HEALING AGRICULTURE'S BROKEN CONNECTIONS
By Dr. Michael W. Fox
Over millions of years animals and plants have co-evolved, establishing a matrix of symbiotic (mutually enhancing) relationships. For the animals, including the human species, this co-evolution brings the myriad benefits of life-sustaining and health-maintaining plant nutrients (proteins, complex carbohydrates, oils and minerals) as well as plant derived enzymes, neurohormonal precursors; and various other beneficial phytochemicals, along with prebiotics and nutrients essential for maintaining a healthy gut flora vital for the proper digestion and assimilation of food and immune system function.
For the plants, ecologically balanced populations of grazing animals provide such benefits as growth stimulation, optimization of biodiversity, facilitate germination, seeding and fertilizing through nutrient (manure) recycling which, in benefiting soil microorganisms and humus formation, improves plant growth, disease and drought resistance.
With the advent of industrial agriculture and food processing there has been a series of radical disruptions of these co-evolved relationships between grazed plants, farmed animals, planted crops, human consumers and their respective, shared environments. To highlight a few:
- 1. Animals taken off the land into confinement systems creating stress, new diseases and disconnecting the restorative animal manure cycle with the creation of polluting ‘waste management’ problems.
- 2. Further impoverishment of the soil by chemical fertilizers, pesticides resulting in lower nutritive value of crops and poor disease resistance.
- 3. Radical dislocations of food-chain connections as between farmed animals and their food sources, consumers and local food markets: With centralization of animal slaughter and food processing the risk of widespread dissemination of food born illnesses escalates, and market prices increase because of transportation and storage costs.
- 4. Food processing variously destroys/denatures or adulterates plant (‘whole food’) nutrients: Isolated, ‘refined’ and concentrated parts thereof incorporated into manufactured human food and beverages, (such as white flour and sugar, high fructose corn syrup), cause nutritional and metabolic disruptions: Preservatives, stabilizers and other additives raise more concerns: Nutrient-deficient food industry by-products are now widely used in livestock feed and pet foods.
- 5. Loss of biodiversity, as with the indiscriminate and often cruel methods of predator extermination, the clearing of forests, draining of wetlands and plowing of grasslands to produce a few commodity crops, and an ever narrower range of hybrid plant and animal varieties being raised for human consumption, create ideal conditions for the evolution of plant and animal diseases.
- 6. Feeding ‘high energy’ rations of corn, soy bean and food and beverage industry by-products to grazing/grass-eating ruminants (cattle and sheep) creates animal health and welfare problems and causes dysbiosis (proliferation of harmful gut bacteria) putting consumers at risk from food born illnesses.
- 7. Biologically inappropriate farmed animal diets can put consumers at risk from nutrient deficiencies and imbalances, notably higher saturated fat content and lower omega 3 and elevated omega 6 fatty acids in produce from conventionally raised animals.
- 8. Recycling the remains of slaughtered animals and condemned parts into the diets of herbivorous ruminants resulted in ‘mad cow disease’ transmissible to human consumers, and facilitates the spread of bacterial and other diseases.
- 9. Government allotments of public funds to various agricultural sectors currently create price distortions, encourage non-sustainable agricultural practices and unhealthful diets, and have all but destroyed the once viable nexus of independent family farms and thriving rural communities across the U.S. where farmers’ call for ‘parity’ was met with foreclosure after foreclosure.
- 10. The American populace and other nations that have adopted this publicly subsidized, non-sustainable industrial agriculture and its manufactured food and beverage products now share the hidden costs and consequences of diet-related diseases such as obesity or metabolic syndrome, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment, hypertension and heart, liver and pancreatic diseases, especially diabetes mellitus, arthritis, colitis and other dysbiotic digestive disorders, notably Crohn’s disease, and various cancers. Many of these serious, chronic health problems are seen in millions of dogs and cats whose manufactured diets come from the same agribusiness food chain responsible for these human ills that have more to do with dietary choices than with lifestyles.
- 11. The co-evolved relationship between animals, humans and the plants they consume has now been further disrupted by the genetic engineering of plants. The creation of new, patented, genetically engineered or modified (GMO) crop varieties has put novel, biologically anomalous proteins and other biologically active ingredients, never present before, into the food chain. This is industrial agriculture’s latest radical disruption, the health and environmental consequences of which, along those caused by the expanding practice of food irradiation, remain as uncertain as the future of industrial agriculture itself.
The above brief synopsis of modern industrial agriculture’s pathological disconnections, which I term ‘Agricide’ after my book of the same title published in 1986, is of critical importance to consumers, legislators, health authorities as well as to aid and development organizations, because of its public health and long-term economic and environmental ramifications. Greater support from all these sectors for humane, ecologically sustainable and socially just agricultural practices, for organic, biodynamic, permaculture, free-range and other bioregionally appropriate ecologically sound food production systems, can only come with a better understanding of the economically perilous and, from the perspective of One Health*, the hazardous-to health nature of industrial agriculture. Transitioning at all levels of the food chain to correct the above disconnections is beginning, thanks to publications like Acres USA and the dietary and market choices now being made by informed consumers and institutional food providers in schools and hospitals in particular. Community-supported agriculture and wholesale and retail marketing co-operatives are major civil society initiatives fostering greater food security and affordability.
There is a place for appropriate agricultural technologies in helping feed a hungry world, but there is no place for those, and related practices outlined above, that have hidden animal health and welfare, environmental and public health costs. They are actually limiting the options of future generations by sacrificing consumer health and safety, environmental, especially soil and water quality, as well as the nutrient value of consumables, purely for short-term profit masquerading as progress, efficiency and necessity.
*See M.W.Fox Healing Animals & the Vision of One Health Amazon.com 2011. For more details visit www.doctorfoxvet.com.
The author is an Honor Roll Member of the American Veterinary Medical Association.