By Evaggelos Vallianatos, 27 January 2013
Western civilization suffers from the delusion of replacing peasants and traditional culture with industrialized farmers. This goes hand-to-hand with another hazardous practice: privatizing and ruthlessly exploiting the natural world.
This hubris has been infecting more than private corporate executives and governments, which, after all, have the models of nineteenth-century robber barons in mind. Scientists eat from this fruit of ignorance, too. They and their engineering colleagues modernized the infrastructure of exploitation. They made it “science based.”
Chemistry, for example, developed petrochemicals and plastics and thousands of other deleterious substances that now threaten the entire life of the world with deforms, extinction, nay death.
Agricultural scientists and engineers also justified the violent system of industrialized farming and food production that, in irrigating crops alone, uses about 70 percent of the world’s drinking water,1 about 19 percent of fossil fuel energy,2 and emits considerable amounts of the global warming gases.
According to “Livestock’s long shadow,” a 2006 report of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in carbon dioxide equivalent; 37 percent of methane (which is 23 times more lasting than carbon dioxide); 65 percent of nitrous oxide (which is 296 times more potent than carbon dioxide); and 64 percent of ammonia (which contributes to acid rain).
FAO says that the ecological impact of livestock is very substantial: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” Animal farms have been severely damaging the environment “on a massive scale.” They contribute to global warming, air pollution, and land, soil and water degradation. Animal agriculture, says the UN report, is also responsible for reducing biodiversity in the world.3
Farm animals (primarily chicken, hogs, and cattle) are now separate from the growing of crops. They spend their short lives very close to each other in concrete bunkers and factories eating largely genetically engineered soybeans and corn grown in massive plantations in Argentina, the Amazon of Brazil, Paraguay and the United States. Their grain food is laced with pesticides and antibiotic drugs. Their food may also include the flesh and bones of other animals. Their urine and feces fill huge lagoons that contaminate streams and rivers and, eventually, leak into groundwater. The Natural Resources Defense Council, America’s premier environmental organization, concluded in 2001 that, “Animal waste from large factory farms is threatening our health, the water we drink and swim in, and the future of our nation’s rivers, lakes, and streams.”4
Crops, fruits and vegetables also grow in abnormal circumstances, alien to the traditional agrarian methods and culture of my father, for example. I was a teenager in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the Greek Island of Kephalonia in the Ionian Sea. I remember my father, assisted by my older cousin, growing lentils, wheat and hay on very small strips of land without any chemicals or machines. We also had more than 200 olive trees for olive oil and enough vineyards for more than 100 gallons of wine. We also had chickens, sheep and goats. We worked hard but we were self-reliant in food. Our animals and crops were inseparable. Harvesting our grapes in late August is still alive in my mind, a picture that was almost identical to the harvesting traditions of Homeric Greece.
Most soy and maize in North America is now genetically engineered (genetically modified, GM). GM crops may be hazardous to both humans and wildlife.5 Indeed, GM crops are responsible for increasing the amounts of pesticides being sprayed over crops. According to Charles Benbrook, a former Capitol Hill staff scientist, in the United States GM crops have increased the use of pesticides by about 7 percent or 404 million pounds in the first sixteen years of use, compared with a scenario in which the same acres would be planted with non-GM crops.6
The GM moratorium in the EU is crumbling. Monsanto, the American protagonist for the worldwide farming of genetically engineered crops, is having tremendous influence in the US government. The result of this power is the spreading of the message of Monsanto by the US government as if Monsanto’s agenda were part of the strategic interests of America. The US threatened successfully the EU to open its agriculture to the GM crops of Monsanto.8 Not only that, but European countries are copying American agricultural and environmental policies. According to Rosemary Mason, a British physician and fierce environmentalist, the UK has been dismantling its wildlife labs and ecological monitoring8 so that, like the US, it can silence environmental dissent emerging from the abuse of the natural world.
One such abuse, decades old, is the ceaseless use and misuse of pesticides. Cancer is now a pandemic disease and pesticides are one of its major pillars. But pesticides, being biocides, are threatening our honeybees that pollinate about a third of what we eat.8 They are equally responsible for the devastation of wildlife, including endangered species.
Mason is warning the world that insecticides, especially the extremely toxic nerve poisons known as neonicotinoids, manufactured by Bayer CropScience of Germany, are destroying honeybees and other pollinating insects. Neonicotinoids are also harmful to fish, amphibians, bats and birds.10 Furthermore, she claims that pesticide scientists “make false claims about monitoring