The shift towards the mass industrialization of the US agriculture system dates to policy promoted during the Nixon administration by USDA Secretary Earl Butz encouraging farmers to “get big or get out.” Support shifted from small family farms to large, highly mechanized mega farms that are dependent on costly inputs. This system is not only unsustainable for farmers but highly damaging to the environment, including local ecosystems. Agriculture is one of the top contributors to climate change.
The Impacts of Monocropping
Our current agricultural system is highly dependent on monocropping. This system encourages farmers to grow one crop at a time allowing for increased mechanization and distribution of pesticides and fertilizers. The major downside is that monocropping decreases farm biodiversity and deteriorates soil health. The use of genetically engineered crops or GMOs further promotes this unsustainable system. With genetic engineering, we have seen the mass propagation of monocropping and the overuse of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
The overuse of pesticides has led to a rise in pesticide-resistant superweeds, requiring increased use of pesticides and dependency on more toxic varieties, such as 2,4-D and dicamba. This puts at risk the health of farm workers, farm communities, wildlife, and waterways. Overuse of pesticides results in the loss of key organisms in soil leading to further loss of soil health. Decrease in soil health prevents soil from absorbing water and key plant nutrients, as well as decreasing the soil’s ability to act as a sponge pulling excess carbon from the atmosphere. Poor soil health, a result of monocropping, requires farmers to use large quantities of energy intensive synthetic fertilizers to make up for soil deficiencies. Oftentimes, synthetic fertilizers leach into waterways resulting in mass die offs of fish populations and contaminated drinking water.
Intensive Animal Agriculture
Industrial agriculture includes the raising of millions of farm animals in unnatural conditions. Most GE crops go towards animal feed allowing for animals to be raised indoors. Factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are one of the main reasons why agriculture is a top contributor to climate change. CAFOs house hundreds, or even thousands, of animals per facility in crowded and unnatural conditions with little to no access to the outdoors. This system of agriculture aims at raising animals as efficiently and economically as possible with little to no regard for the well-being of animals, the environment, or consumers. CAFOs are linked to numerous animal welfare and public and environmental health concerns.
Due to the mass quantity of animals in one area, animal waste builds up releasing high levels of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is one of the leading contributors to climate change, causing more short-term damage to the environment than carbon dioxide. Animal waste also poses a contamination threat to soil and waterways, impacting communities downstream from CAFOs.
To make up for the crowded and unsanitary conditions, animals raised in CAFOs are regularly given sub-therapeutic (non-medical, daily low dosage) doses of antibiotics. In addition, antibiotics are often used to aid in growth promotion, a usage discouraged by the FDA. The continued sub-therapeutic usage of antibiotics is contributing to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, an epidemic that claims over 23,000 lives a year in the US alone.
Green America works with consumers, farmers, companies and allies across the US to reduce the use of toxic chemicals, GE crops, and monocropping, and to improve the lives of farm animals. We are working to create a regenerative agriculture system that replenishes the soil, sequesters carbon, and provides healthful food for all Americans.