Science Paper: Factory Farms Aren’t the Only Way to Feed the World

Three tractors in a field on a stormy day.

A recent paper published in the journal Science argues that factory farms aren’t the answer to feeding our growing world population.

Grist’s Tom Philpott did an excellent write-up of the paper. Here’s an excerpt:

The latest evidence against any consensus around Big Ag as world savior: In a paper [PDF] just published in Science, a team of researchers led by the eminent Washington State University soil scientist John P. Reganold urges a fundamental rethinking of the U.S. ag-research system, which is “narrowly focused on productivity and efficiency” at the expense of public health and ecological resilience; and of the Farm Bill, which uses subsidies not to support a broad range of farmers but rather to “mask market, social, and environmental factors associated with conventional production systems.”

You can download the whole paper from Grist.

Why Factory Farms Aren’t the Answer

While efficiency and increased food production are good things, they come with a price when we’re talking GMOs and factory farms’ techniques.

One of the biggest arguments for GMO crops, for example, is that they require fewer pesticides, but that isn’t entirely true. Over time, farmers have to spray more and more as resistant weeds become more common.

Industrial farming practices are “major contributors to global greenhouse gases, biodiversity loss, natural resource degradation, and public health problems.” The report’s authors argue that what we need is a policy shift.

Probably my favorite line from the report was the call to start “viewing sustainability as more than a technical problem.”

Amen to that!

Take Action

It’s pretty clear that if we want to shift to a more balanced food production system, we need to change our country’s food policy. The Farm Bill plays a huge part in that system, and you can sign the Food & Water Watch petition to ask Congress for a more sustainable Farm Bill in 2012.

You can also vote with your wallet! The organic and agroecological movements need our support, and every time we visit the grocery store or farmer’s market we send a message about what consumers really want.

What do you guys think about this report? I know that most of the readers around here aren’t crazy about industrial agriculture and factory farms. How do you envision the future of our food system?

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by mike138

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