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Problems With Our Current Food System
(this will be a series of articles over the next few Newsbriefs)

Part 1: Intro, Pesticides, Monocropping

(Part 2)

By Noor

Over the last 100 years, the way food is grown, distributed, processed, etc. has changed amazingly, especially in the West.  The reasons for this are very complex, including everything from advancing technology, to the push to move to cities and away from agrarian life, to even the problem of keeping food production going during World War II when so many men were away at war.  For those who are interested, there is much detailed information on the internet about how and why this happened. 

The end result is a food system that, like so many other things at this time, looks stable, healthy, and powerful on the outside, but is completely rotten, unnatural, and weak within.  It must be admitted, the efficiency humanity has attained through technology, automation, and scale is stunning; never before have so few people been able to produce so much food and distribute it so widely across the world.  However, we have done this not in harmony with nature, but by rebelling against it - not by using technology to live better within God's Way, but by attempting to force upon the earth our own misguided and destructive system - and the cost has been astronomical, to ourselves, to the animals and plants we care for, and to the earth as a whole. 

Not only is this system destructive and unnatural, but it is also so, so very precarious.  There are a million ways it could be toppled, a million tiny actions at God's disposal that would bring it down.  As Maitreya says in his article for this Newsbrief, "He will always WIN!"

The purpose of this series of articles is to briefly touch on some of the larger problems with the system and give some possible scenarios to show how easily it could be broken.  There is far too much to explain in just a few articles, and there is much excellent and detailed information about each of these points on the internet.  If you are already familiar with the current food system and the controversy surrounding it, much of this will not be new to you.  This series is only meant to be a brief introduction and overview to a very deep problem. 

First, I would recommend everyone watch the documentary "Food, Inc." directed by Robert Kenner, which gives a very good introduction to many of the issues.  One place to easily rent or buy it online is on Amazon (it is free if you have an Amazon Prime subscription). 

In this first article I would like to focus on two of the major problems with how food is actually grown in today's agriculture industry:

Pesticides/herbicides and chemical fertilizers:

Without pesticides and herbicides (I will refer to both just as pesticides from now on), pests and weeds are some of the worst enemies of a farmer, and a huge amount of time, money, and labor must go into controlling them using many different methods.  It is therefore understandable why pesticides have become so popular; instead of all that work and possible failure and loss of crop, just spray.  Many companies such as Monsanto have genetically engineered crops to be resistant to pesticides (this will be discussed more deeply in the next article), and sell the seeds and pesticides together in a bundle.  The farmers can spray everything, and only the pesticide-resistant crop survives. 

Chemical fertilizers provide a similar benefit; they allow farmers to easily buy and add very specific and controlled amounts of nutrients to the soil.  They are also usually more concentrated and release their nutrients more quickly and steadily than organic alternatives, making the benefit more immediate and easier to predict.

Both of these provide two very important things for business: Control and predictability.  It has turned farming into a much easier job: Buy seeds, plant, fertilize, spray, harvest, repeat.  With no pests or weeds to deal with, and with high-concentration fertilizer, the plants grow bigger, faster, and more uniformly.  From an economic standpoint, it is an extremely lucrative strategy. 

However, we all know the effect this has had.  Our food and environment is filled with poison.  In fruits and vegetables, washing will not remove it; it is drawn up and incorporated into the produce through the roots.  Pesticide residue is found in water and soil both close to large farms as well as in large cities and other places far from where it is being used.  Runoff from chemical fertilizers, especially nitrogen, leads to the destruction of aquatic environments, such as algal blooms and dead zones.  As usual, there is a reason God did not use these chemicals in this way in nature, and we are now feeling the consequences of going against His Way. 

There are other, less well-known effects.  Bees are needed for pollination, but are killed by pesticides, so natural pollination by local bees is no longer an option.  Instead, beekeepers are hired to truck in hives when the crop blooms, and must then pack the bees up again and leave before the first pesticide application.  If bees do not return, or the beekeeper is late in leaving, the bees are killed.  It is also certain that so much moving stresses and therefore weakens the bee colonies.  It is no wonder that pollinators are in decline across the world.  Just as one lie inevitably leads to more, one unnatural practice requires many others to work. 

Furthermore, consider that these crops now rely largely on pesticides to keep them safe.  There is no longer any evolutionary need for them to develop or maintain the defenses they once had against pests and weeds.  Consider also that there is a very strong evolutionary need for those pests and weeds to develop defenses against pesticides.  It should be very clear where this will lead. 

Farmers are already noticing they are having to increase their pesticide use, or spray with multiple kinds, to deal with the pesticide-resistant weeds and insects that have now evolved.  If a "superweed" or "superpest" appears that is immune to pesticides, it could easily devastate the large pesticide-using farms (which produce most of the food), and the plants and farmers would have no way to fight back.  We came to rely almost entirely on antibiotics for treating diseases, and now antibiotic-resistant pathogens such as MRSA are causing huge problems in our hospitals; I believe the same thing will happen with our food system. 

For more information on pesticides and the debate and controversy surrounding them, here is one good article (out of many). 


Another related development that has allowed for great control, predictability, and efficiency in farming is monocropping, or planting only one crop on the same land year after year, usually on a very large scale.  A commercial farm will plant a crop such as corn, wheat, sugar beets, canola, etc., on hundreds of acres.  They will plant a single variety, one that has been bred or engineered not for nutrition or taste, but for consistency in size, quality, time to ripeness, etc.  This allows them to use very large and specialized machines, each operable by only a few people, to plant, fertilize, spray, and harvest the entire crop.  Again, very economically attractive, and ruthlessly efficient. 

However, monocropping is amazingly risky.  Scientists have long known that genetic and species diversity is an essential ingredient for a strong and healthy ecosystem, and yet we have embraced completely the opposite in our farming.  If a problem such as a crop-killing disease, fungus, or pest strikes a monocropped field, because there is no diversity, it can quickly and effortlessly destroy the entire crop.  Many of these monocrop farms are also usually close together, as the soil and climate is conducive to growing that crop in that area (for example, corn in the Midwest), so this problem can easily spread to other farms as well.  Add to this what I mentioned above, that these monocropped plants are relying largely on pesticides to survive, were not bred to retain their natural defenses, and would be devastated by a pesticide-immune problem, and it is truly amazing that the system has survived this long. 

The worst case scenario is the Irish potato famine on a global scale.  All God has to do is introduce one little bug, change one tiny variable, and the whole thing goes...

Actually, the monocropping practice has already run into this problem.  Just one example: In the 1950s, commercial banana growers were forced to find an alternative to the monocrop variety at that time, Gros Michel, when it was decimated by a powerful fungus called Panama disease.  Most of them switched to a less delicious but Panama disease resistant variety called Cavendish.  Now, Cavendish is being attacked by a new strain of Panama disease.  Rather than learn their lesson, banana growers are racing to find, or genetically engineer, yet another monocrop-viable banana.  For more, read this article

Another problem with monocropping is that planting the same crop on the same land each year rapidly depletes the soil of the nutrients and minerals needed by that crop.  In fact, the only reason monocrop farms can sustain yields is because they artificially replenish these nutrients using the chemical fertilizers mentioned above.  Monocropping is only viable because of pesticides and chemical fertilizers!  Do you begin to see the fragility of the system, and how many ways it could be toppled?  The system has been built from the ground up, piece by unnatural piece, and everything is leaning on everything else.  Remove just one piece, and the rest struggle to stay standing. 

The next article (in the next Newsbrief) will focus on how most growers now obtain their seeds (especially in the West and developed countries), and how those seeds (and crops) have been changed from their traditional forms.  Topics will include hybrids, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), and seed saving. 

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