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Relationship Between Agriculture And Sustainability Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 2940 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Agriculture may seem to be a pre-modern economic activity in which the method or the way it is carried out is old-fashioned. However, industrialization, scientific development and mechanization have affected agriculture like many aspect of life, which created a brand new term: Industrial Agriculture. Industrialized agriculture or industrial agriculture can be defined as “the replacement of human labor with capital intensive tools and inputs heavily dependent on fossil fuels, the consolidation of farm land, and increasingly centralized control over the distribution of food resources.”(Thu and Dunenberger 1998). The goal of industrial agriculture is to increase yield and decrease costs of production, which is why the farm is seen as a factory with inputs like pesticides or fertilizer and outputs like corn or chicken. (Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 1). Thanks to the industrial agriculture, the mass-production in agriculture came into existence. Compared to the old method, we can produce much more now. Agricultural food, including animals, can be supplied in a short time with more outcomes. Therefore, there is no doubt that in many ways industrial agriculture appears to be a beneficial development and a higher stage in agricultural method. However, it seems to be what it has brought is not as great as what it is taking away. The mechanization of agriculture and the use of chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides have caused huge problems in environment, health and the economic condition of farmers. That is why, in this paper, I will argue that industrial agriculture is unsustainable because it leads to unhealthy conditions for both workers and consumers, has negative effects on environment and causes poverty.

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The first aspect that makes industrial agriculture unsustainable is the health problems due to the conditions in work place, the use of pesticides, anti-biotic and fertilizers and the equipment used in the industrial agriculture. Workers are the first group of people who are exposed to the unhealthy conditions caused by the industrial agriculture. First of all, because of the equipment like farm machinery, tractors, hoes and etc., the accidents are frequent events for workers. The consequence of these kinds of accidents may be losing a hand, foot, small injuries or death. In 1946, “data from all industrial groups show that the largest number of occupational deaths, 4,500, occurred in agriculture” ( Axelrod 2). This data only belongs to USA so the number that includes more countries will increase the number of death also. Thus, accidents are a serious problem in industrial agriculture. Moreover, because of the high noise exposure from sources like tractors, harvesters and grain dryers, causes hearing loss among workers. According to Marvel “farmers experience higher than expected rates of hearing loss starting in their teen years” (Kendall 2)

In addition to the accidents and noise exposure, the use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture also creates unhealthy conditions for workers. Poisoning caused by chemical fertilizers seems to be faced by workers frequently. “Pesticides used as plant sprays create a hazard to the farm worker either in the process spraying or of harvesting” ( Axelrod 2). Thus, the chemicals and pesticides are serious treat to the health of farm workers and the most common illnesses because of these is poisoning. Furthermore, as Kendall points out, the dermatoses, especially skin cancer, and respiratory diseases are among the most pervasive health problems in industrial agriculture (1). Toxic exposure is the main reason for dermatoses. More specifically, “exposure to pesticides, chemical solvents, engine exhaust, animal virsues and other substances commonly found in an industrialized farm operation” are the reasons for dermatoses and especially skin cancer (Kendall 1). Other common health problem among farm workers is respiratory diseases. The condition in the work place and the material used for the works are again the reason for these kinds of problems. Exposure to irritant, toxic gases and dusts on the farm causes respiratory diseases. The kind of illnesses as a result from this includes chronic bronchitis, occupational asthma, organic dust toxic syndrome, farmers’ lung and silo filler (Kendall 2). Thus, respiratory diseases can seriously damage farm workers. In short, because of the condition of the work place, the equipment used in the work and the use of pesticides and chemicals, industrial agriculture creates an unhealthy condition that causes serious health problems for workers.

In addition to the farm workers, consumers also suffer from unhealthy production and condition created by industrial agriculture. The use of chemicals and pesticides are causing some health problems for consumers as it is for workers. Statistical data provides us with information that makes it rather clear that the use of pesticides leads to serious health problems including fatal diseases. One of this data demonstrates that “about 67,000 pesticide poisonings resulting in an estimated twenty-seven accidental fatalities are reported each year in the US” in developing countries situation is worse (Pimental, Culliney, Bashore 2). Thus, again, the poisonings are frequent diseases resulted from the use of pesticides. More serious health problems like cancer can also occur because of pesticides. The International Agency for Research on Cancer found “sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in eighteen pesticides and limited evidence in additional sixteen pesticides” (Pimental, Culliney, Bashore 2). In other words, there are eighteen pesticides which we are sure that can make people cancer. Since in industrial agriculture pesticides are being used excessively, the food that is produced by industrial agriculture is a serious treat for consumers.

Other than the use of pesticides, so called “factory style” animal agriculture also creates health problems for consumers. The term factory style animal production implies the animal production in which unnatural method like using chemicals is being held. Pathogens like salmonella, laisteria and toxoplasma cause foodborn illnesses. These kinds of bacteria occur in chickens but they transmit to humans through meat. They can cause “severe diarrhea and nausea and occasionally produce fatal diseases.”(Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 5). One may ask that if these bacteria transmit trough meat, why is the industrial agriculture guilty for these health problems? Horrigan, Lawrence and Walker give the answer: “The crowded condition of factory farming increase the level of contamination and the high-speed, automated methods of slaughtering and processing the animals make it difficult to detect that contamination.”(6) Furthermore, the other common characteristic of factory style animal agriculture that causes health problems for consumers is the se of antibiotics. Unnatural or produced antibiotics are fed to animals. The goal is to promote growth in production. However, “excessive use of such drugs in animals can enhance the development of drug resistant strain of disease, which can be transmitted to humans trough the food supply.”(Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 8). In other words, the excessive use of these antibiotics may make people less resistant to disease and make them ill more easily. The last aspect that industrial agriculture causes health problems is genetically engineered food. It is easy to guess this kind food creates heath problems because they are not natural. This kind of food “…includes organisms not previously eaten by humans.”(Horrrigan, Lawrence, Walker 8), which may cause new allergens. Therefore, as there are organisms that we have not eaten before in genetically engineered food, it is likely that new allergens can emerge.

The second reason why industrial agriculture is unsustainable is its negative effects on environment. Concerning environmental problems caused by industrial agriculture, the use of fertilizers and pesticides again seems to be the most important problem like it is about heath problems. It is a fair question to ask: why the use of fertilizers and pesticides is so intense, if it causes so many problems? It seems to be the answer is hidden in the definition of industrial agriculture given in the first paragraph. The industrial agriculture is a farm like a factory and it is goal is to produce more to profit more. The negative effects are not as important as the profit. Therefore, as the main goal is to earn money, health or environment are second or even third concerns. We can now continue to examine the negative effects on environment after this brief explanation.

The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is serious problem for the environment and their rate of use is continuing to increase. The main problem about fertilizers arises from the fact that “crops absorb one-third to one-half of the nitrogen.”(Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 3). Excess nitrogen creates dead zone because it diminishes the oxygen in the water. This drives off the mobile sea life and kills immobile bottom dwellers. One great example of this is Gulf’s dead zone in New Jersey ( Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 3). This nitrogen runoff also affects the ecosystem balance in a negative way, which is direct danger for environment. The use of pesticides is another problem because it causes “decline in bird and beneficial insect populations which disrupt the balance between predator and prey.”(Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 3). As a result of this the pests are recovering faster, which can damage the agriculture directly. The reduction of biodiversity is another outcome. Syntheric chemicals reduce biodiversity in the insect world. This may not sound as a harmful result. However, the real problem is the death of the wild bees and other beneficial species by pesticides (Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 3). The creation of imbalance in nature harms the biodiversity and kills the species that are beneficial to human kind.

The effects of the industrial agriculture on soil demonstrate how harmful it can be on environment. Land degradation seems to be the first negative result of industrial agriculture. “…since World War II, poor farming practices had damaged about 550 million hectares-an area equivalent to 38% of all farmland in use today.”(Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 4). Because of industrial agriculture, more that one-third of the farmland had damaged. Considering world hunger, industrial agriculture had damaged all people by damaging that much of the land because the land could have been used efficiently, which could have supplied people with food or even land. The reason for why that much of land had damaged is that industrial agriculture “…depends on heavy machinery that compacts the soil, destroying soil structure and killing beneficial organisms in the soil food web.”(Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 4). Therefore, regarding soil, industrial agriculture is not sustainable.

In terms of land, industrial agriculture is not very beneficial either. Land degradation has been a serious problem for a long time. “The world’s supply of arable land per person has been declining steadily.” (Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 4). Desertification is a rather effective kind of land degradation. It can be defined as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variations and human activities.” and 15% of al land surface has been experiencing land desertification. (Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 4). This means that less land is available for agriculture. How can a type of agriculture be sustainable, if it reduces the land to use for agriculture? Less land means less family that are engaging in agriculture and less food to supply people with. The reasons for land degradation and desertification are “over cultivation, overgrazing and over use of water.”(Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 4). Thus, the main reason is over using land and water but if the land degradation continues, in the end there will be no land to over use.

The use of water is another aspect where the negative effects of industrial agriculture can be observed. The pollution of water seems to be the sources of problems that industrial agriculture causes because “when farming practices pollute surface water and aquifers, they reduce the amount of water that is suitable for other uses.”( Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 4). Other users may be any plant, animals or person. The main point is that some practices of industrial agriculture pollute water and this waste water damages many other potential users. The pollution in most of the times stems from “runoff of chemicals, silt and animal waste.” (Horrigan, Lawrence, Walker 4). Again industrial agriculture seems to be for the benefit of only a few people, while it is harmful for many other people, animals or plants.

Together with the problems concerning health and environment, the poverty caused by industrial agriculture is the last aspect that makes it unsustainable. One fact may be the starting point of poverty caused by industrial agriculture, which in seventy years, although the US population has doubled, the number of American farmers has declined from seven million to two million (Kimbrell 17). There may be two reasons for this. First one is land degradation, which is mentioned above, caused by industrial agriculture. Because of land degradation, the amount of arable land is diminishing, which leads to the loss of farm communities. As the farmers who were engaged in agriculture before finds no land, the poverty seems inevitable. The second reason may be higher costs of industrial agriculture. As industrial agriculture requires mechanization, the use of pesticides and chemicals, it is hard for farmers to continue in agriculture. Capital is needed for industrial agriculture, which many farmers do not have. Therefore, the farms concentrate on very few people that have the capital to invest, which again causes the lass of farm communities and naturally poverty.

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The other reason for poverty caused by industrial agriculture is the increasing price of food. Although industrial agriculture made it possible to produce more, the price of food is increasing (Kimbrell 15). However, paradoxically farmers do not earn more than they did before. The profits gained from the increasing price of food go to the “corporate middlemen”, not to the farmers (Kimbrell 17). Other than farmers, society as a whole is becoming poor because of industrial agriculture as well. While food pricing is increasing, we spend money to the heath and environmental problems caused by industrial agriculture. Therefore, we pay more for the food and also we spend more money on health and environment because of industrial agriculture, which makes poverty a problem for the whole society. Poverty for farmers and for the whole society again demonstrates that industrial agriculture is not sustainable.

In conclusion, even though industrial agriculture is a development in agriculture as it increases production, it takes more than it gives so it is unsustainable. Negative effects of it on heath, environment and economy are the reasons for why industrial agriculture is unsustainable. Creation of health problems both for workers and consumers because of the use of pesticides, chemical and the conditions of work place causing toxic exposure and accidents is thanks to industrial agriculture. The use of pesticides, chemicals, land degradation and water pollution are the environmental problems created by industrial agriculture. The loss of farm communities and expensive food price are the results of industrial agriculture, which causes poverty. All these reasons seem to demonstrate that industrial agriculture is unsustainable. The solution to these problems may not be going back to the old fashion way of agriculture in which there is no room for mechanization, pesticides or chemicals. All this chemicals or machines should be used for human good, not to gain more profit. Therefore, the problem is not the kind of things that is used in agriculture; the real problem is the relations of production or the social form in which these kinds of things are used. Therefore, in order to achieve sustainable agriculture, we should first abolish the possibility of making profit by industrial agriculture. Then, we should collectivize the means of production and just use them for the human good.


Axelrod, S. J. “Health Problems in Industrialized Agriculture” School of Public Health. September 1949: 1172-1175. Print.

Horrigan, Leo, Lawrence Robert S. ,Walker, Polly. “How Sustainable Can Agriculture Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture”. Environmental Health Perspective, Vol.110 No.5 May 2002. 445-456. Print

Kendall, M. Thu. “The Health Consequences of Industrial Agriculture for Farmers in the United States”. Human Organization. Fall 1998. Print

Kimbrell, Andrew. Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2002. Print

Pimentel, D., T.W. Culliney, T. Bashore. http://ipmworld.umn.edu/chapters/pimentel.htm


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