Learning about sustainable food and the problems with factory farming can be daunting at first, but, with a little effort, you can quickly learn enough to make the safest and wisest food choices for you and your family...
Additives // Much of the food we find at today's supermarkets is highly processed and contains numerous food additives. These substances are used to change the way food tastes and looks (altering the color and texture), to improve the nutritional quality of foods (adding vitamins and minerals), and to increase the food's shelf life to prevent spoilage.
Air Pollution // Industrial farms produce massive amounts of animal waste that is known to release greenhouse gasses into the air. Aside from the air pollution that comes from farm waste, the industrialized food system also burns significant amounts of fossil fuels to power the trucks that distribute products.
Animal Welfare // As farms have become more industrialized, animals have become more of a commodity. They are considered units of production, rather than living, breathing beings, and as a result these animals are treated inhumanely. But increasingly, more and more consumers are demanding better treatment of animals.
AntibioticsAntibiotics // Because of the crowded and unsanitary conditions on factory farms, animals are often fed low doses of antibiotics. Antibiotics are also used to make the animals grow faster. This is contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.
Biodiversity // Biodiversity is important because ecosystems rely on the interaction of a variety of plant and animal species, and because various breeds of animals and plants have valuable genetic material. Industrial agriculture is one among many unsustainable human activities that has lead to rapid decreases in the world's biodiversity.
Buy Local // Most meals travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach your dinner plate. By eating food produced locally, you are helping yourself, the environment and your community.
Cloning // Cloning of animals used in food production is a controversial issue both because of its ethical implications and the potential threat it poses to human health.
Communities // Sustainable farms provide a welcome alternative to the problems associated with factory farming. Unlike corporate factory farm owners who have very little interest in the condition of local communities, sustainable farmers have a strong connection to their communities and a demonstrated commitment to preserving the surrounding land. In addition, workers on sustainable farms are treated fairly and earn a respectable wage.Dairy Feature Article
Dairy // Dairy foods production is a multi-billion dollar industry, and over the past century it has grown increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few major corporations. This has lead to widespread environmental damage, low standards of animal welfare, and mass production of milk tainted with antibiotics, artificial growth hormones and pesticide residues.
Economics // Proponents of industrial agriculture claim that large-scale factory farming is the most efficient way to produce huge quantities of inexpensive food and that without industrial agriculture, food prices would be excessively high. But the price of industrial food does not take into account the true costs of production. When these hidden environmental and health costs are factored in, industrial food costs more than sustainable.
Environment // Agriculture has an enormous impact on the environment, but whether the impact is good or bad depends on the type of agriculture used. Sustainable agriculture puts back what it takes from the environment, while factory farming pollutes our air, water and soil.
Factory Farming // Meat and dairy production in the United States has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. Small family farms have been replaced by huge livestock facilities, where animals suffer horribly, workers are mistreated, the environment is being destroyed, and where rural communities are falling apart.
Family Farms // Family farmers are being forced out of business at an alarming rate, and hundreds of small farmers sell their land every week. The dramatic expansion of industrial agriculture has made it increasingly difficult for small family farmers in the US, but many small family farms have found hope within the sustainable food movement.
Feed // Animals on industrial farms are fed the cheapest grains and waste products in order to fatten them quickly. This leads to widespread health problems, so low doses of antibiotics are also added to the feed. The result is unhealthy animals and unhealthy food for consumers.
Food IrradiationFood Irradiation // Irradiation is used to increase the shelf life of the food so it can travel longer distances and keep for as long as possible. This processing method has not been properly tested for safety and it depletes the vitamin content of food.
Fossil Fuel and Energy Use // Industrial agriculture relies on machinery to produce food and trucks to transport the food throughout the country, and likewise consumes massive amounts of fuel and energy. Sustainable farms work to minimize their energy use, and since their products are bought locally, minimal fuel is burned in order to transport their goods.
Genetic Engineering // Genetic Engineering (GE) is the process of transferring genes from one plant or animal to another. The technology has not been properly tested, so no one knows if GE food is safe to eat. Currently, crops are genetically engineered, and some believe that animals are next.
Global Warming // The millions of pounds of waste produced by grain-fed livestock on industrial farms releases massive amounts of methane into the air. Some scientists believe that methane is among the most important greenhouse gasses contributing to global warming today.
Health // Sustainable foods are healthier than industrial food because of higher levels of “good” fats and nutrients in grass-fed animal products and lower pesticide residues in organic foods. Meanwhile, industrially-produced food is detrimental to our health because it leads to outbreaks of foodborne illness, contributes to antibiotic resistance, and pollutes drinking water.
Heritage and Heirloom Foods // Farmers throughout the world once raised thousands of different animal breeds and plant varieties. However, since today's industrial farms rely upon only a few specialized livestock breeds and plant varieties, thousands of non-commercial animal breeds and crop varieties have disappeared, along with the valuable genetic diversity they possessed. Fortunately, a growing number of sustainable farmers are preserving agricultural variety and protecting biodiversity by raising “heritage” or “heirloom” animal breeds, fruits, and vegetables.
Hormones // Artificial hormones are implanted in beef and dairy cattle to make them grow faster and produce more milk. The US government claims the hormones are safe, but the European Union has banned hormones because of a possible link between hormones and some types of cancer.
Mad Cow DiseaseMad Cow Disease // Mad cow disease is transmitted when one cow eats the brain and spinal tissue of an infected cow. Humans can also contract vCJD (the human form of mad cow) this way, and over 150 people have died from this disease since the 1990’s.
Organic // Organic food regulated by the USDA, and organic farmers must follow specific guidelines in order to label their foods “organic.” For example, animals cannot be given antibiotics or hormones, chemical pesticides cannot be used, and meat cannot be irradiated.
Pasture Raised // Pasture-raised animals spend most of their time outdoors, where they're able to eat nutritious grasses and other plants as they would in nature. In addition to dramatically improving the welfare of farm animals, pasturing helps reduce environmental damage, and yields meats, eggs, and dairy products which are tastier and more nutritious than foods produced on industrial farms.
Pesticides // Pesticides are sprayed on crops that are fed to farm animals. Residues are stored in the animals' fat and tissue, and enter our bodies when we eat the meat. Pesticides have been linked to many medical problems.
Policy and Legislation // Current agricultural policy promotes industrial farming and neglects small farmers. In many cases, our tax money goes to support research and operating costs for large food corporations.
Precautionary Principle // Rather than banning the use of new technologies before they’re shown to be safe, our federal agencies allow potentially dangerous products to enter the food supply, putting public health at risk.
Slaughterhouses and Processing // The US meatpacking industry is dominated by a handful of corporations that process massive quantities of meat in huge plants. As a result of inadequate food safety standards and lax inspection practices by the USDA, these corporations are able to operate unsanitary facilities and send out meat contaminated with dangerous bacteria. These facilities are also extremely dangerous, and meat-packing is among the most hazardous jobs in the nation.
Waste // Some industrial livestock facilities produce as much sewage as a small city, but they are not required to treat all this waste. Instead, the waste is held in large pools and spread on farm fields where it often runs off into nearby water systems.
Water Pollution // The waste from industrial farms leaks into streams, lakes, oceans and ground water with bacteria, antibiotic residue, pesticides and chemical fertilizer. This pollution can lead to the destruction of aquatic ecosystems and contamination of human drinking water.
Workers // Workers on industrial farms and in meat processing facilities work in hazardous conditions, and are underpaid and mistreated.
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