Farming-and Consuming-With Less Harm

Farming-and Consuming- With Less Harm

By Dr. Michael W. Fox

It is difficult to tell farmers what to do when it comes to environmental and wildlife protection and more humane treatment of animals raised for food when they are driven by profit margins and know how to farm the government for subsidies and price supports. According to one survey, “Total covered cropland declined nearly 10 million acres or -4% between 2012 and 2022. The decline was slower between 2017 and 2022 (-3%). Total covered cropland includes land in cover crops, winter wheat, and forages as well as cropland in CRP and pasture and grazing land that can be cropped without additional improvement.” (Zulauf, C., al.“Cover Crops and Covered Cropland, 2022 US Census of Agriculture.” farmdoc daily (14):37, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, February 22, 2024. Cover crops help prevent soil erosion, loss of nutrients and enhance carbon sequestration. No agricultural land should be left bare.

Another harm is evident in the decline in Monarch butterflies and other insects along with birds and other wildlife that depend on insects as a food source is as a result of the planting of genetically modified (GM) crops that are resistant to Roundup (glyphosate) herbicide treatment and produce their own insecticide called Bt. ( Bacillus thuringiensis).

Now, a new study links Monarch butterfly and other insect and bird declines with the widespread treatment of corn and soybean seeds with neonicotinoids in the Midwest that are absorbed into plant tissues. (see Van Deynze, B. et al (2024) Insecticides, more than herbicides, land use, and climate, are associated with declines in butterfly species richness and abundance in the American Midwest. PLOS ONE 19(6): e0304319.

Ninety percent of corn grown in US and over 80% of soy crop is fed to farmed animals…much of being exported to China and other countries to feed factory farmed animals that are a potential source of pandemics, the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus now decimating wild bird and land and sea mammals around the world.

With climate change-related floods and droughts reducing crop yields and causing food shortages and rising market prices globally, feeding people first rather than using land to produce crops for farmed animal feed, regardless of the dubious promises of developing genetically engineered flood, salt and drought resistant feed crops, would be prudent. Recent floods in many states have lead to factory farm beef feedlot and hog and poultry confinement operations animal waste/manure holding lagoons overflowing and causing extensive pollution of surface and ground waters,fish kills, and risks to public health from excess nitrates and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Climate change also brings unprecedented heat that stresses these confined animals and suffocation with power-outages. Their suffering is compounded when ventilation is turned off to kill them when they have diseases such as avian influenza, extermination being the accepted means of disease control which would not be needed if animal factory farms were phased out.

Wealthier countries need to consume less meat to tackle climate change — and one nationwide experiment in Denmark to encourage plant-based diets may show a way forward.See article by Sanne Wass: Denmark Wants People to Consume Less Meat, Dairy - Bloomberg. Big Pharma that makes $ billions from antibiotic, vaccine and production-enhancing drug sales for factory farmed animals will protest and lobby against any reductions.

Consumers can join the farm-with-less-harm movement by purchasing produce and prepared foods (including some pet foods) that carry the logos USDA Organically Certified, GMO Free and Animal Welfare Certified. (Certified For environmental, biodiversity- conservation, economic, and health reasons, millions of consumers in many countries are now opting for vegetarian and vegan diets and healthful vegan pet foods are now available for companion animals.