When you hear advocates for sustainable ag and organic production talk about what they do, you are left with the impression that conventional farmers do not do those things.
If you click the title to this post, you'll be directed to a WaPo article by Eric Schlosser, Author of Fast Food Nation and co-producer of Food Inc. In the article, Schlosser writes a rebuttal to foodies being called elitist. Within that rebuttal, Mr. Schlosser makes several broad statements about food and ag. He says that modern ag is, 'overly reliant on monocultures, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, chemical additives, genetically modified organisms, factory farms, government subsidies and fossil fuels'.
Eric Schlosser wants the public to believe that modern agriculture doesn't use crop rotation, no-till, cover crops, wind breaks, grass waterways, etc. He paints the picture of 1 big, monolithic building run by an evil villain whose only goal is to poison children.
I knew about crop rotation, no-till, grass waterways, etc, before I ever knew what organic was. His charge against conventional ag is incredibly misleading, considering that organic farms also use pesticides, fertilizers, fossil fuels, and government subsidies.
I spent many years of my youth on a farm and my college education is specifically designed to give me the training to run a food manufacturing facility. Given that, I have never seen a 'Factory Farm'. This is meant as an expletive that is all too often said by people who aren't educated enough to recognize what they are looking at in a large operation. Of course, ignorance leads to fear, and ultimately, name calling.
Large operations have insanely huge input costs. To control those costs, farmers have invested in precision agriculture in the past 15 years. Many tractors now have in cab computers, gps systems, and auto-steer. Soil samples are taken all over the field and plotted with gps so variable rate spreaders can be used so the farmers don't waste a drop of the increasingly expensive fertilizer. GM crop varieties reduce the amount of pesticides needed, which also means that farm equipment is run for less hours. This means reduced consumption of fuel lowered maintenance costs over the life of the equipment.
The farm isn't the only place Eric Schlosser has fostered the view point that everyone else is evil. He also takes several shots at the food industry. He makes reference to consolidation among meat packers and then likens it to the climate that existed when The Jungle was written. It's as if having more owners would magically improve the safety of the world's safest food supply.
He talks about the food and ag system being centralized. While some companies only have one plant, most food companies set up plants in different areas of the country... you know... in regions. Of course, this must be a lie if Mr. Schlosser insists that our system is centralized and if foodies all call for a regional food system. Kroger is one of the nations largest grocer's and has it's own manufacturing, named Kroger Manufacturing. Kroger Manufacturing has bakeries, dairies, and various other facilities spread all over the country. In all, Kroger Manufacturing has over 40 facilities where food is produced. That doesn't seem very central to me.
Mr. Schlosser mentions how sick everyone is getting due to our very unsafe food supply... actually, he only mentions children, which is kind of cowardly if you ask me. He fails to mention that you can't go anywhere else in the world and find safer food. He makes a mention of pesticide residues and how bad that is for kids, but leaves out the part where residue limits are set so far below the amount that can make people sick, that it's virtually impossible to get sick from the residues. For instance, a child would need to eat 154 servings of apples in one day to get sick from the highest amount of residue allowed in apples by the USDA. To calculate your own limits, go here.
Foodies get called elitist because they advocate an antiquated method of farming that, if implemented, would leave a large portion of the planet without food(hunger is already a huge problem throughout much of the world). Any volunteers to never eat again? No? Hmm. They also scoff at how little we pay for food as a percentage of our income, which is an indicator of economic health, not personal health. Ethiopians pay a huge amount of their income(for those fortunate to have incomes) for food and they are starving. Many foodies brag about how much more they spend for food. Sound elitist? Yes. The cost of food didn't make us fat, our abundance of calories did. We're still wired to eat and screw as much as possible, so it takes a fair amount of education to get people to willfully waste calories by exercising and not eating so much. The elitist solution is to make food even more expensive for the poorest people in this country.