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:
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.
The so called economies of scale—increasing efficiencies with increasing size, especially of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations/factory farms)—were touted by mainstream economists and other supporters of capital intensive industrial agriculture who chose to ignore externalities or hidden costs. These costs associated with CAFOs in particular are far beyond any “price of progress” and of meeting public demand for “cheap” animal produce when animals suffer and when the public pays out on a myriad fronts. These include: Farm subsidies, crop insurance, price supports (which primarily benefit corporate mega-farms); environmental clean-ups and government oversight (Ha!), as well as food inspection and surveillance because of the increasingly hazardous nature of inputs (e.g. pesticides and other agrichemicals, antibiotics and GMOs) into the food chain, including often dubious imported food commodities, livestock feed and pet food ingredients from abroad. These escalating health risks to consumers, farmed animals, the natural environment and all who dwell therein cannot be corrected or mollified by more costly government oversight and regulations. Systemic problems call for systemic change, and such healing of agriculture is in process thanks to the intervention of more enlightened economists, epidemiologists and others, and through the policies and practices of a progressive, ethical food industry sector and allied farmers and ranchers.
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 sound science.
The goal and standard of so called “sustainable” agriculture is ecological soundness, meaning that farming enterprises do not deplete local natural resources—water and top soil quality and quantity. Everything is recycled in one way or another—crop residues serving as feed for a few farmed animals whose manure is composted and used as fertilizer, or for biogas, and even urine as a crop spray to control pests and as a fertilizer. Their manure is not shipped out for sale as a fertilizer which depletes local soil quality. Synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are used minimally, and when not used at all the sustainable farming enterprise qualifies for Organic status.
No matter how small, in terms of amount of land and animals, each family-owned sustainable farming enterprise is integrated with a community of other smallholdings which together make for one large cooperative to optimize the production of a diversity of products from milk to feed for animals.
Generally a few ruminant animals are kept for milk—dairy cows, buffalo, goats and/or sheep, sometimes being grazed free-range, the different species grazing in rotation helping to maximize forage utilization and manuring the land. Chickens or other domestic birds may free-range with them to help control ticks and other harmful insects. Humane treatment/husbandry practices are paramount, including herders (guard dogs in some areas), and night corrals to deter predators and facilitate manure collection for recycling. Sustainable farmers do not engage in wildlife habitat encroachment, illegal irrigation, deforestation, or predator control activities such as setting out poison bait or using snares/snoozes. Their farm animal husbandry practices minimize predation and the need for predator control.
I recall conversations with old farmers, one telling me he never sought to retaliate when a tiger took on of his calves—that was his rental payment for grazing in the jungle. Another we have on film showing his gouged thigh scar caused by a panther whom he drove off his cattle in the night corral, but did not blame, saying he was on the panther’s land. Another retired farmer told me that in the old days there were never ‘weeds’—they had no word for weed– and they never needed to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Alternative ‘zero grazing’, where fresh-cut forage, hay and supplements are brought to the animals calls for them to be humanely confined, with no over-crowding, proper housing with adequate shade/shelter, fresh water and feed-trough space to avoid bullying, and well drained ground surface that is kept clean with dry lying-up areas. The presence of a veterinarian is of the utmost importance for not only the health of animals but also for instructing and educating about humane treatment of animals. All of this was virtually non-existent before Deanna Krantz and I started our free veterinary services in the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, S.India.
Male offspring of milk-producing animals are treated humanely, be they fed and slaughtered locally, or subjected to castration, branding-identification, and transportation to other farmers who raise them for deployment as draft animals or for their meat and ultimate slaughter, ideally on-farm or close by—avoiding the horrific forced march to slaughter or being beaten and crammed into over-crowded trucks and railroad cars resulting in great suffering, injury and death.
Advocates of intensive, so called high-input farming systems see the sustainable farming movement as a step back in time that will not feed the hungry world. But in fact it is a step back to recapture millennia of traditional wisdom and integrate such knowledge, as well as seed and breed stock varieties, with environmentally less damaging food production practices. Two cases in point in the Nilgiris: more emphasis on rain-fed crops and consumption of same, such as highly nutritious ragi (a kind of millet) rather that rice, which needs constant irrigation and is processed into low-nutrient white rice; reduction of ‘scrub’ cattle numbers kept as manure producers and grazing in wildlife habitat, competing for feed and spreading disease and their replacement with more productive hybrid, locally adapted dairy cattle.
Sustainable agriculture means going forward with an economically and ecologically more viable, cost-effective, healthful, socially just and even regenerative approach to feeding ourselves and domesticated animals, while minimizing the adverse impacts on wildlife, many species of which play an indirect role in facilitating ecologically sound farming practices as by controlling crop and livestock pests and diseases.
The humane and sustainable production of farmed animal produce has its roots in traditional, small family farming enterprises and is the antithesis of industrial agricultures factory farms. Claimed as the way to feed expanding urban populations in developing countries and to meet the rising demand for meat with rising incomes, these factory farms cause widespread pollution, (along with tanneries), especially of drinking water; contribute to climate change; cause food born and zoonotic diseases (notably swine and avian influenza), and contribute to world hunger by indirectly impoverishing and marginalizing the rural poor, displacing their once sustainable, local and regional cooperative farming enterprises. According to the UN Children’s Fund 2013 report, 48%—61.7 million— of India’s children below the age of 5 are physically stunted and are mentally and immunologically impaired. Yet ironically India has become the world’s leading exporter of beef (from buffalo) now leading Argentina and the U.S.
There is a finite amount of land and water to feed and process increasing numbers of factory farmed animals, a hidden cost compounded by agricultural petrochemicals and animal pharmaceutical products from antibiotics to growth stimulating hormones, all having harmful public health and environmental consequences. In the best of worlds this calls for a phasing out of factory farms and more enlightened dietary choices based on the principles of humane sustainable agriculture as still practiced to varying degrees by traditional indigenous farmers, as in the Nilgiris, But they, along with the wildlife in those bioregions where various and diverse cultures have flourished for generations, are endangered by the threat of spreading factory farms and non-sustainable agricultural practices, including the adoption and proliferation of GMOs—genetically engineered varieties of commodity crops, that take the food from the mouths and land away from the ploughs of local people.
For India, a re-awakening of the spiritual tradition of vegetarianism, (which means veganism for the more affluent who can afford high protein non-animal foods to help reduce the suffering and often slow starvation of spent dairy cows in gowshallas), and not becoming one of the world’s leading exporters of meat and hides, is enlightened national self-interest: and more widespread respect and support of humane and sustainable farming enterprises, along with land reform, would do much to turn back the tide of rural poverty and crippling consequences of infant malnutrition.
We human beings are surely at the time in our biological evolution when we must reflect upon the direction our lives and civilization have been taking and where we are going. We are at a crossroads, and we must choose which road to take, using common sense and compassion as guide and compass. The road to healing begins when we all feel deep concern for the suffering that surrounds and suffuses us all with the darkness of a dying planet. We have made the Earth so sick, and ourselves in the process, because we have lost touch with the sacred dimensions of reality, Nature, of wholeness, balance, harmony, health and spiritual well-being.
We are so spiritually disconnected that we find reason to put our own genes into pigs so that we can use their hearts and other organs to replace our own diseased hearts and other organs harmed by our excessive consumption of animals and pollution of the environment and our vital food chain.
We are so cognitively disconnected from reality that we spray poisonous chemicals on the crops we feed to our children and rationalize such stupidity as the best and most efficient way to feed a hungry world and even to protect wildlife and biodiversity.
We are so emotionally disconnected from other animals that for economic reasons we justify incarcerating livestock in the cruel, intensive confinement systems of factory farming, and accept the suffering of other animals in vivisection laboratories in the name of medical progress. To question this pathology of anthropocentrism is not to put animals or Nature before people, but rather to demand a full ethical and economic accounting of those activities, values and policies that are harmful to the life community.
We think we are wise to take selenium, zinc, beta carotenoids, lysine, omega 3 fatty acid, vitamin E and C and other essential vitamins and trace mineral supplements. Because they are deficient in most of the foods we eat that do not come from certified organic farming systems, the produce from which have no such serious deficiencies.
But this taking of nutritional supplements/nutraceuticals, is not real healing. It is yet another quick “fix” that the American Medical Association tried to monopolize and obliterate in 1995, for the pharmaceutical industry. Organic farming is the ultimate antidote and first medicine since, unlike conventional chemical-based agriculture, it does not deplete soils and crops, and farmed animals and us, of these essential elements. But the herbal and mineral medicines of indigenous peoples and wisdom of midwives and shamans, like that of organic farmers, are threatened by expropriation, and will soon be subject to corporate exploitation and abuse.
A few years ago I was scheduled to give a major address on animal rights, agriculture and human well being at the University of Rochester, in Minnesota, home of the famed Mayo Hospital. Interestingly no bookstore in the city had any of my books for sale, that had been requested by the graduate student organizers prior to my lecture. They were embarrassed and angry, and told me that it was the doing of the “Mayo people.” State livestock and agribusiness interests were also involved. This alliance is now beginning to break apart as study after study shows the health benefits and economic savings of humane and sustainable organic agriculture, and doctors—as well as veterinarians—are advocating the adoption of organically raised, whole (unrefined, unadulterated, and un-processed), foods.
Like the good holistic healer, the organic farmer treats the soil with the same reverential respect and nurturing compassionate understanding as the good veterinarian treats animals. But as the power of pesticides has replaced the wisdom of the farmer, so over-the-counter drugs, computers and gene-jockeys have replaced the eyes of a good stockman and the services of the livestock veterinarian. All these substitutions are costly inputs that have a multiplier effect that undermines the economic sustainability of farming enterprises that are being sacrificed as the off-farm sector of agribusiness reaps more profits from their products and services.
When industry and corporate America adopt the principles of bioethical responsibility, as exemplified by farmers who follow the ethics and scientific principles of humane, sustainable organic agriculture, and consumers and legislators support them exclusively and “eat with conscience,” we will experience such healing that we will soon need no dietary supplements, like zinc and calcium, or vitamins C and E. We will have fewer cancers, heart attacks, osteoporosis, arthritis, allergies, food poisonings, newborns with birth defects and children with neurological, cognitive and emotional disorders. And fewer obese cats and dogs that develop cancer, arthritis, chronic skin, liver, kidney, endocrine, immune system and a host of other diseases, many of which can be alleviated and prevented with better nutrition and purer foods.
We won’t need to make animals suffer in laboratories to find cures for these diseases of Western civilization: Or need pigs as organ donors. Nor will we need to legitimize the creation of transgenic animals that carry and suffer our genetic disorders to serve as profitable models for developing new drugs to treat the myriad diseases we have brought upon ourselves from cancer and chemo-sensitivity to immuno-suppression and auto-immune diseases. The replacement of animal-based foods with plant-based foods could result in an 80-90 percent reduction in cancer, according to Colin Campbell, Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. A vegetarian diet is the best way for people to beat the obesity, diabetes, stroke and heart attack epidemic that is sweeping across the consumptive West to other counties that adopt the Western diet and methods of industrial agriculture. Grass fed, organic, and free range animal produce, from beef and chicken to eggs and cheese, are more nutritious, and ethically more acceptable than the produce from animals incarcerated in cruel, and environmentally harmful factory feedlots and confinement sheds. That some large corporations have co-opted the organic label for animal produce that comes from animals kept in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is a significant concern. A cardinal principle of organic animal agriculture is animals’ behavioral freedom and related ecological role in farming sustainably. This means that for dairy products to qualify as organic, simply feeding the cows organic feed and restricting the use of various drugs are insufficient criteria. The cows must have access to pasture and play an integral role most of the year in the ecology and economy of bioregionally appropriate farming systems. These criteria clearly make the ‘organic’ claims of mega, 2,000-10,000 dairy cowherds, patently false. CAFOs are anathema to organic farming.
Several studies have shown that organic farming practices are good for wildlife, and help in the recovery of regional biodiversity.
When some problem arises, as in our own health or in the health of our animals or the productivity of our crops and livestock, our perceptions are so limited and our motivation so often self-serving that we seek simple solutions – stronger antibiotics and other drugs and vaccines, or genetically engineered, disease resistant seeds and stock – rather than correcting the underlying systemic causes. The expediency of simple solutions, often touted as miracles of scientific progress, serve the short-term, profit-oriented interests of the industrial system. The core systemic dysfunctions and causal agents are not addressed, only the symptoms being treated. Bad medicine and bad farming practices go hand in hand. Like holistic medicine, organic farming is systemically integrated within the physical parameters of general systems theory and quantum mechanics as they relate to dynamic living ecosystems, with the overlays of ethics, esthetics, and metaphysics.
The pathogenic status quo maintained by the food and drug mafia is for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many. That is why my books in Rochester MN were seen as a threat to the establishment which, because of its complexity of interdependent vested interests, is slow to change and to ever reach a consensus that could lead to reforms. But this status-quo is crumbling, however, as people change their diets, rather than taking drugs to lower their cholesterol levels, farmers turn to biological or natural methods of pest control, and human and non-human doctors adopt a more holistic approach to disease treatment and prevention for their patients..
Collectively, we fear to embrace uncertainty and seek control, instead of understanding complexity. We have no conception or resonant heart for concord and harmony with the life community. We slaughter dolphins, wolves, trees, and still even each other.
Our choice is either to extinguish this way of life or to extinguish all life that has no utility, no commercial value.
The less we cause animals to suffer, the less we will suffer. The less we harm Nature - the “environment” - the less we will harm ourselves, because, we and all life are connected ecologically, physically, psychologically and spiritually.
That most human diseases have a spiritual aspect has been long recognized by traditional healers. Conventional medicine does not address the spiritual, emotional, attitudinal, socio-ecological and economic dimensions of our dis-ease, or the many diseases of industrial civilization. It cannot be, so long as it is ideologically, economically and politically part of the industrial system that it serves and services. It is a medicine that cannot prevent disease or heal, even the rich who can afford its ever more costly interventions, so long as it can justify its Professors of Progress and Experimental Surgery, removing the hearts of baboons and replacing them with the hearts of genetically-humanized pigs to see how long they might live before the monkey’s immune systems predictably rejected these hearts. And when gene-juggling biotechnologists play god, putting insect toxin and herbicide resistant, antibiotic marker, and human antibody genes into new varieties of common food crops and then claim that these unique patented creations are ‘substantially equivalent’ to conventional crops, rather than biological aberrations.
What great step forward might such experiments on fellow creatures make for humanity? Is it not yet another backward step into the self-destructive morass of our once noble species turning into a global parasite, if not a plague on life more pernicious than AIDS? Such animal abuse and cruelty is endorsed by the Catholic Church,’ if it is justifiable in terms of definite benefit to humanity’. This human-centered world view is embraced by the ruling bio-technocracy of the industrialized Western and Northern hemispheres to sanctify the commodization of animals and the wholesale, commercialized rape of what is left of the natural world.
The Eastern and Southern hemispheres are ensnared by the same pre-Copernican anthropocentrism of industrial progress and economic growth that is to be attained regardless of the suffering of others, of the holocaust of the animal kingdom, the death of Nature, and the demise of indigenous peoples and their once sustainable methods of farming and way of life.
We cannot put our faith and hopes in scientific discoveries that eventually prove how important the micro-organisms in the soil are for our crops to be healthy and our food nutritious: Or in new breakthroughs in agricultural and medical biotechnology. At best, it will be too little, too late. More instrumental knowledge and technological advances will be to little avail if we do not shift the operational paradigm from anthropocentrism to a more reverential Earth or Creation-centered worldview. This is a systemic transformation that begins with increasing public and political support for humane, sustainable and organic farming practices, and with holistic and preventive health care maintenance.
We have yet to see that most of our diseases are not simply physical in nature, but also have a metaphorical aspect that has to do with our state of being and relationships with each other and with the Earth. The deterioration of our immune systems, for example, mirror social and emotional stress and also the deterioration of the environment, of community values, and of the economy. That more holistically-oriented physicians are at last beginning to recognize these connections is a clear sign that a paradigm shift or change in our worldview is taking place and that the status-quo of conventional medicine, agriculture, the economy, and other social institutions is no longer acceptable. As more medical and veterinary scientists are becoming real healers, so more farmers are becoming real land-stewards. Their paradigm is based upon the following bioethical principles: compassion, humility, ahimsa (avoiding causing harm), reverential respect for all life; social justice; eco-justice, and the precautionary principle. These are the cornerstones of a healthy community and of a sustainable economy.
Advances in the science and bioethics of alternative human and veterinary medicine and agriculture that are based on this new paradigm hold much promise and should be supported by the corporate sector as well as by academia, the public and their governments worldwide.
The death of Nature will mean the death of humanity, since our humanity is derivative of the natural world, and has no primacy either in origin or in significance. There is nothing miraculously different separating the existence of ants and earthworms from mice and men. All are different manifestations of being, of the life force. None is more significant, in itself, than any other in contributing to the diversity and dynamic harmony of the life process and community. It is from this perspective of a reverential respect for all life and for its community, that through communion, the time of healing and hallowing will begin. This is a spiritual and ethical imperative, and a survival necessity for the human species in these times and at this stage in our evolution toward a wiser and more responsible, empathic and compassionate life form.