The Health Of The Earth & Its People

The wholesale industrialized exploitation of nature for short-term gain cannot be sustained; it is a major component of what we have termed agricide. The crime of agricide is perpetrated on a variety of fronts, and it’s far-reaching consequences show that the health of earth and its inhabitants cannot be separated.

Agricide includes escalating soil erosion; the impoverishment and poisoning of the soil; the pollution of lakes, rivers, and oceans from the runoff of topsoil contaminated with chemicals; the destruction of groundwater sources from pollution and overuse; the use of nitrogenous fertilizers that are also implicated in the destruction of the earth’s ozone layer; and the development of fast growing, high yield hybrid strains of crops and animals that are more susceptible to disease. An estimated 85% of all U.S. agricultural land is used in the production of animal foods, which in turn is linked with deforestation, destruction of wildlife habitats, extinction of species, loss of soil productivity through mineral depletion and erosion, water pollution and depletion, overgrazing, and desertification.

The USDA estimates that cropland erosion is occurring in the United States at a rate of two billion tons of soil a year. (Other analysts contend that the rate is four to six billion tons.) In 1970, the National Academy of Sciences reported that the nation had lost one-third of its topsoil. Soil erosion and land development together account for an estimated loss of some thirty-four square miles of U.S. agricultural productivity every day.

The same problem is taking place throughout the world. At the present rate of land degradation, one-third of the world’s arable land will be desert by the turn of the century.

Congress has taken action to help prevent one major source of soil erosion - that by “sodbusters.” The sodbuster phenomenon in western states has entailed the plowing and seeding of hundreds of thousands of highly erodible rangeland, motivated by federal farm supports and the increased resale value of such land to investors seeking tax shelters. It is quite likely that the Department of Agriculture has come up with a solution to soil erosion that is actually worse than the problem they are endeavoring to correct: more farmers are now practicing what is called conservation tillage, which entails less frequent tilling of the land; instead, repeated spraying with herbicides is done to control weeds.

One of the main problems with conservation tillage practiced according to this model is the further poisoning of groundwater and contamination of crops grown on poisoned land. As Dr. I. Garth Youngberg, executive director of the Institute for Alternative Agriculture, and Agricultural Research Services (USDA) scientists J. F. Parr and R. I. Papendick observe, “Up until four decades ago, conventional agriculture in the U.S. was, for the most part, beneficial to the support and proliferation of many wildlife species.” They cite that “monoculture grain production along with intensive row cropping, clean tillage cultivation, larger machinery, and heavy applications of chemical fertilizers and pesticides (have resulted in) a concomitant decline in the (wildlife) food base, habitat areas, and in turn, the numbers and species of wildlife . . .

The need and desire to preserve and enhance fish and wildlife resources is one of the most important factors accounting for the increased interest in alternative agriculture.”

The U.S. cattle industry is beginning to turn back to raising cattle on range and forage because fattening and finishing cattle primarily on grains is becoming too costly. Thus, to cut production costs, this ecologically unsound industry is going to intensify its impact on the natural environment. Beef magazine states, “Grazeable land is America’s largest natural resource. One half of the land area in the United States is covered with forage. That’s more than one billion acres, enough to give every cow 200 acres to graze all by herself!” While we may find it aesthetically pleasing to see green rolling hills covered in sheep, and cattle roaming on the wide open range, we should not be tricked into thinking that these pastoral scenes are natural. They are industrialized landscapes that should be returned to nature.

Cattle and sheep-ranching industries are subsidized by the public, and private landowners enjoy tax advantages for clearing tropical rain forests and other natural ecosystems for agricultural development as has been done in Hawaii. This is not to say that natural grazing is undesirable. Professor Calvin Sehwabe observes that, of the 37.5 billion acres of the earth’s land not covered by ice, only 3.75 billion acres could be cultivated, and most of this is already under plow. Some 1% of the sun’s energy reaching the earth is stored in plants. The utilization of this energy for feeding man is possible only through the activities of grazing and browsing animals that harvest under their own power and convert into the highest quality human food - highly scattered or otherwise inaccessible plant life.

Some 7.5 billion acres are usable for this purpose, at a reasonable level of production, worldwide. This is about twice the amount of land that is available for cultivation. Sehwabe estimates that 60% of the world’s animal protein production, about thirty million metric tons, now comes from these nonarable lands. Herbivorous animals, and particularly ruminants such as cattle, “provide the sole vehicle by which much of the earth’s surface can be exploited for food production.” But, as Dr. Hoperaft has known; it may be more prudent to replace cattle, sheep, and goats with indigenous wild ruminants.

In some areas, the land is saturated with synthetic fertilizers; rivers become polluted with the water runoff from these areas. The people of the United States are pouring into the sea, lakes, rivers and underground waters six to 12 million pounds of nitrogen, two to four million pounds of potassium and 75,000 to three million pounds of phosphorus per million of adult population annually, and this waste we esteem one of the great achievements of our civilization.

The widespread use of insecticides results in the nonselective poisoning of both “good” and “bad” insects. Worse, this practice can lead to the development of resistant strains and to the unchecked multiplication of currently harmless but naturally resistant insects, which then become pests because the other insect species and predatory birds that normally keep them in balance have been killed off.

According to Dr. H. M. Caine of the University of California, Santa Cruz, one-third of the American diet depends directly or indirectly on crops pollinated by honey bees and 6% of farm production ($3.5 billion) is at least indirectly dependent on such pollination. But pesticides are now at work reducing the bee population by an estimated 2% per year. this loss could have serious agricultural consequences. Nevertheless, the AFBF supports the “modification of existing regulations to more easily permit restricted use of previously cancelled pesticides under emergency conditions.”

The problems of dealing with the 1.24 billion tons of solid and liquid waste from animals are astronomical. this byproducts is not a natural manure that can be easily recycled onto the fields. Rather, it has high concentrations of drugs, arsenic, and copper, and abnormally high amounts of undigested protein; it is therefore a serious freshwater pollutant. Disposing of manure in oxidation lagoons deprives the fields of nitrogenous fertilizer.

There is also the problem of topsoils that show declining levels of essential nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus potassium, etc.), which, in turn, decreases crop production and resistance to disease, impairs the health and productivity of farm animals, and lessens the nutritive value of the crops to customers.

On the other hand, soil erosion and irrigation can lead to the accumulation of toxic levels of trace elements in lakes located in drainage areas distant from agricultural activities. And in some areas there is natural excess, and with selenium in Southern California, and with aluminum over much of the world. This is being leached from the soil by acid-rain pollution and now contaminates lakes, rivers, and drinking water. (It has been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, or premature senility). Air pollution is a serious threat to agricultural productivity. Sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions from electrical utilities and automobiles cause harmful acid rain. Nitrous oxide also breaks down into photochemical oxidants, which are toxic to plants and impair photosynthesis. It has been estimated that a reduction in ambient ozone levels of 25% would produce nearly $2 billion in benefits, while a 25% increase would lead to an additional $2.3 billion in crop losses.

Waterfowl are now suffering the consequences of improper land use in the San Joaquin Kesterson reservoir in California. Selenium (from distant, selenium-rich fields) has built up in plants and fish the birds eat. Forty percent of waterfowl eggs contained dead embryos in 1981, and 20% of hatched chicks had deformities: swollen heads, no eyes, legs, wings, etc.

According to Larry Ephron, and agricultural historian and analyst, the German chemist Justus van Liebig, over a century ago, analyzed the ash residue of burned plants and found that the primary components were potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus. His findings became the basis of using these artificial chemicals as fertilizer. Had he available then modern analytical equipment, he would have been able to identify fore than 90 different essential elements in plants that should be returned to the soil. Apparently realizing the hazards of using such a limited range of artificial chemical fertilizers which he had helped stimulate, he wrote that he had “sinned against the wisdom of the Creator.” Applying potassium, nitrogen and phosphate certainly boosted crop yields, but this caused serious imbalances in the soil and other essential nutrients were not put back.

The deficiencies in our agricultural soil and the crops we and farm animals eat are so marked that simply putting crushed gravel screenings onto the soil and kiln dust into animal feed will dramatically increase the farmer’s yields of grain and meat alike.

Many of the diseases that afflict us, our domestic animals, and our crops and forests are related in part to deficiencies in certain essential trace minerals. Immunosuppression and increased susceptibility to stress, pathogenic organisms (especially viruses), and chemical (natural and industrial) poisons, carcinogens, mutagens and teratogens, and possibly emotional instability, have been linked with trace mineral deficiencies and imbalances. How have these trace-mineral deficiencies arisen? First, from natural erosion, which has been accelerated by deforestation, strip=mining, and intensive agriculture. And especially from accelerated extraction through cropping and not returning what we take from the land.

What is returned is not blood, bones, antlers, manure, and the dead remains of animals, but artificial fertilizers - nitrogen, phosphates, and potash. This is not enough. though they temporarily help boost yields, the crops are nutritionally deficient. These synthetic fertilizers - some of which are derived from nonrenewable fossil fuels - do not sufficiently enhance the health of the crops, so more pesticides and herbicides are needed.

Lacking organic material as well as trace minerals and carbon essential for humus formation, the soil - the ‘flesh’ of the earth - does not hold moisture. The rains run off it and the winds blow away the topsoil, or it becomes quickly compacted, necessitating heavy tractor power to plow it for seeding, which further compacts the earth.

The United States holds the world record for the consumptive use of water for food production with animal products accounting for 85% of the total. It has been estimated that the use of water for irrigated agriculture has tripled since 1940. Irrigation now accounts for over a fourth of the nation’s crops. Groundwater supplies 25% of all water used in the United States and about 40% of all irrigation water.

The vast underground reservoir known as the Ogallala Aquifer, underlying the Great Plains grain belt, is being depleted rapidly to irrigate fields that were meant only for dryland farming. The quality of the aquifer is now seriously threatened by fertilizers, pesticides, and salination.

Residues from the insecticide toxaphene have been found in rainwater in Bermuda and in rivers and lakes in 29 states sampled nationally by the EPA. (It has also been found in fish-eating birds, including the endangered brown pelican in Louisiana.) Recently, pesticides have also been implicated in creating algal blooms in fresh water, a phenomenon that could aggravate the ecological problems of other river pollutants, particularly nitrates (from fertilizers), mercury (from fungicides, paper mills, etc.), and cadmium and lead (from sources such as automobile pollution and sewage runoff.

The threats to public health caused by the foods we eat come primarily from two sources: chemical and bacterial contamination. A secondary problem is the unhealthiness of the standard American diet.

Hazardous chemicals used as pesticides (including herbicides) and antibiotics, growth stimulants and other drugs in animal feeds are absorbed into the meat, eggs, and dairy products we consume. There is increased reliance upon a last-spray pesticide treatment of crops to prevent spoilage; artificial ripening with gas and petroleum, wax covering of vegetables, and greater use of food preservatives (some of which may be carcinogenic).

Additional chemicals are used for their color - or flavor-enhancing and stabilizing properties. Other compounds are employed to facilitate storage, and freezing is accomplished with other ingredient-extending and “fortifying” chemicals. (Sugar, for example, is one of the most ubiquitous of these chemicals.) The EPA is considering the ban of daminozide, a possible carcinogen that is sprayed on apples to make them ripen uniformly and so permit the grower to call in only one team of pickers.

While a few of these agrichemicals undergo rapid natural degradation, many are stored in their original form within plants (for example, dieldrin accumulates in carrot tissue) and will therefore later be ingested by us or by farm animals who will further concentrate them and then pass them on to us. Arsenic, poisonous to humans, is fed to poultry to improve their looks and stimulate their appetites. As has been noted, beef cattle are fed with poultry manure, the rendered remains of animals, and such surplus agricultural produce as oranges and pineapples, all of which already contain chemicals. Chemicals such as DVT enter into the food chain in these ways. (Some chemicals may even become more toxic when they are partially metabolized in the body: DDE and DDD are breakdown products of DDT that result in impaired eggshell formation and hatchability (especially in predatory birds.)

Countless chemicals (such as kepone, dieldrin, and DDT) accumulate in the bodies of freshwater and marine organisms, possible lowering their viability, and it is through them, via the food chain, that we eventually intoxicate ourselves. While many of these chemicals are originally stored in body fat, under stress and during location they may be released into the bloodstream.

According to an extensive study conducted by the National Research Council (NRC) and released in March 1984, there are some, 3,350 pesticides in use, and most have not been adequately tested. Toxicity data were either inadequate or nonexistent for 64% of these substances. It was concluded that 50% of the cancer studies and 75% of the genetic toxicity experiments which had been done on pesticides were flawed and unreliable. In essence, because of inadequate scientific testing and data, complete toxicity and health exposure assessments are available for only about 10% of the pesticides and 5% of the food additives in commercial use in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency is reportedly ten years behind in its safety testing program. Much of this delay has been created by private-contracting testing laboratories that falsify their reports, a fact that has necessitated the establishment of a new governmental regulatory division to ensure good laboratory practices.

It has been estimated that as much as 90% of all human cancers are caused by environmental factors ranging from pesticides to industrial chemicals, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Heptachlor, a pesticide strongly suspected of being a “complete” carcinogen (Capable of both initiating and promoting cancer), reached levels as high as 2.7 parts per million in the milk of thousands of cows in Hawaii in March 1982. The FDA’s “action level,” at which the contamination level exceeds 0.3 ppm and milk cannot be sold, was clearly surpassed. Cattle had been fed chopped pineapple tops that had been heavily treated with this pesticide under EPA permit.

How frequently such instances of pesticide contamination of our food chain occur is unknown. We will only know for certain generations from now, if and when the cancer epidemic in society begins to subside following drastic restrictions in the use of agrichemicals worldwide. Many however, along with industrial chemicals such as PCB, will remain in the food chain for generations, since their biodegradation is so slow. And since cancer is such a complex disease, with a long dormancy period, accurate identification of its causal agents is virtually impossible. The problem is compounded by the fact that there are so many different chemicals contaminating the environment and the tissues of our bodies. Toxaphene is used widely to rid livestock of external parasites; it is a chlorinated hydrocarbon related to the now-outlawed compounds aldrin, dieldrin, and DDT. Some 40 - 100 million pounds of toxaphene are probably used annually by farmers. According to the NCI, this drug causes liver cancer in mice and, possibly, thyroid cancer in rats. Cattle have been killed with this drug from being sprayed by government veterinarians. This complex compound also contains both carcinogenic and mutagenic components. As has been noted, toxaphene has been discovered in water and fish-eating birds; it has also been found in market-basket food samples taken by the FDA; milk in Arizona; and catfish and other commercially sold fish in Louisiana.

The herbicide 2,4,5-T, widely used by the U.S. Forest Service, and other related herbicides contain dioxins, which are highly toxic chemicals (they cause birth defects in laboratory animals at doses in the range of several hundred parts per trillion), and are possible the most potent carcinogens know. Any chemical that is deliberately (pesticides) or accidentally (radioactive waste, lead from air pollution) broadcast onto the crops or pasture that cattle eat may be concentrated in the meat (fat) or other internal organs, or pass into the milk (especially fat-soluble chemicals in the cream) and thus be ingested by people. Pesticides such as DDT, Aldrin, dieldrin, dioxins from the herbicide 2,4,5-T, aflatoxins from moldy feeds, PCP, and PBB are concentrated in cows milk from contaminated and moldy feed and contaminated pastures.

Other drugs (such as methoprene and permetrin to control ticks and flies) used in cattle, whether administered orally or by injection, may, like the PBB’s, act as immunosuppressants. Ironically, the diary cow and the human female are emerging as the ideal “guinea pigs” for monitoring the food-chain accumulations (or “biomagnification”) of such dangerous chemicals in our species.

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