The second in a three-part series series on effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment
Local seeds and produce (Image by Drona Chetri from Navdanya)
You can read the first part here.
Vandana Shiva argues that the World Bank pushed the privatization of seeds in India in 1991, introducing a very distorted model of agriculture. It created refugees out of Indian farmers who moved to the cities, became today’s migrant labor, and are now refugees from the cities because of the Corona crisis. With the pandemic and sudden lockdown, the livelihood of half of India just evaporated.
This India that works for its bread also suddenly added to the ranks of the hungry. Before the pandemic, nearly one million children under five were dying of hunger annually, and there were 190 million hungry people already. The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) added many more millions.
The farmers who went the World Bank way to grow cash crops, which is the reform way of all national governments, were unable to sell when all the long distance supply chains collapsed due to COVID-19.
“We were always told that industrial food is cheap and is feeding the world. So I started to do full cost accounting and found that there are trillions and trillions of dollars of shadow in environmental destruction, biodiversity destruction, destruction of farmers, and destruction of our health. When we add all that together, we will realize that we could not afford industrial food pushed by the old Poison Cartel and Big Oil,” Shiva explains.
She gives an example of biofuel — which is made to look very efficient — and big government subsidies to divert food to biofuel. But, it takes more fossil fuel to produce biofuel than it substitutes. “We measure nutrition per acre, we measure health per care, and our work with real farmers and true cost accounting is showing that small farms with biodiversity, without chemicals, can feed two times Indian population ... They take pride in feeding 1.3 billion. I can tell you the US model can’t feed 1.3 billion.”
Defending the world’s largest protests by farmers in India against the new agricultural laws that would allow private corporations to buy directly from farmers — which would leave them at the mercy of buyers — Shiva says that in the globalized system of monopolistic buying, the original farmer gets as little as 0.5 to 5 per cent.
Global corporations break national boundaries, they break national sovereignty, and Indian farmers are fighting for food sovereignty. She remarks that in spite of the global powers wanting to grab the land, and turn India into a large farm desert like the midwest of the US, the small farmers are fighting because of their love for Mother Earth.
John Robbins says that livestock provides just 18 per cent of calories but takes up more than 80 per cent of farmland:
Right now, 81 per cent of the world’s agricultural land is used to provide meat, eggs, and dairy products. That’s an astounding amount of land on planet Earth. But, plant foods, on the other hand, require far less land and far fewer resources, and can actually help sequester the carbon in the soil. We could feed the entire world’s population, and free up so much land that could be used to grow more food for future generations ... The scientific consensus is very clear that industrial meat production is responsible for a major portion of all our greenhouse emissions.
Elaborating on the findings of Oxford Martin School researchers, he adds that a global switch to plant-based diets could save up to 8 million lives by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds.
When Amazon rainforests were burning, French president Emanuel Macron wrote that the lungs which produce 20 per cent oxygen for the planet were burning. According to Time magazine, in 2018, Brazil exported some $6 billion worth of beef, more than any other country in history. In Brazil, cattle accounts for 80 per cent of deforested land. Why are Brazilians cutting down their forests? To make quick money by trying to meet an increasing demand for beef around the world.
There are many doctors who have been shouting out loud, along with Dr Michael Greger, that there is no human nutritional need for any animal protein. In fact, according to the Harvard University School of Medicine, the healthiest sources of protein are “beans, nuts, grains and other vegetable sources of protein.”
One reason India was not considered a high-risk area for novel influenza strains is because a large portion of the population is vegetarian. But, over the past 25 years, India’s diet has changed. The middle classes of India have been pushed into admiring junk foods, taking pride in flocking for meat at McDonald's and KFCs, and urban populations consider a Coke-and-Pepsi-diet a declaration of being progressive. So, India is now the capital of diabetes in the world. The risks from COVID escalate multifold with any chronic disease, including diabetes.
Social psychologist Melanie Joy’s book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, offers an absorbing look at what she calls carnism, the belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals when we would never dream of eating others. Joy says that eating animals without thinking about it makes this behavior invisible.
She calls this invisible belief system “carnism”. There are Three Ns of justification — Joy argues — that consuming meat is normal, natural, and necessary. She explains that “the belief that eating meat is necessary makes the system seem inevitable — if we cannot exist without meat, then abolishing carnism is akin to suicide.”
This myth of necessity has been promoted by the meat industry despite widespread and substantial evidence to the contrary. She discusses many ways our system has made eating animals acceptable: Objectification, viewing animals as things rather than living, breathing, feeling beings. Deindividualization, looking at animals as a group or a species rather than individuals with their own personalities and preferences. Dichotomization, categorizing animals into edible or inedible, so that we can eat our steak while we pet our dog.
Multi-disciplinary Dr Zach Bush proclaims that we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction on the planet and humanity is one of the countless species headed for extinction. In 2019, Dr Bush correctly predicted that Hubei, China would be the center of a pandemic due to its high levels of air pollution combined with the pollution from large factory farms.
“Animals around the world are largely being held in captivity, in extremely toxic and inhumane conditions. And so if we see viruses coming out of that, that’s the microbiome’s check on the reality that we live in. There are checks and balances in biology, certainly, that work better than the checks and balances in our government,” Dr Bush comments.
One molecule in our food and water system called glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — is causing huge endocrine disruption in our bodies and poisoning our environment. It poisons our genome and blocks the ability to make glutathione, which is our main antioxidant. Dr Bush says that by using antimicrobials like glyphosate, which act like an antibiotic for the earth, we have been destroying our soil and depleting nutrients from our food. Glyphosate is only one of 260 chemicals in our food system.
Glyphosate is at over 9 billion kilograms of consumption worldwide and unfortunately it’s a water soluble toxin. “A water soluble toxin is a bad idea on a planet that is 70 per cent water not just by surface area, but for the air we breathe, for the clouds that rain it down upon us, for the plants that grow within that soil and for the bodies that live off of those plants,” Dr Bush observes.
Our staple superfoods are contaminated because of the farming practices using so much glyphosate, and our foods are making us sick. The third largest crop we grow in the US, right behind corn and soybean, is our neighborhood lawns and it extends to our playing fields and golf courses sprayed with Roundup.
Glyphosate is destroying not just the proteins for human life but also for the bacterial life. It functions as a potent antibiotic, kills life in the soil and also kills life in the gut. So when we are eating, drinking, and breathing Roundup, we are destroying our gut microbiome which determines our health. Simply put, when you harm the gut, you are harming the human. As a result, we are experiencing an extinction of diversity of microbes within our gut, that parallels the extinction that is gripping the planet.
Dr Bush, who has devoted his time to soil science and regenerative agriculture, has been educating farmers on the dangers of chemical farming, making them aware that they are facing the highest levels of chronic disease in the world. He speaks of the last 90 miles of the Mississippi river that collects about 80 per cent of the Roundup in our environment and is now cancer alleys.
“If you look at the graph of the growth of GMOs, the growth of application of glyphosate and autism, it’s literally a one-to-one correspondence. And you could make that graph for kidney failure, you could make that graph for diabetes, you could make that graph even for Alzheimer’s...Monoculture farms and monoculture factory farms become hotbeds of disease,” comments Shiva, on the harm caused by this Bayer-Monsanto herbicide that is commonly used with GMO crops.
Dr Bush explains that with every introduction of glyphosate starting with its debut in 1976, spraying of wheat starting in 1992, and the Roundup Ready GMO crops in 1996, there has been an uptick in chronic and autoimmune diseases, inflammatory and neurologic degenerative conditions. Glyphosate was originally used as an industrial pipe cleaner as it would leach out heavy metal buildup in older pipes. Millions of acres of US farmland are now covered with glyphosate-resistant superweeds.
Bayer, a German company, cleverly got the GMO approval for LibertyLink a year before they bought Monsanto. They are happy to pay billions of dollars in lawsuit settlements as they very slowly phase out glyphosate while the court systems slog along, sweeping in as a savior with their jackpot LibertyLink.
LibertyLink is another GMO approved by the EU, the US, and Canada. Instead of disrupting the glycine amino acid pathway which glyphosate does, LibertyLink crops — genetically modified to handle spraying of a chemical called glufosinate — disrupt amino acids that are critical for human reproduction. LibertyLink, unfortunately, is already growing throughout the whole midwest.
“The sperm counts in all Western countries have dropped by 52-57 per cent over the last few decades, and we are now seeing one in three males with a sperm count at infertility level. One in four women is struggling with infertility. We are losing the capacity to procreate, we are losing the capacity for human life. We are failing as a biological species because of the collapse of biology beneath our feet, beneath our gut, beneath the soils that dwell around us.”
Talking about the “victory gardens” in World War II that provided some 40 per cent of all produce consumed in the US, Dr Bush adds: “We stopped growing food in the United States. If you think we have a serious crisis in our hospitals now, wait till our food system is disrupted ... Our supply chains are tenuous ... Kansas — our most agricultural state in the US where 90 per cent of the acreage is agriculturally managed — imports 90 per cent of their food as a state and one in four children is going hungry in Kansas for lack of calories today.” He laments the dramatic increase in chronic diseases we have seen so far, and notes how our children are aging fast, developing the diseases that we used to see in geriatrics.
Dr Bush predicts that if we just look forward to 16 years — four more American presidents--we will hit autism for one in three children, and adults with about 75 per cent cancer rates:
Our food system is $1.2 trillion a year, our medical system is $3.7 trillion a year. We are three times outspending our food with just the cost of chronic disease care. We have a completely unsustainable model for agriculture and disease care in the U.S. which is going to drive us bankrupt as a nation... The farmer and the physician have been trained by the same chemical companies and so we have been indoctrinated into the same pharmaceutical codependence and world view, whether we be a farmer or a physician.
Discussing his work with his non-profit Farmer’s Footprint, he remarks: “My greatest hope is for this third generation of Roundup children. Let’s reverse out of that epigenetic doom that we have set for them. Let them find a pathway into a new epigenetic hope through their reconnection to real food, through a really healthy soil and water ecosystem.”
This was originally published by Indiacurrents.
Views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect that of Down To Earth.
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