WHAT’S THE CONFUSION ALL ABOUT?
Is our food system (fueled by crop subsidies) broken? Doesn’t our current practice of high-yield farming provide Americans with plenty of food, even surpluses? Indeed it does, but there are two things wrong. It has led to an abundance of wasted food, and participation was contingent on how much money one possesses. According to the USDA, more than 25% of Americans are on some sort of food assistance program. Is this acceptable? What about the chronic mal-nourishment of people in developing countries?
Here I hope to outline some of the current problems with our “business-as-usual” industrial food system.
Farmers Are Being Exploited
Within the last thirty years the reality of life on the farm has become non-existent if the farmer wasn’t willing to play the game that big agribusiness and US policy required. “One of the ideas most ruinous to the small farm has been that the farmer ‘could not afford’ to produce his own food; the time and acreage required for the family’s subsistence could be better used for market production. And so arrived that most curious manifestation of agricultural progress: farm families buying meat, vegetables, milk, and eggs at the supermarket ‘just like city people.’ I don’t believe, myself, that this ‘rule’ was ever true. It was invented by agribusiness for the benefit of agribusiness. It was not meant to help farmers and it has not helped them.”
Smaller farmers were continually edged off their land by the farmers that were playing the game and able to grow because of it. Now smaller farmers are required to grow the seeds that agribusiness sells them. In the case of corn, these seeds are genetically engineered to resist pesticides, grow bigger, and only last for one planting season. This corn crop, that is grown at record rates every year, is completely unsuitable for eating, so in a cruel case of irony farmers are unable to even feed themselves and their families with their own crop. What’s more, companies like Monsanto own the patents on these genetically engineered seeds therefore making the private use of them illegal. Dr. Vandana Shiva addresses this issue in a recent documentary called The Corporation: “The corporation [Monsanto] does not think. People in it think. And for them it is legitimate to create Terminator Technology. So that farmers are not able to save their seeds. [Terminator] Seeds that will destroy themselves through a suicide gene. Seeds that are designed to only produce crop in one season. You really need to have a brutal mind, it’s a war against evolution, to even think in these terms. But clearly profits are so much higher in their minds.”
For those farmers that have fought to stay on their land, instead of treating the land appropriately and practicing crop diversity and rotation, or even forsaking pesticides, they have instead experienced coercion to conform to new technologies. “The terrible contradiction, however, is that modern agriculture has often had to resort to coercion and enforcement to ensure adoption of the new technologies and practices.”
I feel that I must stress here that the problems with the industrial food system are not caused by the average American farmer. Most farmers don’t have much choice these days – it is either play the rules of the industry or don’t farm. However this doesn’t remove total responsibility from the farmer as everyone has choices to make.