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Unformatted text preview: Environmental Health Perspectives VOLUME 110 | NUMBER 5 | May 2002 445 How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture Leo Horrigan, Robert S. Lawrence, and Polly Walker Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA The Union of Concerned Scientists ( 1 ) said that industrial agriculture views the farm as a factory with inputs (such as pesticides, feed, fertilizer, and fuel) and outputs (corn, chickens, and so forth). The goal is to increase yield (such as bushels per acre) and decrease costs of production, usually by exploit- ing economies of scale. Industrial agriculture depends on expen- sive inputs from off the farm (e.g., pesticides and fertilizer), many of which generate wastes that harm the environment; it uses large quantities of nonrenewable fossil fuels; and it tends toward concentration of pro- duction, driving out small producers and undermining rural communities. The fol- lowing environmental and public health concerns are associated with the prevailing production methods: Monocultures are eroding biodiversity among both plants and animals. Synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers are polluting soil, water, and air, harming both the environment and human health. Soil is eroding much faster than it can be replenishedtaking with it the lands fer- tility and nutrients that nourish both plants and those who eat them. Water is consumed at unsustainable rates in many agricultural areas. Many of the problems inherent in indus- trial agriculture are more acute when the out- put is meat. Our food supply becomes more resource intensive when we eat grain-fed ani- mals instead of eating the grain directly, because a significant amount of energy is lost as livestock convert the grain they eat into meat. Cattle are the most inefficient in their energy conversion, requiring 7 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of beef (compared to 4:1 for pork and 2:1 for chicken) ( 2 ). Despite this inefficiency, livestock diets have become higher in grains and lower in grasses. The grain raised to supply feedlots (cattle) and factory farms (chickens, hogs, veal calves) is grown in intensive monocultures that stretch over thousands of acres, leading to more chemical use and exacerbating attendant problems (e.g., pesticide resistance in insects, and pollution of surface waters and aquifers by herbicides and insecticides). The use of growth-promoting antibiotics in animal agriculture is thought to be one of the factors driving the increase in antibiotic resistance in humans. In addition, the most prevalent foodborne pathogens are over- whelmingly associated with animal products, most of which come from factory farms and high-speed processing facilities. The crowded conditions in factory farms, as well as many of their production practices, raise ethical concerns about the inhumane treatment of animals....
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