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* The Role of Animals

Much of our capacity to feed the world is wasted because we feed grain protein
to animals instead of feeding it directly to humans.  But that is not
reason to eliminate animals from the food system altogether, as some have
argued. (Rifkin, 1992)  Animals not only play a key role in keeping the
world fed,
they are an important ingredient in mirroring and maintaining the ecological
health of the neighborhoods in which we live.

Ruminant animals are the only creatures capable of transforming grass into
protein that can be digested by humans.  Consequently, if it weren't for
over a billion acres in the US. alone could not be used for human food,
since that
acreage is unsuitable for crop production---at least not the annual cereal
production with which industrial agriculture wants to feed the world.
without animals many other feed stuffs not suitable for human consumption,
not he turned into protein for humans' such as crop residues, weather damaged
grain, garbage, etc.

Nevertheless, industrial agriculture unnecessarily feeds animals huge
of grain. The principle reason for feeding large quantities of grain is
that industrial
agriculture has concentrated animals in large feedlots, and hog and poultry
This concentration of animals makes it inefficient to feed animals forages
or crop
residues. Transportation costs dictate that protein fed to animals must be in
concentrated form---enter corn and soybeans.

Concentrating the animals also means that animal manure becomes a huge,
environmentally damaging waste disposal problem, rather than a rich source of
fertilizer and organic matter to improve soil quality.  Large concentrations of
animals also deplete water resources in the ecological neighborhoods where
they are confined and make grazing difficult if not impossible.  It also
disease problems and increases the resistance of pathogens due to the increased
use of antibiotics to control the increased disease. The resistance, in turn,
increases the likelihood that those pathogens will end up in the food system.

Most organic farms that remain true to their ecological roots integrate animals
fully into the farming system to help close nutrient cycles on the farm.  The
wastes from the cropping system are used as food for animals, and the wastes
of animals are used to feed the crops.  This integration and dispersion of
throughout local ecosystems has a much better chance of mirroring and
maintaining the health of local ecosystems and therefore of feeding the world
long term.

*  The Ecological Disruption/Food Supply Connection.

Some of the ecological damage and disruption of industrial agriculture is well
known.  Some is just now beginning to be understood.  Since the era of
agriculture began we have lost approximately half of our topsoil, and the
of the remaining soil has seriously deteriorated.  High yielding crops require
large quantities of water.  Irrigation is depleting our ground water sources
much faster than nature can replenish them.  Some now worry that inadequate
water supplies may be more of a problem than inadequate food supplies for
an expanding human population.  At the same time water quality has been
seriously damaged through fertilizer and pesticide run-off.  Furthermore,
biodiversity has been dramatically reduced as a result of industrial

These effects of industrial agriculture are well known and well documented.
Their potential to seriously jeopardize our capacity to produce food in the
future are obvious.  Many other adverse consequences are not as well known.
A recent Science Magazine article reported a study on nitrogen use in Minnesota
which found that the nitrogen loading, which has accompanied the increased
yield strategy of industrial agriculture, may be causing serious environmental
disruptions. The study showed, for example, that "after 12 years of N addition,
species richness declined by more that 50% ." (Wedin and Tilman, 1996; 172l)
[italics mine]  Such deterioration of the biotic community plus the atmospheric
changes caused by concentrations of nitrous oxide (which serves both as a long-
lived heat-trapping green-house gas and a destroyer of the ozone layer) can
seriously disrupt our ability to produce food.

Another Science Magazine article reported that arsenic poisoning in India was
traced to irrigation.  Dramatic increases in irrigation have been necessary to
produce the increased wheat yields of the high-yielding varieties introduced
there.  (Bagla and Kaiser, 1996)  It seems that in the natural ecology the
arsenic, naturally present in the soil, posed no problem to humans or other
animals.  But irrigation concentrated the arsenic so that it caused major
health problems.  So even though industrial agriculture may have increased
grain production in India, it did so (in some locations) at the expense of
human health.

Many scientists now worry that yet another form of ecological disruption
may further damage local ecologies and put food production at risk.  Dramatic
increases in world trade augment the likelihood that "invader species" will
hitchhike to new ecosystems in which they did not evolve (Baskin, 1996)
At the same time that world trade increases the likelihood of invader species,
many of the ecosystems into which those species will be introduced are now
made much more vulnerable to their potential disruption by specialized,
industrial agriculture.  Industrial agriculture now depends on roughly only
l5 varieties of plant species world-wide for 90% of the calories used to feed
the world. (Soule, l990)  The combination of this dramatic specialization of
agriculture (resulting in very brittle ecosystems) and the dramatic increase
in the potential for invader species into those brittle ecologies, is a
for food supply disaster.  The l9th century Irish potato blight and the
corn leaf
blight of the 1960's should serve as reminders of how vulnerable genetically
uniform cropping systems can be.  Increased risk of invader species into
genetically uniform ecologies may make the bee kills resulting from the
hitchhiking of the Varroa Mite into the US seem like a very minor incident
by comparison.

It is interesting to note (contrary to Easterbrook's vision for saving Africa
from starvation) that the National Research Council has now concluded that
it may be necessary for Africa to return to the more than 2,000 indigenous
species of grains, fruits, vegetables and roots to reduce the continent's
vulnerability to food shortages.  (NRC, 1996)  That advice may become
especially critical if local ecosystems, dominated by monoculture agriculture,
are disrupted by invader species.  The de-stabilization that may be caused
by invader species through increased world trade could be further
exacerbated by the simultaneous introduction of novel, genetically-
engineered organisms, which some scientists have referred to as
"aliens with a capital 'A" (Baskin, 1996)  Some scientists have,
in fact, suggested that the ecological risks of introducing genetically
engineered organisms "are similar in some ways to those of introductions
of non-native organisms into new environments." (Rissler and Mellon,
1996) (Snow and Palma, 1997)  In that regard, too, a diverse,
ecologically integrated agriculture practiced by organic farmers
will do a better job of feeding the world.

*  Production Vs. Power

Ten years ago in a report to the Bruntland Commission the issue of food and
population was put into proper perspective. The report said that "The problem
is not one of global food production being outstripped by population.  The
has three aspects; where the food is being produced, by whom and who can
command it." (Food 2000, 1987)

Reducing the problem of hunger to inadequate production is simply to
misconstrue the problem, either inadvertently (due to a lack of understanding)
or purposefully (in an attempt to protect vested interests) the fact that there
are 800 million starving people on the planet today when we clearly still
have the capacity to feed everyone, makes it abundantly clear that hunger
today is not a production problem!

At the recent World Food Summit a gathering of over 1200 NGOs (non-
governmental organizations) put their finger on the problem of food shortages.
While the official delegates (heads of state, presidents, prime ministers and
ministers of agriculture) proposed that the solution to the problem of world
hunger could be achieved through trade liberalization and free market
initiatives, the NGOs (represented by farmers, food security activists and
anti-hunger advocates) rejected market-driven food security in favor of
"farmer and community-driven food security." The title of the NGOs statement
reveals their understanding of the nature of the hunger problem: "Profit For
Few Or Food For All: Food Sovereignty and Security to Eliminate the
Globalization of Hunger."

The contradiction in the official summit position lies in the fact that the
global food market responds to money, but most of the 800 million
who are starving have no economic power.  One does not have to go to
 Africa to see this problem at work.  One need only go to the poor
neighborhoods (both rural and urban) in the United States where
12 million children go to bed hungry every night. The problem is
indeed one of where the food is produced, by whom and who commands it.

In his new novel, Daniel Quinn (Quinn, 1996) suggests that agriculture
has always been totalitarian. If that is true, then agriculture, all along,
has been more about power than it has been about feeding people.  While
it is difficult to substantiate Quinn's claim historically, it is clear that
agriculture is about power today-as was apparent at the World Food Summit.

Power is perhaps also the reason that we still talk about this subject in
terms of "feeding the world," rather than keeping the world fed. "Feeding
the world" suggests that someone will take responsibility for feeding
someone else, and therefore make them dependent. Under those terms there
can be no food security. "Keeping the world fed" suggests that people will be
empowered to feed themselves. That is essential to long-term food security.

In that regard organic farms, integrated into local ecologies and rooted in
local communities, can do a better job of keeping the world fed than large,
corporate farms owned lay distant investors

*  Energy to Feed the World

The industrial food system is, of course, made possible only by the
of cheap, abundant energy. It is an enormously energy intensive system at all
levels-production, processing, and distribution. Economists who have evaluated
the industrial food system from the perspective of calories of energy consumed
to put calorie of food on the table have all concluded that it is one of
the least
efficient systems known to humankind.  As our sources of cheap, non-renewable,
stored energy continue to be depleted it will become increasingly necessary to
rely on much more current, efficient energy sources.

In this regard organic agriculture shows much more promise than industrial
agriculture. A North Dakota State University study which compared, among
other things, the energy efficiency of actual operating organic, no-till and
conventional farms in North Dakota found that the organic farms were 70%
more energy efficient when all energy use was calculated. (Clancy, et. al.,

Of course, in all of these manifold dimensions of the problem, an ecological
agriculture that incorporated perennial polycultures-in a manner similar
to that being explored by the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas-would have an
even better chance of keeping the world fed.

End of part 2 of 3

Linda L. Elswick
Washington Office
World Sustainable Agriculture Association, 2025 I Street, NW#512, WDC, 20006
Phone: 202-293-2155
Fax: 202-293-2209
Email: wsaadc@igc.apc.org
Web Site:  http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/wsaa