Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Industrial Agriculture is Killing the Oceans

Industrial agriculture--the much touted Green Revolution that has vastly increased food production--is killing ever greater areas of the ocean. Industrial agriculture is a monocrop system--the same crop planted in the same fields year after year. But abandoning crop rotation depletes the nutrients from the soil. To compensate for this vast amounts of nitrogen based fertilizers must be applied to the soil, much of which washes off with the rains and ends up draining into the sea. Once in the ocean, this nitrogen reacts with the oxygen and creates vast oxygen-deprived zones where fish life dies off.

Pollution, particularly the overuse of nitrogen in fertilizers, is responsible for the spread of dead zones, environment ministers and experts from more than 100 countries were told.

The number of known oxygen-starved areas has doubled since 1990 to nearly 150, according to the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), holding is annual conference here.

"What is clear is that unless urgent action is taken to tackle the sources of the problem, it is likely to escalate rapidly," UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer said.

"Hundreds of millions of people depend on the marine environment for food, for their livelihoods and for their cultural fulfillment."

Urgent action is unlikely to happen because industrial farming has become so entrenched. In the U.S. agricultural corporations carry tremendous political clout so that reform is vanishingly improbable. In developing countries, monocrop culture based in heavy use of nitrogen fertilizers has been the only way to feed their burgeoning populations.

Industrial agriculture is at the heart of the house of cards that our unsustainable culture has built. Nitrogen fertilizers are made from hydrocarbons which will grow increasingly expensive as gas and oil production peak and go into decline. Food production will become increasingly difficult to maintain. At some point the difficult shift from monocrop production to unsustainable production will have to be made.

There are some alternatives available. Search the web for free range, grain fed beef, free range chickens, or buffalo meat and you will be able to leave the confines of industrial agriculture. These alternatives tend to be more expensive than the mass produced food at your local supermarket, but they represent a sustainable future for agriculture that the agribusinesses do not.


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