophesy Gene. The main characters uncover a number of unintended genetic mutations as a result of the 1980s Aral Sea environmental disaster in Central Asia and the accidental release of a genetically moddified strain of anthrax. Some people eat oxen that have grazed on vegetation that has absorbed the anthrax (since soil is where anthrax naturally occurs) and their digestive systems irreparably stop working. Most of them suffer a slow, painful death. They also ucover fungus and viruses hidden in a cave in Northern Canada. They know that they could be released into the air shortly and cause a pandemic, but they also discover that the fungus consumes carbon dioxide and water and releases hydrocarbons as its waste product, effectively reversing glocal warming. Unfortunately, though scientists don’t realize this and will probably destroy the fungus because they don’t understand it. The author is Stuart Schooler. His website is and there is a link to a blog and a YouTube video (

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