M. Clugston and Wynn Calder
"You are what you eat." While
there are many factors that influence who we are, the adage does capture a basic
fact. Our bodies and minds are shaped by our daily food choices. If we are malnourished,
either by having too little of the right foods to eat, or too much of the wrong
foods, our health and identity will suffer. But our nourishment is not only a
personal issue, it is a broader "sustainability" issue. We live in an
era no longer of agriculture, but of globalized agribusiness. There is plenty
of food for all 6.6 billion of us. But food is produced and distributed primarily
to increase the profits of corporations. Parallel to the increasing income gap
between rich and poor, we have a food and nutrition gap. According to the United
Nations, there are some 850 million undernourished people worldwide-those who
do not receive the minimum nutritional intake-who are hungry, while over a billion
people suffer from "overnutrition," i.e., who are overweight and obese.
Ironically, the overnourished include "300 million obese adults and 115 million
suffering from obesity-related conditions in the developing world" (Food
and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006).
been a watershed year in elevating two critical sustainability issues to public
attention. Climate change has finally been recognized as a real and monumental
challenge, epitomized in the success of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."
In this same year, a remarkable number of books, articles, and media attention
have focused on our food and agricultural system, from Michael Pollan's The
Omnivore's Dilemma (2006) and The Nation's "Food Issue" (September
2006) to policy debates over the 2007 US Farm Bill and the collapse of the World
Trade Organization's Doha Round.
The rapid industrialization, and
global economic integration, of food production is promoted as bringing quality,
affordable food to more people. And for many, food is cheaper and choices are
greater than ever before. Yet the increasing agribusiness control of the food
system in more and more countries also brings monoculture, mechanization, genetic
engineering, pesticides, and intense confinement of animals. Industrial agriculture
is creating major environmental and public health problems. The welfare and livelihoods
of the rural poor are undermined, and the urban poor in developed countries only
have access to highly processed, unhealthy foods. Agricultural workers are exploited.
Biological and cultural diversity, soil fertility, ecosystem services are all
diminished. Farm animals suffer horribly in confinement systems. In fact, the
modern factory farm, or concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), is the "poster
child" for the destructiveness of industrial agriculture, as the introductory
articles in this issue from the Center for a Livable Future and Worldwatch point
out. "Many of the problems inherent in industrial agriculture are more acute
when the output is meat" (Horrigan, et al., 2002).
There is a
better way to create a prosperous and sustainable future for all. This requires
a more locally based, organic, humane, and fairly traded agriculture - not the
food system being pushed by the dominant interests in economic globalization.
Our development policies and practices require fundamental shifts in neo-liberal
market economics to internalize social and environmental costs, and to respect
and care for all members of the life community, all people and all animals, and
their future generations. As Pollan describes in The Omnivore's Dilemma:
"The ninety-nine-cent price of a fast-food hamburger simply doesn't take
account of that meal's true cost-to soil, oil, public health, the public purse,
etc., costs which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and
invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of pollution), not to mention the welfare
of the workers in the feedlot and the slaughterhouse and the welfare of the animals
themselves" (2006, 200).
This issue of Earth Ethics emphasizes
the following themes, which are touched on in this article and explored more deeply
in the articles that follow:
1. Food and farm facts and trends, with special
attention to meat consumption and industrial (CAFO) production,
2. The destructiveness
of industrial agriculture and why so few food producers or policy makers are putting
in place the incentives, regulations and production systems for humane, sustainable
3. A better way: humane and sustainable food systems, and
practice and policy to strengthen humane and sustainable food systems.
and farm facts and trends, with special attention to meat consumption and industrial
The number of farms and farmers has decreased steadily
over the past 100 years. Between 1979 and 1998, the US farmer population decreased
by 300,000. About 94% of America's farms are small farms, but they receive only
41% of all farm receipts (United States Department of Agricul-ture National Commission
on Small Farms, 1998). Technological innovation has reduced the amount of human
labor necessary to produce a unit output of food or fiber, and the number of farmers
and farm workers needed to produce a bushel of corn or a pound of beef has dropped
dramatically. On the other hand, the amount of energy necessary to produce this
same bushel or pound has risen dramatically. In 1940 the average farm in the United
States produced about 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil
energy it used. By 1974 that ratio was closer to 1:1. Today, processed food requires
about ten calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food energy produced.
CAFOs require about thirty-five calories of fossil fuel to make a calorie of beef,
and nearly sixty-eight to make one calorie of pork (Manning, 2004). Petroleum
(as fuel and as agrichemicals) has replaced human and animal labor, and this replacement
is financed by large amounts of capital. Capital has been substituted for labor.
Farms have become more mechanized and more dependent on fertilizers, pesticides
and oil to produce large volumes of one or two crops.
corn is America's number one crop. Ironically, the majority of this corn (about
60%) goes to feed the animals in factory farms. "Here, hundreds of millions
of food animals that once lived on family farms and ranches are gathered together
in great commissaries," writes Pollan (2006, 64) "where they consume
as much of the mounting pile of surplus corn as they can digest, turning it into
meat. Enlisting the cow in this undertaking has required particularly heroic efforts,
since the cow is by nature not a corn eater."
The global consumption
of meat and milk is projected to grow by 55% over the next 20 years, mostly in
the developing world (in fact, mostly in China). The consumption of fats, oils
and sugars is also increasing (up by 30% in the US). Meat and milk production
will more frequently be occurring in industrial settings. "Industrial systems
today generate 74% of the world's poultry products, 50% of all pork, 43% of beef
and 68% of eggs" (Nierenberg, 2005).
The destructiveness of industrial
agriculture and why so few food producers or policy makers are putting in place
the incentives, regulations and production systems for humane, sustainable food
Farm workers and animals are treated as cogs in the industrial agriculture machine.
CAFOs undermine the livelihoods of rural communities and smallholders, exploit
workers, cause great environmental damage, and contribute to acute and chronic
human health problems. In addition they inflict great suffering annually on nearly10
billion animals in the United States alone (see "Eating for the Animals"
in this issue, p. 19). Staggering amounts of animal waste (2.7 trillion pounds
per year in the US) has contaminated 35,000 miles of rivers, and polluted groundwater
in 17 states (Sierra Club, 2007). "What keeps a feedlot animal healthy-or
healthy enough-are antibiotics," writes Pollan (2006, 78). "Rumensin
buffers acidity in the rumen, helping to prevent bloat and acidosis, and Tylosin,
a form of erythromycin, lowers the incidence of liver infection. Most of the antibiotics
sold in America today end up in animal feed, a practice that, it is now generally
acknowledged (except in agriculture), is leading directly to the evolution of
new antibiotic-resistant superbugs" (see also Walker, et al., p. 14 in this
The mantra of "economic growth through increasing consumption"
is particularly strong in the United States. In many areas of life-buying bigger
houses or owning more cars-there is no apparent limit to how many or how much
we can own or consume. But when we encounter food, we encounter an "inelastic
demand." Unlike cars, or houses, or entertainment centers, the human body
can only consume so much food. Having been effective in "supersizing"1
us, the food corporations have a unique challenge in continuing to expand our
According to the US surgeon general, obesity has become an
epidemic. Obesity-related health problems now cost the health care system approximately
$90 billion a year and have overtaken smoking as America's most critical, preventable
public health problems. Directly related to obesity is the epidemic of diabetes
in America, which has more than doubled in incidence since 1990 and is the cause
of several hundred thousand deaths per year. What was once referred to as "adult-onset"
diabetes is now called "Type 2" as increasing numbers of obese children
are diagnosed with it. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90%-95% of cases and is linked
to obesity and physical inactivity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
2006). Notably, the rise in diabetes is a worldwide problem: most victims live
in developing countries, but among wealthy countries the US has the highest rates.
A variety of factors keep the highly processed fast food trend rising,
e.g., agribusiness interest in profit through high input (oil and corn) mechanized
farming; cultural valuing of meat (and undervaluing of the well-being of farm
animals); individual choices of sweet, fatty fast food; effective advertising;
and government complicity and support.
In Food Politics, Marion
Nestle (2002) documents how the food industry influences government agencies and
food science and nutrition professionals not to discourage people from "eating
more" (and especially eating more highly processed foods). She points out
that "eat less" or "bad food" messages are strenuously resisted,
instantly mobilizing not only the opposition of agribusiness/food industry lobbyists,
but also the US Department of Agriculture (whose job is also, ironically, to set
A better way: humane and sustainable food systems
A variety of individuals and institutions are choosing food that is more
humane and sustainable. It is estimated that nearly 68 million Americans are consciously
adopting more healthy and sustainable lifestyles, with food as a primary concern
(see Jane Goodall's chapter from Harvest for Hope, p. 25). Community gardens,
community supported agriculture, farmers' markets, co-ops, and certification systems
(that are humane, organic, fair trade, farm worker supportive) provide some of
the infrastructure needed for a better way, one that can produce ample amounts
of wholesome and affordable food, especially when the hidden costs of industrial
agriculture are factored in.
But what guidelines should we follow in making
our food choices, whether as individuals or institutions? How can we eat in ways
that better support farmers and food system workers, protect the environment and
public health, treat animals humanely, and provide food security for all?
A variety of organizations have developed and adopted guiding principles
for their food choices including faith-based communities, institutions of higher
education, and third-party certification organizations working with business and
government. The Earth Charter meal (p. 34) demonstrates the linkage of one integrated
ethical framework to specific guidelines for what (and how) we eat. The Sacred
Foods Project (Fall 2006, p. 7) emphasizes eight dimensions that reflect the nature
of sacred foods, which it is linking to a variety of certification alternatives.
Institutions of higher education offer contexts for modeling best practices as
well as research and resources to build applicable programs and extend civic engagement
into our food system (Fall 2006, pp. 11-17). Third-party certification and sustainable
sourcing criteria from the Food Alliance offers support and a clear process for
ensuring accountability to standards developed in contractual arrangements through
a systems approach toward defining sustainable food (see "Guidelines and
Certification: A Forum," Fall 2006, p.17).
Shifting practice and
policy to strengthen humane and sustainable food systems
Three major tasks
are required to change individual and institutional behavior to support a more
humane and sustainable food system. These include informing and mobilizing individuals
and institutions, promoting appropriate policies, and providing the necessary
educational resources to make these shifts possible.
1. Inform and mobilize
individual and institutional consumers to buy humane sustainable food. Individuals
and institutions need to be reflecting on the kind of food choices they would
make if they were supporting poverty eradication, worker well-being, strong rural
communities, and environmental and animal protection. Opportunities for this kind
of engagement are particularly strong in the education and faith sectors.
Promote food, agriculture and development policies that strengthen "pro-poor,"
humane and sustainable food systems. Examples of policy priorities include:
internalizing environmental costs-as well as health, safety, and animal welfare
costs-in the price of agricultural prod-ucts; adopting policies and regulations
(zoning, taxation, and so on) to bring waste production and airborne emissions
in line with the absorptive capacity of the surrounding land and local and global
atmosphere; and establishing subsidy and legal frameworks that strengthen pro-poor
humane sustainable agriculture.
The Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) of the UN identifies the following international policy priorities:
pro-poor policies that deliberately promote the potential for poverty reduction,
small producers and poor communities who have depended on livestock production
are likely to be excluded. Industrial livestock operations can often exploit economies
of scale. Eliminating subsidies for concentrate feeds, chemical fertilizers, non-renewable
energy sources and other inputs used mainly by industrial producers can help level
the playing field. Once subsidies and other market distortions that favor large
producers have been eliminated, it turns out that small farmers and livestock
keepers can often produce animals at competitive prices. When policies promote
access to information, training and processing facilities, cooperatives and contract
farming can provide smallholders with footholds in rapidly growing and changing
markets (FAO, 2006).
Within the US, the 2007 Farm Bill offers the most
significant opportunity to shift the system of federal regulation, incentives,
and subsidies that for the last 40 years has exclusively favored growth of the
industrial agribusiness complex. Strong pressure to focus on critical public health
issues, the environment, and subsidy reform in the new Farm Bill may weaken industrial
agriculture and, in particular, CAFOs in the US and abroad (see article on the
Farm Bill, Fall 2006, p.22).
3. Develop the infrastructure and capacity
for a humane, sustainable food system. A variety of resources are required
to meet the needs of different sectors. Within the farming sector, we must promote
infrastructure for rural smallholders, such as marketing cooperatives, agriculture
extension services, and women's land ownership. Within educational and religious
institutions, we must develop both formal and informal curriculum modules and
courses and partner with leaders and practitioners in these sectors to disseminate
This and the next issue (Fall 2006) of Earth Ethics
are organized into five major sections. The first provides a background on our
food and agriculture system and highlights the dangers of industrial agriculture.
The second section looks closely at the Earth Charter and its relevance to food,
from a scholarly analysis of specific principles to the enactment of an "Earth
Charter meal." The meal is described in the context of an Earth Charter event
in Amsterdam and as part of a program at Florida Gulf Coast University. The third
section looks at the faith sector: Michael Schut's article asks what it means
for an individual to make food choices from a Christian perspective with a special
focus on genetically modified (GM) foods; the Sacred Foods Project demonstrates
how an interfaith partnership can organize to change wider practice and policy.
The fourth section offers three examples of how higher education institutions
can contribute to a more sustainable food system, including the University of
California system, Portland State University, and the University of New Hampshire.
The fifth section introduces a series of guidelines and certification systems
to promote food production and consumption that are healthy and humane. It also
explores the policy changes necessary to build a sustainable food system for the
long-term. The next issue ends with an extensive list of published and online
resources to assist individuals and institutions in further investigation and
Dr. Richard M. Clugston is executive director of the Center
for Respect of Life and Environment (CRLE), and publisher and editor of Earth
Ethics. He directs the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future
(ULSF) and is on the Earth Charter International Council of Trustees.
Lär dig om effekten av Sildenafil, dess pris och dosering
av Viagra, du kan i onlineapoteket. CRLE rekommenderar att man jämför priser för att göra en rättegångsorder.
Wynn Calder is associate director of CRLE and ULSF.
1 This term
refers to the successful efforts on the part of fast-food chains, such as McDonald's,
to encourage people to consume ever larger portions of food and drink for only
a small increase in cost.
Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. 2006. Diabetes: Disabling Disease to Double by 2050. www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/publications/aag/ddt.htm.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006. "Right
Agriculture Policies Can Promote Healthy Diets." May 18. www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000297/index.html.
Horrigan, L., R. S. Lawrence, and P. Walker. 2002. "How Sustainable
Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial
Agriculture." Environmental Health Perspectives 110(5): 445-6.
R. 2004. "The Oil We Eat." Harper's Magazine. February 2004.
Nestle, M. 2002. Food Politics.
University of California Press.
Nierenberg, D. 2005. Happier Meals: Rethinking
the Global Meat Industry. Worldwatch Paper 171.
Pollan, M. 2006. The
Omnivore's Dilemma. New York: The Penguin Press.
Sale, K. 1986. Human
Scale. New York: Cowan, McCowan, and Geoghegan.
Sierra Club. 2006. Clean
Water and Factory Farms. www.sierraclub.org/factoryfarms/.
Department of Agriculture National Commission on Small Farms. 1998. A Time
to Act. Report of the USDA National Commission on Small Farms. See www.mindfully.org/Farm/Small-Farms-USDA-ReportJan98.htm.