In what ways does industrialized farming affect ecological integrity

Chapter 3 reword

1. In what ways does industrialized farming affect ecological integrity?

Answer: As American agriculture has become more industrial, it has become increasingly dependent on fossil energy and other finite natural resources. The total food system currently claims about twenty-percent of all fossil energy used in the U.S., with farming accounting for about one-third of the total percentage. In fact, our industrial food system requires about ten calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food energy produced. Supplies of fossil energy are finite, and there is a growing consensus that fossil energy in the future will be far less plentiful and costlier.

Pollution represents negative energy, in that it destroys the usefulness of other energy resources or requires energy to mitigate its negative impacts. Industrial agriculture pollutes the air, water, and soil with toxic agrochemicals and livestock manure. It is a major source of pollution, accounting for more than twenty-percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, even more than transportation. In fact, agriculture has become the number one nonpoint source of pollution in the U.S., creating huge dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico. An industrial agriculture is not ecologically sustainable.

Industrial agriculture also is a significant contributor to the depletion of social energy. Farm workers today are among the lowest paid workers in the U.S., while working under dangerous and disagreeable conditions, most without adequate health care or other fringe benefits. A growing reliance on migrant farm workers also creates cultural and political conflicts, particularly in times when good paying jobs are few. Many farm families fare little better, as independent farmers are periodically forced out of business to make room for further corporate consolidation. Therefore, rural communities in agricultural areas have suffered decades of economic and social decline and decay.

2. The concept of ecosystem services is gaining increasing recognition. What are some of the most important ecosystem services provided by agriculture? To what extent do you think a threatened loss of ecosystem services can drive change in policy and practice? Why?

Answer: Ecosystem services are defined as “the benefits provided by ecosystems to humans”. Many key ecosystem services provided by biodiversity, such as nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, pest regulation and pollination, sustain agricultural productivity. Promoting the healthy functioning of ecosystems ensures the resilience of agriculture as it intensifies to meet growing demands for food production. Climate change and other stresses have the potential to make major impacts on key functions, such as pollination and pest regulation services. Learning to strengthen the ecosystem linkages that promote resilience and to mitigate the forces that impede the ability of agro-ecosystems to deliver goods and services remains an important challenge.

Ecosystem services can be:

· Regulating (e.g. climate regulation, disease regulation, water regulation, water purification, pollination)

· Cultural (e.g. spiritual and religious, recreation and ecotourism, aesthetic, inspirational, educational, sense of place, cultural heritage

· Supporting (e.g. soil formation, nutrient cycling, primary production)

· Provisioning (e.g. food, fresh water, fuelwood, fiber, biochemicals, genetic resources)

3. Farmer Michael Heller endorses a broad definition of sustainable farming going well beyond environmental impacts. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this definition?

Answer: Sustainable farming is putting reins on the horse and into the hands of farmers and consumers, where we (together) shape our own food system. Sustainable farming is also the process of decision making on the farm. What are the filters that a farmer uses to make decisions? Sustainable farming is working with ecological processes— that is, using cover crops, crop rotations, and beneficial insects— rather than fighting them with herbicides, insecticides, and chemical fertilizers. Another aspect of sustainable farming is building soil quality on farms. Every handful of healthy soil contains billions of living organisms— protozoa, nematodes, bacteria, fungi, algae, and others. All these critters are working for the farmer to contribute to the soil’s ability to supply nutrients to grow healthy plants, but these critters have got to eat, too.

I tend to agree with his definition of sustainability because when defining it, is very important to consider local food systems but also to take a global view of it. To understand sustainability from a global view, it is important to know that it has been estimated that the industrial food chain uses 70 percent of agricultural resources to provide 30 percent of the world’s food, whereas local sustainable farms worldwide produce the remaining 70 percent using only 30 percent of the resources.

4. What do you see as the most promising ways you yourself could engage to promote a more environmentally sustainable food system?

Answer: A sustainable food system also refers to an approach that makes the most of the earth’s resources for future generations. It guards against depleting these resources. Why, then, has sustainability not yet been achieved? Perhaps it’s because not enough folks know how to achieve it. Here are some ways that consumers, food producers and legislators can work together to make the food system more sustainable:

· Local eating

The cost of transporting food across the globe isn’t measured just in dollar signs, but in carbon emissions too. When you buy food from local farmers, you’re contributing to your community’s economy and decreasing your impact on Nature.

· Encourage cooking

Since sustainability promotes better health among consumers, learning to cook at home more skillfully — and more frequently — is an essential component. When people have control over their own food, they can eliminate ingredients like added sugars and fats. This, in turn, creates a healthier public.

· Design menus to follow seasons

Eaters like to enjoy fruits and veggies year-round which is part of the reason foods are imported from all over the world: to gratify the appetites of consumers. This however is unsustainable. If you stick to seasonal produce, however, you’ll be able to buy almost everything locally — and make sure that you get more variety in your diet over the course of a year. This practice will help to reduce your carbon footprint and boost your health.

· Rotate crop varieties regularly

When farmers plant the same crops again and again, they eventually suck the nutrients out of the soil, making it near useless and often necessitating chemical-laden fertilizers. There’s a simple, natural and time-tested trick to avoid this, though. Farmers can plant different crops every few years to keep the soil healthy. Consumers just must get on board with mixing up their diet too.

· Waste less

If you added up all the food to be produced from now until the year 2050, the sum would equal the same amount of food that’s been consumed over the past 8,000 years, that’s a long period of time. Clearly, as the food industry grows, so will its impact on the earth. To offset this impact, consumers should strive to toss out less food at home and make the most of their groceries. Businesses, supermarkets and industry should stop throwing out food too and strive to donate to charity or other organizations.

· Support Fair Trade

Foods that bear the Fair-Trade label have been produced in a way that ensures fair treatment of employees and the earth. So, if you’re committed to the sustainable food movement, you should opt for Fair Trade foods whenever possible to support the right kinds of producers.

· Consider food’s true cost

The “true cost” of food refers to the often unseen environmental and social impacts that mass food production creates. Although unsustainable foods may be cheaper at the supermarket, they ultimately have a higher “true cost” in their negative impact on people and planet. It’s important to keep this issue in mind when you buy food.

· Invest financially

Some smaller countries like the Netherlands might be small but it exports more amounts of food, second highest amount of food in terms of value, after the United States. They have invested in sustainable agriculture, they were innovative, using indoor farming techniques to male most of every square inch of their land, they also used fewer to no chemical pesticides which makes their soil richly fertile and can be reused.

· Avoid Additives, pesticides and go organic

Synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics take a toll on the earth and on animals but are used frequently by primary producers and livestock farmers in conventional farming to ensure produce and animals grow – and turnover profit – as quickly as possible. When you have the option, try to buy organically grown and additive-free produce and grass-fed meats where possible This should be clearly marked on the packaging but if it isn’t, make sure to ask an assistant.

· Be ready to sacrifice convenience for a better future

Supporting a sustainable food system isn’t easy. When you commit to buying locally-produced foods and Fair-Trade foods and adhering to other tenants of sustainable living, these conscious choices may cost you time and money. But ultimately, you’re working toward a greater cause that will ensure you pass on a healthy earth to future generations.

Contributing to a sustainable food system may require a personal investment on your part, but when you weigh the benefits, it’s well worth the effort. With just a few minor tweaks to your daily life, you could have a huge impact on the way the food system develops in the coming decades. So, pick one or two of these steps that you can take to do your part in living (and eating) more sustainably.

5. Why are voluntary conservation measures generally insufficient on their own to maintain ecological integrity?

Answer: Overall, current voluntary approaches are not adequate, as can be seen from trends in resource degradation. Climate change and other current threats point to a tremendous need for greater resilience in the food system. Supplementing voluntary approaches with a strong regulatory framework would have greater impact, but regulatory approaches are politically difficult to implement given resistance from those benefiting from a weak regulatory system. Regardless of the type of policy, environmental goals and thresholds for severe damage to environmental resources must be determined in order to set appropriate policies. Without such goals and limits, current agricultural and environmental trends indicate that more critical resource-use thresholds will be surpassed. Many policy tools exist to influence individual and societal practices, including payment for ecosystem services (which creates a market for ecosystem services in addition to food, fiber, fuel, and other farm products so that farmers can be compensated for protecting ecosystem services); regulation and fines for environmental degradation, using the “polluter pays” principle (in which the onus to clean up a polluted site is on the person or company responsible for the pollution and benefiting in some way from it); and financial support to convert farming systems to organic or other agroecological practices with lower environmental costs but perhaps lower yields, particularly in the first years of conversion.

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