Doing Ethics...
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Agriculture: Land and Life

 “Growing crops is nothing else but a more or less astute management of peculiarly

simplified ecosystems.”1 In the last half century, however, agricultural management has ignored the lessons of nature. The net loss of topsoil annually may be as much as twenty-five billion tons,2 which is a catastrophic loss, as it takes up to five hundred years for nature to create an inch of topsoil.3 Deforestation has increased water runoff and affected rainfall, causing a loss of about six million hectares (close to fifteen million acres) of fertile land each year to desertification.4

Irrigation has increased crop yields, but has made a quarter of the world’s farmland less fertile due to salt left in the soil by evaporation, or waterlogged if the land was not properly drained. “Although only 17 percent of the world’s cropland is irrigated, that 17 percent produces 40 percent of the global harvest. This disproportionate share is largely due to the capability of irrigated lands to produce two and sometimes three crops in a year.”5 Due to irrigation, water tables are falling,6 and underground aquifers are being depleted.7 “Modern agriculture places a severe strain on our water resources. In the United States, for example, it consumes fully 85 percent of all freshwater resources.”8

The use of artificial fertilizer has produced higher crop yields, but degraded the soil. In fields watered by rain only about 40 percent of the nitrogen in artificial fertilizer is taken up by the crops, and in rice paddies as little as 20–30 percent of the nitrogen in the fertilizer is utilized.9 Agricultural runoff of nitrogen compounds into streams has led to “at least fifty dead zones in the oceans, one the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico.”10 “We have perturbed the global nitrogen cycle,” Czech scientist Vaclav Smil asserts, “more than any other, even carbon.”11

Moreover, our system of agriculture is precarious. “The world’s food supply hangs by a slender thread of biodiversity. Ninety percent is provided by slightly more than a hundred plant species out of a quarter-million known to exist.  Twenty species carry most of the load, of which only three—wheat, maize [corn], and rice—stand between humanity and starvation.”12

What should our ethical presumptions be? I will argue that nature is our model for agriculture, poor farmers can feed themselves and their communities when their human rights are protected, and farming can and must be environmentally sustainable.


Plants depend on nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and the soil’s humus is rich in these elements. “Humus is what’s left of organic matter after it has been broken down by the billions of big and small organisms that inhabit a spoonful of earth.”13 An ecosystem naturally maintains the humus required by plants. 

Nitrogen “is the single most important nutrient” for plant growth,14 but plants can only use nitrogen that is fixed by bacteria. Legumes (members of the bean family) form “symbiotic relationships with nitrogen fixing bacteria. In exchange for some nitrogen, the bacteria receive from the plants carbohydrates and special structures (nodules) in roots where they can exist in a moist environment. Scientists estimate that biological fixation globally adds approximately 140 million metric tons of nitrogen to ecosystems every year.”15

Nitrogen plays a major role in protein and chlorophyll production, and chlorophyll enables plant cells to carry on photosynthesis, which uses solar energy to transform carbon dioxide into sugars. The nitrogen cycle is crucial for agriculture, but adding more fixed nitrogen to the soil will not increase yields without a sufficient amount of phosphorus. Phosphorus is required by the enzymes in plants that accumulate and convert carbon dioxide into sugars in photosynthesis, and is also needed for the construction and reproduction of DNA.16

In the phosphorus cycle rain removes phosphates from rocks and carries them through the soil, where plants take them up. Phosphates move “from plants to animals when herbivores eat plants and carnivores eat plants or herbivores. The phosphates absorbed by animal tissue through consumption eventually return to the soil through the excretion of urine and feces, as well as from the final decomposition of plants and animals after death.”17

Potassium regulates the water content in plants and the use of nutrients, resists plant diseases and drought, and increases the efficiency of photosynthesis.18 The potassium cycle takes place in the soil and in plants. “In agricultural ecosystems, potassium uptake by various crops varies, and its content in the soil depends on harvesting and general cultivation methods.”19 The use of artificial fertilizer raises levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the soil and increases plant growth, but disrupts the natural cycles of these elements. Furthermore, using pesticides with artificial fertilizers, which is standard practice in industrial agriculture, degrades the humus that maintains soil fertility.


“Mother earth never attempts to farm without livestock; she always raises mixed crops; great pains are taken to preserve the soil and to prevent erosion; the mixed vegetable and animals wastes are converted into humus; there is no waste; the processes of growth and the processes of decay balance one another; the greatest care is taken to store the rainfall; both plants and animals are left to protect themselves against disease.”20

Industrial agriculture ignores these lessons. It replaces farm animals with machines, diverse crops and crop rotation with a single crop, natural fertilizer with artificial fertilizer, and grazing with barns and stockyards where livestock are fed grain laced with hormones and antibiotics to fatten the animals and resist the bacteria that thrive in such artificial environments.


Cheap fossil fuels (which are only cheap due to government subsidies) have made industrial agriculture feasible. Artificial fertilizer is made from natural gas and pesticides from oil. Gasoline powers tractors and irrigation pumps, equipment in the livestock barns, trucks that transport food to processing plants and markets, and processing and refrigeration for much of the food.21 “The food industry burns nearly a fifth of all the petroleum consumed in the United States (about as much as automobiles do). Today it takes between seven and ten calories of fossil  fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate.”22

The development of higher yield hybrid seeds led to what is called the Green Revolution. “Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250 percent.”23 By 1994, however, it took four hundred gallons of oil to feed each US citizen. Since 1994 the energy input in agriculture has continued to grow, but this increased input has not meant a higher yield, because the soil has been degraded and pesticides have become less effective.24

Artificial fertilizers increase yields,25 but with great waste. Growing a single crop makes using machinery easier (to cultivate and fertilize), but attracts pests. To fight pests, about 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides are used annually in the US—“about five pounds for every person in the country.”26 But pests have evolved resistance to these chemicals. Despite a tenfold increase in pesticide use since the 1950s, crop losses to pests have doubled.27

Over “the past three to four decades, losses in all major crops have increased in relative terms,”28 largely due to:

·        Planting crops that are increasingly susceptible to insects.

·        Killing the natural enemies of pests by using pesticides.

·        The development of greater pesticide resistance in insects.

·        Reduced use of crop rotation and diversity that limit pest damage.

·        Planting in climatic regions where crops are more susceptible to insects.

·        Using pesticides that make crops more susceptible to insects.29

To reduce losses due to pests, US farm policy has adopted integrated pest management (IPM) The original goal of IPM was to manage “pests in an ecologically and economically sound way. Pesticides were to be applied only as needed, and decisions to treat were to be based on regular monitoring of pest populations and natural enemies (or antagonists) of pests in the target system.”30 The assumption was that using “a wide range of compatible or nondisruptive practices, such as resistant crop varieties and selective pesticides that preserve antagonists of pests, would ultimately lead to reduced reliance on chemical pesticides.”31

In 2001 a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) criticized federal efforts to enforce IPM and reduce pesticide use. The report found that the “total use of agricultural pesticides, measured in pounds of active ingredient, has actually increased since the beginning of USDA’s IPM initiative.”32 It is the same worldwide.33


The shift to industrial agriculture began in the 1970s. Bankers offered low interest loans, and farmers were persuaded that they would do better by taking out loans to invest in more land and equipment so they could increase production. When inflation raised interest rates, farmers were unable to repay their loans, as the surplus of food they were producing drove prices down.  

In the 1980s thousands of farmers went bankrupt and much of their land was bought up by corporations. Many surviving farmers in the United States have agreed to the “contract growing of chickens, hogs, and cattle owned by or committed to the processing companies,”34 although this requires that they bear all the risk. Today 95 percent of the chickens in the United States are raised by contract growers, and half of these are owned by four food processors.35 Four firms—Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Cargill, Cenex Harvest Services, and General Mills—“own 60 percent of the nation’s grain-handling facilities.”36

When four companies control 40 percent or more of a market, they control the price of goods.37 In 1996 Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) pled guilty to price fixing and paid an antitrust fine of $100 million.38 A year before the lawsuit was filed, ADM’s chairman admitted with unusual candor: “The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.”39

Federal farm policy has undercut effective market pricing. In the midst of the Depression the federal government began to use price supports and loans to help farmers survive. In the 1970s the Nixon administration changed to direct subsides, primarily for wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, and cotton. Paying farmers “directly for the shortfall in the price of corn was revolutionary, as its proponents surely must have understood.”40 Instead of removing corn and other commodities supported by the federal farm bill “out of a falling market, as the old loan programs and federal granary had done, the new subsidies encouraged farmers to sell their corn [and other commodities] at any price, since the government would make up the difference.”41

Under this system farmers try to maximize their yield on the land they plant, which makes sense given their fixed costs for loans and equipment. They buy more fertilizer and pesticide, which increases their input costs and also their yield. Higher productivity has generally led to declining market prices, less profit for farmers overall, and the consolidation of agricultural land under corporate ownership—as independent farmers have often been unable to pay their debts.

In 2007 years, however, there was a dramatic change, at least for those growing corn. Federal subsidies for the production of ethanol have driven up the market price of corn42 and made independent farmers rich and agribusiness richer.43 In the past two years alone net farm income has increased by about 50 percent. Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana farmer and former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, admits that federal farm subsidies, which are “narrowly focused on certain crops and are excessive,” become “ridiculous given the exploding possibilities to grow crops for biofuels production.”44

Opponents of the US farm bill introduced in Congress in 2007 argue that it “subsidizes the overproduction of corn and soy in the Midwest, which is driving up obesity and diabetes and polluting the land. Instead, they say, the farm bill should put more money into sustainable and organic food production, agricultural conservation and efforts to put a higher priority on fresh, local fruits and vegetables.”45 The farm bill that became law in 2008 “preserves an indefensible program of direct payments amounting to about $5 billion a year that flow in good times and bad. It raises support levels for wheat and soybeans, while adding several new crops to the list in a way that will make it easier for farmers to raid the federal Treasury even when prices go up.”46

US farm bill subsidies have long favored agribusiness.47 “Just ten percent of America’s largest and richest farms collect almost three-fourths of federal farm subsidies—cash payments that too often promote harmful environmental practices.” 48 The top 1 percent of subsidy recipients received 17 percent of payments, between 2003 and 2005, of $34,752,000,000. “In this period eleven agricultural businesses each received more than $4 million in subsidies, and half of the total crop subsidy went to agribusiness owners in only 19 congressional districts.”49

Agribusiness not only controls federal farm policy, as well as seeds, livestock, and food processing, but even food retailing. In 1992 the top-five retailers—Albertson’s, Ahold USA, Kroger, Safeway, and Wal-Mart—had only 19 percent of the national market, but by 2004 these five corporations had captured over 45 percent of the national market and almost 75 percent of the market in the largest cities. Pillsbury and General Mills merged in 2000, and Tyson and IPB in 2001. Today, 80 percent of the beef sold by these retailers is packed by four corporations.50

Agribusiness also controls international trade. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has “encouraged concentration in the food processing industry and the expansion of factory farms and agribusiness in all three NAFTA countries [Mexico, Canada, and the United States].”51 Half of Mexico’s small farmers have been pushed off the land, and Mexico now imports more than ten times as much corn from the United States as it did before NAFTA. The gap between rich and poor in Mexico and in the United States has grown, and the number of Mexicans coming illegally into the US to find work has increased.52

Trade agreements under the WTO, IMF, and World Bank have had similar results elsewhere. In Tanzania, for instance, “the overall impact on food security of the liberalization of agricultural trade is profoundly negative. Farmer incomes are declining, and, at the same time, school and medical fees have been reintroduced under the Structural Adjustment Program.53 Farmers have to part with some of the little money they earn, and have less to meet farming costs and to buy food in times of shortage.”54

In India in the past ten years more than twenty-five thousand farmers in prosperous regions have killed themselves because they were unable to pay their debts—due to the rising input costs of corporate seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers, and the declining market prices for their crops.55 As Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general notes, “the world trading system is not fair.”56


Farmers growing corn for ethanol production57 have recently benefited from higher prices for corn, but these higher profits are unsustainable. Growing corn takes more fertilizer than other crops.58 Fertilizer is made from natural gas, and the price of this fossil fuel is rising due to demand, which will raise the price of growing corn (and all products made using corn). In addition, growing corn takes a lot of water, but the aquifers beneath the midwestern states being used to grow corn are being depleted. There will soon be less water and it will cost more, which will also push up the price of corn (and everything using it).

Using more corn for ethanol is increasing prices for other goods, making it harder for people with low incomes to buy food. “A startling change is unfolding in the world’s food markets. Soaring fuel prices have altered the equation for growing food and transporting it across the globe. Huge demand for biofuels has created tension between using land to produce fuel and using it for food.”59 It seems clear that “shortsighted policies in the United States and other wealthy countries” are largely to blame.60

Having water to drink and to use in growing crops to eat cannot be left to supply and demand, nor can access to food, as markets do not protect human rights.61 “A long-held basic human right, the right to adequate food for the world’s 854 million hungry people, is being threatened once again—this time by the conversion of wheat, sugar, palm oil and maize into agricultural fuel.”62

The price of palm oil, for instance, which is widely used for cooking in many countries, has jumped nearly 70 percent between 2007 and 2008. “Cooking oil may seem a trifling expense in the West. But in the developing world, cooking oil is an important source of calories and represents one of the biggest cash outlays for poor families, which grow much of their own food but have to buy oil in which to cook it.” 63

Rising corn prices will increase the price of most processed foods, which contain corn syrup. Consider these typical items sold at McDonald’s: soda (100 percent corn), milk shake (78 percent corn), salad dressing (65 percent corn), chicken nuggets (56 percent corn), cheeseburger (52 percent corn), and french fries (23 percent corn). In addition to paying higher prices for food, consumers will continue to pay for the health costs that result from eating these high calorie foods—“obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease.”64

For the global poor, “America’s corn-fed food chain” is already a disaster, as the fast-food economy is using up much more than our fair share of the energy being captured by plants and stored as carbohydrates.65 About half of the grain grown today is fed to livestock,66 and much of this grain is corn. “To eat corn directly (as Mexicans and Africans do) is to consume all the energy in that corn, but when you feed that corn to a steer or a chicken, 90 percent of its energy is lost—to bones or feathers or fur, to living and metabolizing as a steer or chicken.”67

Processing food also requires energy and this adds to the inefficiency of food production. So, eating processed food, which has a higher profit margin for the producer than unprocessed food, also makes it harder for billions of poor people to obtain the food they need to survive.

Those who defend industrial agriculture and trade liberalization policies argue that traditional forms of agriculture cannot feed the world’s growing population. Yet, as industrial agriculture is unsustainable, its defenders bear the burden of demonstrating it is necessary.68 Sustainable agriculture is now feeding poor farmers in India and elsewhere, and may be able to feed the world—if population growth levels off and more of us eat lower on the food chain.


The law must ensure that the poor have access to financial capital at fair interest rates, and are able to exercise their civil right to participate in local economic decisions.69 This enables them to use land and water for sustainable agriculture that produces more food than export crops.

Population Control

Economic and educational initiatives empowering poor women offer the best hope of controlling population growth and ensuring sustainable farming in developing communities.70 “The declining birthrates in nations where poverty and illiteracy are still widespread defy almost all conventional wisdom. Women are taking charge of their lives—not waiting for the slow processes of education and cultural change.”71 Moreover, these “rural women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries.”72

Gita Sen argues that those promoting population control in poor countries have made a mistake in identifying women as “targets” of family planning—“the necessary locus of contraceptive technology, and reproductive manipulation,” or as “potential decision-makers”—whose capabilities may be improved through education.73 For women generally perceive these measures as violating their human rights.

“Population and family-planning programs,” therefore, “should be framed in the context of health and livelihood agendas, should give serious consideration to women’s health advocates, and be supportive of women’s reproductive health and rights.”74 A poor, undernourished woman is more likely to limit the number of her children when she is able to improve her health and provide sufficient food for her family.

Empowering Women

A model for this approach is found in Andhra Pradesh, a state in southern India, on the semiarid Deccan Plateau. Government policies favoring rice and wheat production “led to the near collapse of coarse grain production in the region, such as sorghum and pearl millet. The increasing costs of modern agricultural inputs also made it difficult for small and marginal farmers to continue production. The government has also encouraged the production of sugar cane [for export] by providing loans to dig bore wells and setting up a sugar factory to process the cane. This has resulted in wealthy farmers over-utilizing groundwater at the cost of poor farmers, whose shallow wells go dry.”75

In 1983 a few professional men set up the Deccan Development Society (DDS) to help poor communities. Initially, the DDS worked with men, but soon discovered that men’s groups are easily split by political affiliations and conflicts over leadership. So, the DDS turned to poor women, who “suffer from the triple burden of caste, class, and gender.”76 With the help of the DDS, women’s sanghams (voluntary associations) have pooled savings to create revolving loan funds, which lend money to women at 12 percent interest annually (rather than at 60 percent or more that is charged by local money lenders).

The problems that these women face are staggering: “A major impact of the poor conditions of agriculture lands and small family holdings is that they are left fallow. Big landlords also cultivate only part of their holdings to grow sugar cane and other irrigated crops while leaving the rest fallow. This leads to (1) lack of employment; (2) lack of basic food since farm laborers are paid in kind when they harvest crops; (3) high rates of soil erosion; and eventually (4) forced migration of landless, small, and marginal farmers.”77

“The vulnerability of the poor leads to inhuman practices such as annual bondage of young boys (for a very small wage), which prevents them from going to school. Young women belonging to poor families are considered fair game for sexual harassment, so girls are married at the age of 10–12 years old because the families experience them as burdens.”78 Strategies used by women’s groups to solve these problems include working together to improve the quality of land owned by group members, pooling their resources to lease land, and creating seed banks. 

Today the women’s groups of the DDS are active in seventy-five villages and include over five thousand members. Since 1985 these women’s groups have brought into cultivation ten thousand acres of degraded land. “Consequently, they have been raising over three million kilos of grain every year, which is six times more than half a million kilos of grains they used to produce earlier.”79

The women do not use artificial fertilizers.80 “To ensure long-term sustainability, they are working to establish regional federations and cooperatives which will produce and market traditional organic food.”81 In eight special Dalit (Untouchable) watersheds, women have enabled “local communities to design and shape small areas of land as watersheds and enshrine strong principles of food production through biodiversity based farming systems. . . . [T]hey have breathed life into all kinds of lands around them: the most degraded forest lands, degraded common lands and their own cultivable fallows.”82

These Indian women’s groups have demonstrated that even “very poor farmers, once in control of their agriculture and natural resources, with a bit of help and access to financial resources, can feed themselves and the non-food producing members of their community.”83

The ability of poor women to limit as well as feed their families is also verified by the Grameen Bank, a microcredit initiative for poor women in Ban gladesh that has five and a half million members. One of the Sixteen Decisions84 that participants in the Grameen Bank must memorize and affirm is to keep their families small, and studies have shown that these women are 50 percent more likely than other Bangladeshi women to do so.85 Two of the other Sixteen Decisions are: “We shall grow vegetables all the year round,” and “During the plantation seasons, we shall plant as many seedlings as possible.”86

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization confirmed in 2002 that poverty, not food scarcity, is the cause of hunger.87 In 2008, however, a rapid rise in commodity prices worldwide is evidence that too much grain is being used for cattle feed and ethanol production, rather than for food.88 Raising the input costs of agriculture, by using more artificial fertilizers and pesticides or expensive seeds, exacerbates this problem.


Plants transform solar energy and nutrients into edible leaves, roots, and seeds. Many plants are needed to feed a smaller number of herbivores, and even fewer carnivores are able to live off these herbivores. “In the typical food chain, the energy available declines by a factor of ten at each tropic (feeding) level, although the ratio can vary. Thus the efficiency of agriculture in feeding people depends a great deal on where food is taken from the chain.”89 At each level, energy is lost as heat and waste.

Also, efficiency in farming depends on energy inputs. Traditional agriculture uses solar power, farm labor, and farm animals to plow and fertilize the land. Pests are managed by planting a variety of species in smaller plots and rotating crops, and these practices also replenish the soil as nutrients are removed. Livestock graze on the grasses that grow because of solar energy, and grazing maintains the health of the grasses as well as the fertility of the soil.90


Sustainable agriculture, or “farming with nature,” is “an agro-ecology that promotes biodiversity, recycles plant nutrients, protects soil from erosion, conserves and protects water, uses minimum tillage, and integrates crop and livestock enterprises on the farm.”91 There are three objectives: economic profit, social benefits to the farm family and the farming community, and environmental conservation.92

“Farms become and stay environmentally sustainable by imitating natural systems—creating a farm landscape that mimics as closely as possible the complexity of healthy ecosystems. Nature tends to function in cycles, so that waste from one process or system becomes input for another. Industrial agriculture, in contrast, tends to function in a linear fashion similar to a factory: inputs go in one end, and products and waste come out the other. The wastes of industrial agriculture (non-point source pollution) include suspended soil, nitrates, and phosphates in stream water, and nitrates and pesticides in ground water.”93

Some call this “philosophy of mimicking natural processes”94 organic farming.  In 1991 the European Commission (EC) set the first official standards, and the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) was founded a year later. In 2002 the US Department of Agriculture established production standards to regulate the commercial use of the label “organic.”95 Some critics argue that in the United States “organic farming has increasingly come to resemble the industrial system it originally set out to replace.”96 To create an international standard, in 2005 IFOAM published “The Principles of Organic Farming.”97

Sustainable practices in agriculture are more important than achieving a consensus on what “organic” means. Industrial farming takes a huge risk by producing a single crop (a monoculture), such as wheat, corn, or soybeans, because then the farmer is vulnerable to natural disasters and changes in market prices. To reduce risk, sustainable farming involves growing a diversity of crops and integrating plant and animal agriculture. The model for sustainable farming is an ecosystem, not a factory.

Sustainable agriculture works with four natural processes: energy capture, water cycles, mineral cycles, and ecosystem dynamics. Energy capture involves maximizing “the leaf area available for photosynthesis, and efficiently cycling the stored solar energy through the food chain. Off-season cover crops, perennial vegetation, and intercropping are among the tools for capturing more solar energy.”98

The water cycle may be improved by adding ground cover and organic matter to the soil. “A surface mulch layer speeds water intake while reducing evaporation and protecting the soil from erosion. Minimizing or eliminating tillage, growing high-residue crops and cover crops, and adding compost or manure to the soil maintains groundcover and builds organic matter.”99

The mineral cycle involves transferring nutrients from the soil to the crops and animals and then returning these nutrients to the soil. “Conditions and practices that inhibit the natural mineral cycle—erosion, nutrient leaching, organic matter depletion, selling hay or grain off the farm—tend to reduce the farm’s sustainability. Practices that enhance the mineral cycle include on-farm feeding of livestock, careful management of manure and crop residues, use of catch crops to reduce nutrient leaching losses, and practices that prevent erosion.”100

For sustainable farming fertilizers containing anhydrous ammonia and potassium chloride should not be used, as these chemicals harm the soil and organisms in it that are beneficial for crops. Monoammonium phosphate (12-50-0), usually called MAP, offers a more environmentally friendly way to make the transition from industrial agriculture to sustainable agriculture. 

Agroecology relies on a mixture of organisms with genetic diversity within species to create greater stability and control pests. “The first step toward increasing biodiversity on the farm is crop rotation, which helps break weed and pest life cycles and provides complementary fertilization among the crops in the planting sequence. Advancing from rotation to strip intercrops brings a higher level of biodiversity and increases sunlight capture.”101

“Strip intercropping of corn and soybeans or cotton and alfalfa are two examples.  Borders, windbreaks, and special plantings for natural enemies of pests provide habitat for beneficial organisms, further increasing biodiversity and stability.  The addition of appropriate perennial crops, shrubs, and trees to the farmscape enhances ecosystem dynamics still further.”102

Integrated pest management requires knowing a pest’s life cycle and its natural enemies, so growers can deploy other organisms (insects, mites, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and nematodes) to control pests. IPM strategies include using insects, mites, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and nematodes.103 “When IPM tactics are unable to maintain insect pest populations below economic thresholds, insecticide application to control the pests and prevent economic loss is clearly justified. In such cases, farmers concerned with sustainability will usually attempt to obtain satisfactory control using one of the ‘biorational’ pesticides, which are fairly pest-specific and usually non-persistent, causing a minimal amount of harm to beneficial organisms.”104

Weed control involves crop rotation, which makes it harder for the seeds of weeds to set or to migrate from outside the field, and planting crops that outgrow weeds. “In northern states, oats are commonly planted as a ‘nurse crop’ for alfalfa, clover, and legume-grass mixtures—the oats simply take the place of weeds that would otherwise grow between the young alfalfa plants.”105 Using mulch and grazers, such as sheep or goats, also helps to keep weeds down.

Food for Everyone?

The higher yields of the Green Revolution are unsustainable, because of increased input costs for seed, fertilizer, and pesticides, and because of the loss of topsoil, the degradation of the environment due to nutrient and pesticide runoff, and crop losses due to resistant pests.106 In 2007 and 2008 the price of oil shot up due to demand, speculation in commodity markets by investors,107 and limited refining capacity; before the middle of the century oil and natural gas production will peak and begin to decline. Thus, food and everything else that depends on the price of fossil fuels is bound to become more costly. Rising ozone levels in the lower atmosphere are likely to reduce plant productivity, the depletion of aquifers will reduce the water available for irrigation, and climate change will require more drought-resistant plants.108

It is impossible to use cost-benefit analysis to weigh the consequences of continuing industrial agriculture versus making a transition to sustainable agriculture. There are, however, estimates of some of the annual global costs of industrial agriculture:

·        Subsidies for farming in industrial countries—$362 billion

·        Subsidies for water—$247 billion

·        Losses due to soil erosion—150 billion

·        Losses due to desertification—$42 billion109

There are also estimates of some of the annual costs of industrial agriculture in the United States:

·        Subsidies for agriculture—$75 billion (or more)110

·        Higher food prices—$25 billion

·        Subsidized grazing fees for use of federal land—$50 million

·        Subsidizes to farmers using Bureau of Reclamation water—$2.5 billion

·        Irrigation subsidies in the western United States—$4.4 billion111

Clearly, the “so-called efficiency of industrial animal production is an illusion, made possible by cheap grain, cheap water and prisonlike confinement systems.  In short, animal husbandry has been turned into animal abuse. Manure—traditionally a source of fertilizer—has been turned into toxic waste that fouls the air and adjacent water bodies. Crowding creates health problems, resulting in the chronic overuse of antibiotics. And, because the modest profits in confinement operations require the lowest possible labor costs, including automated feeding, watering and manure-handling systems, these operations have helped empty and impoverish rural America.”112

Drugs derived from plants now provide health benefits worldwide worth $400 billion, and the total value of goods and services from biodiversity is about $3 trillion.113 Thus, only a 10 percent loss in biodiversity could mean a loss in value of $300 billion. Forests are being cut to clear land for cattle grazing. Yet, tropical deforestation leads to less soil cover and all its benefits, which in India alone is worth around $10 billion per year. Moreover, tropical forests absorb carbon dioxide, and the loss of this benefit “could cost as much as $3.7 trillion.”114

Pollination services are provided by insects, and this ecological process is worth about $117 billion annually. Pesticides are decimating the population of pollinating insects, and losing these species would raise agricultural costs about $54 billion annually. In the United States we are aware of the recent collapse of honeybee populations, but this is a global problem as well.115

The likely consequences of maintaining the industrial food production system do not prove that sustainable farming is more cost effective, but confirm that it is reasonable to put the burden of proof on those who argue that factory farming is required to feed the world. Also, there is evidence that sustainable farming is cost effective. For instance, after pesticides used in Indonesia killed the natural enemies of the brown planthopper, rice losses rose to $1.5 billion annually.  When the government slashed subsidies for pesticides and banned fifty seven of sixty-six pesticides, use of the remaining pesticides fell by 60 percent and rice yields rose by 15 percent, for a savings during 1986–1990 of $1 billion.116

Genetically modified (GM) food may offer some benefits in productivity or resistance to a disease or pest,117 but will not solve the problem of increasing costs for herbicides, pesticides, water for irrigation, and the transport of food, and also pose a threat of contaminating other species.118 GM food will also raise the price of seeds, as corporations seek to maximize the profit from their research and patents. Moreover, these technological innovations do not address the inequitable distribution of food.

Finally, GM food may replace traditional foods that are naturally more healthy and efficient to grow. For instance, “the heavily advertised vitamin A-rich golden rice increases water abuse in agriculture. Golden rice contains 30 micrograms of vitamin A per 100 grams of rice. On the other hand, greens such as amaranth and coriander contain 500 times more vitamin A, while using a fraction of the water needed by golden rice. In terms of water use, genetically engineered rice is 1,500 times less efficient in providing children with vitamin A, a necessary vitamin for blindness prevention.”119

Farming and Food: An Answer

First, there must be a transition to agroecological farming. This requires government policies that phase out commodity subsidies and offer incentives for independent farmers using the methods of sustainable agriculture.120 There is little political support now for this change in the United States, but pressure will grow as fossil fuels become more expensive, food prices rise, and people realize that industrial agriculture is economically as well as environmentally unsustainable. 

Second, governments and citizens must support urban farms and markets. To reduce the fossil fuel costs of transportation, more of our food has to be grown closer to where we live.121 This change will require political leadership as well as consumer support.122 We need to revitalize farmers’ markets, grow food on city lots and building roofs, and in urban areas treat and return to the soil the nutrients in organic garbage and waste that are now being wasted.123

Third, those who are affluent must eat lower on the food chain. The average American obtains about 30 percent of his calories from animal sources.124 If everyone in the world ate this way, there would only be enough food for about half the world’s people. “If everyone ate like the average Latin American and consumed a mere 10 percent of their calories from animal sources, only 4 billion people could be fed.”125 To feed the world’s nearly 7 billion inhabitants, most people will have to obtain the bulk of their protein from sources other than meat, and those of us now eating a lot of meat will need to reduce our consumption substantially.


1. Vaclav Smil, Feeding the World: A Challenge for the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000), xvi.

2. William Ophuls and A. Stephen Boyan, Jr., Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity Revisited (New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1992), 49–50.

3. David Pimentel and Mario Giampietro, Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy

(Carrying Capacity Network Publications, November 1994), in Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture (Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2006), 11.

4. William Ophuls and A. Stephen Boyan, Jr., Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity Revisited, 50–51.

5. Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 15.

6. “Water tables are dropping a meter or more each year beneath a large area of irrigated farmland in north China; they are falling 20 centimeters a year across two-thirds of India’s Punjab, that nation’s breadbasket.” Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 16.

7. “The Ogallala Aquifer that supplies agriculture, industry and home use in much of the southern and central plains states has an annual overdraft 130 to 160 percent in excess of replacement.  This vitally important aquifer will become unproductive in another thirty years or so.”

Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 17.

8. Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 15. See Sandra L. Postel, Gretchen C. Caily and Paul R. Ehrlich, “Human Appropriation of Renewable Fresh Water,” Science 271 (Feb. 9, 1996): 785.

9. “Prevailing fertilizer applications are accompanied by large nutrient losses; nitrogen leakage

is particularly large due to leaching, erosion, volatilization [loss due to evaporation], and denitrification [changing usable oxidized forms of nitrogen into nitrogen gas].” Vaclav Smil, Feeding the World, xviii.

10. James Gustave Speth, Red Sky at Morning, 16. Des Moines, Iowa, draws its drinking water from the Des Moines River. “In spring, when nitrogen runoff is at its heaviest, the city issues ‘blue baby alerts,’ warning parents it’s unsafe to give children water from the tap. The nitrates in the water bind to hemoglobin, compromising the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the brain.” Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 46–47.

11. Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 47.

12. Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life, 114. Ecosystems are naturally diverse and thus more fit to survive a change in climate or other distressing event. See James Trefil, Human Nature, 193.

13. Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 147.

14. “Nitrogen: Role in Plant Biology,” Kemira-GrowHow, online at

15. “The Nitrogen Cycle,” Fundamentals of Physical Geography, online at

16. “Phosphorus Cycle,” Environmental Literacy Council, online at

17. Ibid.

18. “Potassium: Role in Plant Biology,” Environmental Literacy Council, online at

19. W. Grzebisz, K. Cyna, and M. Wron´ska, “Disturbances of the Bio-geo-chemical Potassium Cycle,” Journal of Elementology, 2004,vol. 9, no. 4 (Supplement): 67–77, online at

20. Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 149.

21. Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 1. Fisheries, as well as agriculture, depend on “cheap

seemingly super-abundant fossil fuels.” Donald Kennedy, ed., Science Magazine’s State of the Planet: 2006–2007, 34. This is also true for fish farming (aquaculture), as fishing fleets need to catch the cheap fish to make the fishmeal to feed the fish being farmed. “Peter Tyedmers of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia has calculated that for every kilogram of Canadian farmed salmon produced, 2.5 to 5 liters of diesel fuel or its equivalent is consumed.” John Ryan, “Feedlots of the Sea,” World Watch Magazine, vol. 16, no. 5 (Sep/Oct 2003), in Peter Singer and Jim Mason, The Way We Eat, 123.

22. Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 183.

23. Ibid., 7.

24. Ibid., 8–9. In India farmers argue that artificial pesticides have depleted the soil, and doctors find increasing health problems that seem to be related to the use of artificial pesticides. See Daniel Pepper, “Some Indians Fear Green Revolution is a Killer,” San Francisco Chronicle (Jul. 28, 2008), A-12, online at

25. “More than half of all the synthetic nitrogen made today is applied to corn, whose hybrid strains can make better use of it than any other plant. Growing corn, which from a biological perspective had always been a process of capturing sunlight to turn it into food, has in no small measure become a process of converting fossil fuels into food.” Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 45. 

26. Francis Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, Hope’s Edge, 258.

27. Ibid., see also David Pimentel et. al., “Environmental and Economic Impacts of Reducing U.S. Agricultural Pesticide Use,” Handbook of Pest Management in Agriculture, Vol. 1, 679–718 (Boca Raton, FL: CRC press, 1991), also printed in Pimentel and Lehmen, eds., The Pesticide Question: Environment, Economics and Ethics (Springer, 1993), 223–278, in Francis Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, Hope’s Edge, 258.

28. FAO Corporate Document Repository, “Crop Protection in the Context of Agricultural Development,” online at

29. David Pimentel, “Is Silent Spring Behind Us?” G. J. Marco, R. M. Hollingsworth, and E. Durham, eds., Silent Spring Revisited (Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 1987), in Louis P. Pojman and Paul Pojman, eds., Environmental Ethics, 536. Pimentel offers three additional reasons for crop losses: “reduced FDA tolerance and increased cosmetic standards of processors and retailers for fruits and vegetables,” “reduced field sanitation including less destruction of infected fruit and crop residues,” and “reduced tillage, leaving more crop remains on the land surface to harbor pests for subsequent crops.”

30. Lester E. Ehler, “Integrated Pest Management: A National Goal?” Issues in Science and Technology, online at

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid.

33. The World Bank requires that agricultural projects “reduce reliance on pesticides and promote farmer-driven, ecologically based integrated pest management.” In 1993, however, a World Bank report concluded that both national governments and agribusiness were promoting “ex - cessive chemical pesticide use.” FAO Corporate Document Repository, “Crop Protection in the Context of Agricultural Development,” online at

34. George Pyle, Raising Less Corn, More Hell: The Case for the Independent Farm and Against

Industrial Food (New York: Public Affairs, 2005), 12.

35. The four main food processors are Gold Kist, Perdue Farms, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Tyson. Cargill/Excel, Smithfield, Swift, and Tyson/IBP control 64 percent of the national pork market. Ibid., 13, 16.

36. Four other companies—Monsanto, Novartis, Dow Chemical, and DuPont—sell 75 percent of the corn seed and 60 percent of the soybean seed being sown. Ibid., 17. 

37. See chapter 3 for a discussion of the economic reasoning that supports this conclusion. 

38. Kurt Eichenwald, “Archer Daniel Midland, Fine-Payer to the US,” The New York Times (Oct. 20, 1996), in Francis Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, Hope’s Edge, 300. 

39. Dwayne Andreas quoted by Dan Carney in “Dwayne’s World,” Mother Jones (Jan. 1995), in Francis Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, Hope’s Edge, 300.

40. Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 52.

41. “Or, as it turned out, make up some of the difference, since just about every farm bill since has lowered the target price in order, it was claimed, to make American grain more competitive in world markets.” Ibid.

42. Corn “is trading on the market at about twice the price it was just a couple of years ago.” Joel Achenbach, “So What’s So Bad about Corn?” The Washington Post (Nov. 23, 2007), A01, online at

43. Ibid. “The rural prosperity is due in large measure to billions of dollars in federal subsidies and incentives for corn-based energy. These include a 51-cent tax credit that gasoline manufacturers get on every gallon of ethanol they mix with their blends, and more than $500 million in federal cash to ethanol refiners between 2001 and 2006.”

44. Dan Morgan, “Corn Farms Prosper, but Subsidies Still Flow,” The Washington Post (Sep.  27, 2007), A01, 92702054.html. The United States is not alone in subsidizing agriculture. In 2002 the WTO reported “that the rich nations subsidize their agricultural producers at a rate of $1 billion a day, or more than six times the level of development aid they give to poor nations.” “Background Paper:

The WTO’s 2-Year Strategy Comes to Fruition,” (Jan. 2002), para. 17, online at, in Peter Singer, One World, 95. 

45. Carol Ness, “The New Food Crusade,” San Francisco Chronicle (Jul. 10, 2007), A1, online at See also Michael Pollan, “You Are What You Grow,” The New York Times (Apr. 22, 2007), online at

46. Editorial, “A Disgraceful Farm Bill,” The New York Times (May 16, 2008), online at http:// “According to Oxfam, the largest 10 percent of producers receive about 75 percent of the $20 billion in US commodity subsidies each year.” Caitlin G. Johnson, “Mixed Reactions to US Farm Bill,” (May 22, 2008), online at

47. For example, “From 2001 to 2005, the federal government spent nearly $1.2 billion in agricultural subsidies to boost farmers’ incomes and invigorate local economies in this poverty stricken region of the Mississippi Delta. Most residents are black, but less than 5 percent of the money went to black farmers. They own relatively little land, and so they generally do not qualify for the payments. Ninety-five percent of the money went to large, commercial farms, virtually all of which have white owners.” Gilbert M. Gaul and Dan Morgan, “A Slow Demise in the Delta,” The Washington Post (Jun. 20, 2007), A01, online at

48. “Farming: Farm Subsidies,” Environmental Working Group, online at

49. “Crop Subsidy Program in United States, 2003–2005,” Environmental Working Group, online at

50. George Pyle, Raising Less Corn, More Hell, 75.

51. Gary Holthaus, From the Farm to the Table: What All Americans Need to Know about Agriculture

(Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2006), 210. See the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, online at

52. Gary Holthaus, From the Farm to the Table, 216–219.

53. “Through conditionalities, Structural Adjustment Programs [SAPs] generally implement ‘free market’ programs and policy. These programs include internal changes (notably privatization and deregulation) as well as external ones, especially the reduction of trade barriers. Countries which fail to enact these programs may be subject to severe fiscal discipline. Critics argue that financial threats to poor countries amount to blackmail; that poor nations have no choice but to comply.” Online at

54. John Madeley, ed., Trade and Hunger: An Overview of Case Studies on the Impact of Trade Liberalisation on Food Security, Swedish NGOs Forum Synod, Diakonia, Church of Sweden Aid and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, in Gary Holthaus, From the Farm to the Table, 219. It is much the same in Kenya, where women produce 75 percent of the food: “As a result of the country’s SAP and liberalization of agricultural trade, many women cannot afford adequate chemicals and fertilizers, and farm output has declined. Liberalization has led to an increase in food imports into the country and caused food dumping (cheap surplus food from the North) in local markets, hitting the country’s own farmers. Liberalization has also led to an increase in the prices of farm inputs, putting them beyond the reach of most small farmers.” Ibid., 220. 

55. Girish Mishra, “Why Suicides by Farmers?” ZNet (Dec. 20, 2005), online at US cotton subsidies have also had a devastating impact on West African families producing cotton. “More than 1 million children in West Africa would not go to bed hungry if Washington stopped providing subsidies to America’s cotton growers, according to a study” by Oxfam International. Haider Rizvi, “US Cotton Subsidies Cost W. Africa Millions—Report,” (Jun. 26, 2007), online at

56. “I think the average American should know that the world trading system is not fair. You take the area of agriculture. If US farmers are getting huge subsidies, European farmers are getting huge subsidies and are competing on the global market with a farmer from Burkina Faso or Kenya, how do they compete?” Kofi Annan, quoted in “Annan: World Must Help African Nations Tackle Food Crisis,” The NewsHour (Jun. 11, 2008), online at–11.html.

57. In 2008 “about a quarter of US corn will go to feeding ethanol plants instead of poultry or livestock.” Steven Mufson, “Siphoning Off Corn to Fuel Our Cars,” The Washington Post (Apr.  30, 2008), A01, online at “Brazil and the United States account for a total of more than 70 percent of global ethanol production.” Edmund L. Andrews and Larry Rohter, “US and Brazil Seek to Promote Ethanol in West,” The New York Times (Mar. 3, 2007), online at

58. Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 41.

59. “The demand for ethanol is already pushing up prices, and explains, in part, the 40 percent rise last year in the food price index calculated by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.” Keith Bradsher, “An Oil Quandry: Costly Fuel Means Costly Calories,” The New York Times (Jan. 19, 2008), online at Aditya Chakrabortty editorial, “Secret Report: Biofuel Caused Food Crisis—Internal World Bank Study Delivers Blow to Plant Energy Drive,” The Guardian (Jul. 4, 2008), online at See also “Man-Made Hunger,” The New York Times (Jul. 6, 2008), online at

60. “Consumption of meat and other high-quality foods—mainly in China and India—has boosted demand for grain for animal feed. Poor harvests due to bad weather in this country and elsewhere have contributed. High energy prices are adding to the pressures. Yet the most important reason for the price shock is the rich world’s subsidized appetite for biofuels. In the United States, 14 percent of the corn crop was used to produce ethanol in 2006—a share expected to reach 30 percent by 2010. This is also cutting into production of staples like soybeans, as farmers take advantage of generous subsidies and switch crops to corn for fuel.” Editorial, “Priced Out of the Market,” The New York Times (Mar. 3, 2008), online at

61. “The global food crisis is likely to persist if speculative investment by the corporate world is not reined in soon, warned a top expert responsible for reporting to the United Nations on human rights violations.” Haider Rizvi, “UN’s Food Rights Advocate Warms Speculators,” (May 3, 2008), online at

62. Talif Deen, “Dash to Convert Food into Fuels Is Recipe for Disaster,” (Nov. 7, 2007), online at

63. “The palm is a highly efficient producer of vegetable oil, squeezed from the tree’s thick bunches of plum-size bright red fruit. An acre of oil palms yields as much oil as eight acres of soybeans, the main rival for oil palms; rapeseed, used to make canola oil, is a distant third. Among major crops, only sugar cane comes close to rivaling oil palms in calories of human food per acre. . . .  Farmers and plantation companies are responding to the higher prices, clearing hundreds of thousands of acres of tropical forest to replant with rows of oil palms. But an oil palm takes eight years to reach full production.” Keith Bradsher, “An Oil Quandry: Costly Fuel Means Costly Calories,” The New York Times (Jan. 19, 2008), online at

64. Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 117.

65. Ibid., 118.

66. James Gustave Speth, Red Sky at Morning, 72.

67. Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 118.

68. This is also true for fish farming (aquaculture). See Peter Singer and Jim Mason, The Way We Eat, 122–124.

69. See Jazmine Rodriguez, “Hungry Farmers Urge Local Control Over Food,” (Jun. 13, 2008), online at

70. “Historically, fertility rates have fallen when people, especially women, have access to education,

to jobs, and to food to feed their families.” Francis Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, Hope’s Edge, 298.

71. Barbara Crossette, “Population Estimates Fall as Poor Women Assert Control,” The New York Times (Mar. 10, 2002), 3, online at

72. Yifat Susskind from MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization. Ida Wahlstrom, “Small Farmers ‘Underserved’ by Rome Summit,” (Jun. 5, 2008), online at

73. Gita Sen, “Women, Poverty, and Population: Issues for the Concerned Environmentalist,” in Feminist Perspectives on Sustainable Development, W. Harcourt, ed. (London: Zed, 1994), 216–25, in David Schmidtz and Elizabeth Willott, eds., Environmental Ethics, 248. 

74. “This has to be more than lip-service; it requires reorienting international assistance and national policy, reshaping programs and rethinking research questions and methodologies.” Ibid., 252.

75. V. Rukmini Rao, “Women Farmers of India’s Deccan Plateau: Ecofeminists Challenge World Elites,” in David Schmidtz and Elizabeth Willott, eds., Environmental Ethics, 255. 

76. Ibid., 256.

77. Ibid., 257.

78. Ibid.

79. Deccan Development Society, “About Us,” online at

80. The use of fertilizer in Malawi, however, seems to have ended famine there. “Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations that Malawi depends on for aid have periodically pressed this small, landlocked country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers.  But after the 2005 harvest, the worst in a decade, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached. Stung by the humiliation of pleading for charity, he led the way to reinstating and deepening fertilizer subsidies despite a skeptical reception from the United States and Britain. Malawi’s soil, like that across sub-Saharan Africa, is gravely depleted, and many, if not most, of its farmers are too poor to afford fertilizer at market prices.” Celia W. Dugger, “Ending Famine Simply by Ignoring the Experts,” The New York Times (Dec. 2, 2007), online at

81. V. Rukmini Rao, “Women Farmers of India’s Deccan Plateau: Ecofeminists Challenge World Elites,” in David Schmidtz and Elizabeth Willott, eds., Environmental Ethics, 259–260. 

82. The twenty-five childcare centers (balwadis) operated by DDS sanghams provide care for seven hundred children of laboring women, and 60 percent of these children are girls. The food served in the balwadis: “is made up of the crops grown in the same villages: sorghum, millets, a bit of wheat and a range of uncultivated greens. Being highly superior to rice, the millet-based meals provide a nutritional advantage to the children, meeting 70 percent of their nutritional requirement and helping their mental and physical growth. Besides they also enable the children to respect their own food culture by adapting to it at a very young age.” Deccan Development Society, “About Us,” online at

83. Ibid.

84. “The 16 Decisions of Grameen Bank,” online at

85. Ibid. For information on the Grameen Bank see

86. “The 16 Decisions of Grameen Bank,” online at

87. George Pyle, Raising Less Corn, More Hell, 159. Pyle notes that the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture “blames hunger on economic, rather than agricultural, factors.”

88. As diverting corn to make ethanol has driven up food prices, investors have begun to promote making biofuel from “non-food crops like reeds and wild grasses.” But scientists are warning that these “invasive species—that is, weeds—that have an extraordinarily high potential to escape biofuel plantations, overrun adjacent farms and natural land, and create economic and ecological havoc.” Elisabeth Rosenthal, “New Trends in Biofuels Has New Risks,” The New York Times (May 21, 2008), online at

89. William Ophuls and A. Stephen Boyan, Jr., Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity Revisited, 38–39.

90. In the United States this might mean investing in irrigation for crops in the eastern part of the country, where there is more water. See Richard T. McNider and John R. Christy, “Let the East Bloom Again,” The New York Times (Sep. 22, 2007), online at

91. Richard Earles, revised by Paul Williams, “Sustainable Agriculture: An Introduction,” National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (2005), online at

92. Preston Sullivan, “Applying the Principles of Sustainable Farming: Fundamentals of Sustainable Agriculture,” National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (2003), online at

93. Ibid.

94. Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 150.

95. “The National Organic Program,” USDA, online at

96. Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 151.

97. “Principles of Organic Agriculture,” IFOAM, online at “Worldwide, demand for certified organic products is increasing at 10 percent annually.” Peter Singer and Jim Mason, The Way We Eat, 197. 

98. Preston Sullivan, “Applying the Principles of Sustainable Farming: Fundamentals of Sustainable Agriculture,” National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (2003), online at

99. Ibid. Industrial agricultural has altered the hydrology of the land, making flooding in places like Iowa more likely. In early June 2008, “the heavy rains fell on a landscape radically reengineered by humans. Plowed fields have replaced tall grass prairies. Fields have been meticulously drained with underground pipes. Streams and creeks have been straightened. Most of the wetlands are gone. Flood plains have been filled and developed.” Joel Achenbach, “Iowa Flooding Could Be an Act of Man, Experts Say,” The Washington Post (Jun. 19, 2008), A01, online at

100. Ibid.

101. Ibid.

102. Ibid.

103. “Nematodes are simple roundworms.” Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America,” online at

104. Preston Sullivan, “Applying the Principles of Sustainable Farming: Fundamentals of Sustainable Agriculture,” National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (2003), online at

105. Ibid.

106. “At a time when philanthropists like Bill Gates have become entranced by the possibility of a Green Revolution for Africa, the New Rices for Africa, as scientists call the wonder seeds, offer a clear warning. Even the most promising new crop varieties will not by themselves bring the plentiful harvests that can end poverty. New ways to get seeds into the hands of farmers are needed, as well as broader investment in the basic ingredients of a farm economy: roads, credit and farmer education, among others.” Celia W. Dugger, “In Africa, Prosperity from Seeds Falls Short,” The New York Times (Oct. 10, 2007), online at

107. As grain prices soared in the summer of 2007: “Investors fleeing Wall Street’s mortgagerelated

strife plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into grain futures, driving prices up even more.” Anthony Faiola, “The New Economics of Hunger,” The Washington Post (Apr. 27, 2008), A01, online at Diana B. Henriques, “A Bull Market Sees the Worst in Speculators,” The New York Times (Jun. 13, 2008), online at  html, and “Oil Trading’s Powerful ‘Dark Markets,’” CBS News (Jun. 17, 2008), online at

108. David Fogarty, “Farmers Face Climate Challenge in Quest for More Food,” Reuters (May 4, 2008), online at

109. Norman Myers and Jennifer Kent, Perverse Subsidies, 12, 13, 14, 27.

110. Dan Morgan, “Corn Farms Prosper but Subsidies Still Flow,” The Washington Post (Sep.  28, 2007), A01, online at

111. Norman Myers and Jennifer Kent, Perverse Subsidies, 46, 50, 136. “In this dry region, irrigation accounts for 86 percent of water use. Ironically, irrigation is used to grow crops that are officially in surplus and subject to other expensive federal programs to reduce production.”

112. Editorial, “The Worst Way of Farming,” The New York Times (May 31, 2008), online at The report funded by the Pew Charitable Trust “recommends new laws regulating pollution from industrial farms as rigorously as pollution from other industries, a phasing-out of confinement systems that restrict ‘natural movement and normal behavior,’ a ban on antibiotics used only to promote animal growth, and the application of antitrust laws to encourage more competition and less concentration.”

113. Norman Myers and Jennifer Kent, Perverse Subsidies, 27.

114. Ibid., 28.

115. Ibid., 29. See Alexei Barrioneuvo, “Honeybees Vanish, Leaving Beekeepers in Peril,” The New York Times (Feb. 27, 2007), online at The Natural Resources Defense Council has filed suit against the EPA because it “is refusing to disclose records about a new class of pesticides that could be playing a role in the disappearance of millions of honeybees in the United States.” Jane Kay, “Lawsuit Seeks Pesticide Data,” San Francisco Chronicle (Aug. 19, 2008), A-1, online at

116. Norman Myers and Jennifer Kent, Perverse Subsidies, 59. In New Zealand subsidies are not necessary for agriculture to be profitable. Wayne Arnold, “Surviving Without Subsidies,” The New York Times (Aug. 2, 2007), online at

117. Even as there are benefits from the Green Revolution, there are also benefits from GM plants. For instance, “Researchers at the University of Washington have genetically altered poplar trees to pull toxins out of contaminated ground water, offering a cost-effective way of cleaning up environmental pollutants. A group of British researchers, meanwhile, has developed genetically altered plants that can clean residues of military explosives from the environment.” Julie Steenhuysen, “Genetically Modified Plants Vacuum Up Toxins,” Reuters (Oct. 15, 2007), online at w

118. The Center for Food Safety and the Sierra Club are suing Monsanto. “The groups said the wind-pollinated biotech sugar beets will cross-pollinate and contaminate conventional sugar beets, organic chard and table beet crops. As well, the groups said the biotech sugar beets will increase the recent rise of weeds resistant to herbicide, which have been reported on 2.4 million acres of US cropland.” Carey Gillam, “Biotech Critics Challenging Monsanto GM Sugar Beet,” Reuters (Jan 23, 2008), online at

119. Vandana Shiva, Water Wars, 115.

120. This means significant changes in developed countries and world trade agreements, as well as in developing countries. See Jazmine Rodriquez, “Hungry Farmers Urge Local Control Over Food,” (Jun. 13, 2009), online at

121. We should, however, support international fair trade. A 2002 Oxfam report notes: “History makes a mockery of the claim that trade cannot work for the poor. Participation in world trade has figured prominently in many of the most successful cases of poverty reduction—and, compared with aid, it has far more potential to benefit the poor.” Peter Singer and Jim Mason, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2006), 154.  122. See Tracie MacMillan, “Urban Farmers Crops Go from Vacant Lot to Market,” The New York Times (May 7, 2008), online at

123. Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 70. See Robin Shulman, “Fed Up by Costs, Many Grow It Alone,” The Washington Post (Aug. 3, 2008), A03, online at

124. William Ophuls and A. Stephen Boyan, Jr., Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity Revisited, 44, 49.

125. Ibid.

Chapter 12, Doing Environmental Ethics (2009).

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