The Cost of Industrial Agriculture
Industrial agriculture is the way most of our food ends up in our grocery stores and on our tables. However, through heavy practices such as pesticides, factory farming, deforestation, waste, monocropping, and many others, it’s no surprise that industrial farming is a key environmental polluter and is one of the highest industries in producing greenhouse gases.
The intensive practices used in factory farming are not only stressful for animals, but have drastic effects on environmental health. In factory farms, large numbers of animals are confined in small spaces that can increase the chances of more pandemics arising in the future. According to “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture”, “the most prevalent foodborne pathogens are overwhelmingly associated with animal products, most of which come from factory farms and high-speed processing facilities.” Environmental damages caused by these practices can range from deforestation to make room for agriculture all the way to releasing overwhelming amounts of chemicals and other pollutants into water sources. Factory farming also contributes to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. An estimated 14.5% of the global output of greenhouse gas emissions is from just animal agriculture.
While the use of fertilizers has increased the production of crops overall, they have also been associated with harmful environmental effects. Large amounts of wasted fertilizer that aren’t given to crops are swept away into waterways and groundwater that both wildlife and humans need to sustain on. Along with this, when wasted fertilizers are washed away into these waterways and bodies of water, this causes native aquatic plants in those lakes and rivers to grow rapidly, causing overcrowding. Monocropping, or the practice of growing a single crop repeatedly on the same land, deteriorates the nutrients of the land the crops are grown on and weakens the soil. In turn, the soil becomes too weak to support healthy plant growth, and the pests and insects brought on by this are solved by using harmful pesticides. Humans aren’t exempt from the issues brought on by industrial crops; “The Impact of Industrial Farming on the Environment” states that “long-term effects of pesticides include elevated cancer risks and disruption of the body’s reproductive, immune, endocrine, and nervous systems.”
Are there any alternatives to these harmful farming practices to prevent destroying entire environments and ecosystems? For many people, going to entirely plant-based diets or buying solely organic foods is not a possible option, considering the convenience and accessibility of industrial-raised goods. However, individual solutions to factory farming can still make a difference -- these can range from saving leftovers to prevent unnecessary food waste, to buying animal products with USDA-approved labels. However, it’s not only down to individuals to influence the way we farm. New regenerative farmers are utilizing practices that reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and also use low-confinement systems for animal production. Not only are large farms redefining agriculture — on a smaller scale, individuals are also growing their own veggies and fruit, whether it be in a backyard or on a windowsill.
While there still is a long way to go regarding sustainable farming practices, alternatives to industrial agriculture are becoming more widespread and available, and as a result will impact the way we farm in the future.