What You Can Do About The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture

Leave us alone!
— Devinder Sharma’s response to my question, ‘What do you want the U.S. to do to help India?’

The well-respected scholar/activist Devinder Sharma tells me that at minimum 28,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide over the last ten years, in great part as a consequence of the business practices of Archer Daniels Midland (sponsor of The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour), Monsanto, Wal-Mart and others.1

Most people reading this probably know the basic story/cold facts, but my contribution is to offer up a recommendation for meaningful action, designed to –at the very least– make a dent in related criminality/immorality being perpetuated in the United States. Beyond that, it is obvious that the health of the world, making life livable for us, is contingent upon our being concerned with the welfare of one and all, above and beyond what NGOs (under the influence of the IMF and World Bank) have done. Haven’t done.2

To do so, Andrew Kimbrell, public interest attorney, activist, and author has been indispensable. His service as Executive Director of the International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C. has enabled him to edit an astoundingly helpful work titled The Fatal Harvest Reader.3

His listing of the seven worst/most prominent myths concerning agribusiness are well worth running through here, as they can serve as talking points for influencing others in the scenario suggested below.

Cutting through the Corporate Lies –and making a difference in practical terms– requires that we not fight against industrial agriculture on an issue-by-issue basis exclusively. Altering the thinking and habits of a lifetime is a monumental challenge, but…our lives depend upon being successful in this realm.

The Myths Confronted:

A) Poverty and landlessness deny people access to food. This causes world hunger, not a lack of food. “Industrial agriculture actually increases hunger by raising the cost of farming, by forcing tens of millions of farmers off the land, and by growing primarily high-profit export and luxury crops.”4 Industrial Agriculture will NOT feed the world.

B) Everyone has heard about how industrial agriculture contaminates –with pesticides– what we eat. In addition, its life-threatening bacteria is slipped into our lettuce, and genetically engineered growth hormones (in milk) guarantee that obesity is the norm. Food-borne illnesses are one thing. Cancer, easily traceable to agribusiness practices, is quite another. One doesn’t have to donate more money for cancer research, the scorecard is in on several counts, and we all now simply wait for the obligatory action to be taken. Industrial Food is NOT safe, healthy and nutritious.

C) Industrial Food is NOT cheap… if you add up its real cost. Health, environmental, and social costs must be factored in with current supermarket prices. Duh. Hmmm, I wonder who’s making out like a bandit here… with (our tax) subsidies too.

D) “Small farms produce more agricultural output per unit area than large farms. Moreover, larger, less diverse farms require far more mechanical and chemical inputs. These ever increasing inputs are devastating to the environment and make these farms far less efficient than smaller, more sustainable farms.”5 Industrial Agriculture is NOT efficient.

E) Our local supermarket provides an illusion of choice. Labeling of products is guilty of The Sin of Omission with regard to pesticides and genetic modification. What happened to the right to reject what we don’t want to eat? “Most importantly, the myth of choice masks the tragic loss of thousands of crop varieties caused by industrial agriculture.”6 Industrial Food does NOT offer more choices.

F) Not even the U.S. Military –which has made uninhabitable (in the U.S. alone) a land mass the size of the state of Florida– can compete with Industrial Agriculture as the largest single threat to the earth’s biodiversity. Industrial Agriculture does NOT benefit the environment and wildlife.

G) Biotechnology will NOT solve the problems of Industrial Agriculture. Rather, it will compound them. And, in the process, a few of the world’s largest corporations will gain ever greater control over our food supply.

There you have it. Now, as promised, I’m obligated to tell you WHAT YOU CAN DO.

It’s simple. I recently wrote a piece which urged parents and other interested parties to march into local schools, and demand that teachers do away with perpetuating the lie that our system of government is based –in reality– on checks and balances.

Well, let’s take it from there. Authorities in schools can be confronted –easily– with the facts delineated above. How much time does it take to pass around the Fact Sheet to one and all? Of course, one would have to follow that up with a very focused, clearly laid out plan/demand for a STRIKE! A student strike. And, where possible, PTA participation would be desirable. Independent parents, neighbors et. al. should be welcomed.7 A civilized food fight (!!!) in the cafeteria, if you will. Or simply a classic sit-in. No fasts necessary.

Before you rule this out –out of hand– as pie in the sky, look at what actions are already being attempted in educational settings out of concern over obesity alone. You’d think that a Gym teacher or two might want to run with the ball you put on the court, yes? And Science? Really, the number of relevant disciplines here is high. And the stakes are much higher than overweight kids not being able to climb a rope, or –please don’t take this the wrong way– acquiring diabetes. Our landbase is threatened with extinction.

Coordination with several schools might be an option. Huge Government $$ Here!!8

Cooperation with several organizations might prove fruitful.9 Considering the looming threat to the integrity of organic standards, those interested in establishing more stringent standards would be prime candidates, for starters. Frustration and fear in all quarters of the Green Ecological/Agrarian Movement, however, would quickly give organizers the necessary minds and bodies to begin.

Let everyone look at the where the food-related expenses are going at present.10 Whose pockets are being lined. Whose kids are being assigned… obesity problems. And worse.

I mean, it’s one thing to want your kid to not miss any classes ’cause you want him/her to become a Rocket Scientist. It’s another thing to have the child grow up and become a Rocket Scientist with colon cancer.

And to be bringing down most of India in the process… to get one’s missiles off.

  1. Those interested can verify this by reviewing Seven Stories Press’ Censored 2008: The Top Ten Censored Stories of 2006-07, Vandana Shiva’s appearance on Democracy Now! (December 13, 2006) Arun Shrivastava’s “Genetically Modified Seeds: Women in India Take on Monsanto (Global Research, October 9, 2006), and Suman Sahai’s “Sowing Trouble: India’s ‘Second Green Revolution.'” Devinder Sharma is a distinguished journalist, author, thinker and analyst based in New Delhi, India. []
  2. Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums (the “Illusions of Self Help” chapter) provides a definitive take on this fundamental point. []
  3. Island Press, 2002. []
  4. The Fatal Harvest Reader, p. 6. []
  5. Ibid., p. 19. []
  6. Ibid., p. 23. []
  7. As far as what demands should be made, the list of organizations referred to in the #9 footnote below is a good starting place. Advice on tactics/strategies would follow naturally. And coverage from media outlets is virtually guaranteed. I would be more than happy to recommend organizations which are near given locations, upon request. []
  8. It’s pretty ugly how governmental food support must take the form –‘cross the board (in and out of educational institutions)– of subsidies for corporations producing unhealthy fare exclusively. []
  9. The great number of groups listed at the back of The Fatal Harvest Reader is a good point of departure for contacting interested parties. When considering working with NGOs, however, one always has to be on one’s toes, asking the right questions, not jumping too quickly into the arms of someone who’s already in bed with The Enemy. []
  10. One of the many hidden aspects of financial support for the industry lies in the fact that very often the same companies that receive assistance for providing food own and/or run transportation that’s necessary for delivery. That’s one. The “aid” goes way beyond the surface support…which is unseemly enough at $30.5 or so billion per year. []

Marcelle Cendrars, freelancing daughter of Blaise Cendrars, can be reached at: bcendra@yahoo.com. She is the "Provost" of San Jose, California's Free Underground College to Kindergarten Educational Retreat, a home school network of dissenting citizens who encourage parents to have their children drop out of mainstream institutions, and make use of alternative educational options. Read other articles by Marcelle, or visit Marcelle's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Marcelle Cendra said on October 31st, 2007 at 9:04am #

    The updated figures for India…figures which the government has officially accepted…are 100,000 farmers having committed suicide between 1993-2003…18,000 on average per year following that…adding up to 150,000 to date. –MC

  2. Mitchell Perdue said on October 31st, 2007 at 12:46pm #

    Great info! Went to Amazon and picked up a copy of Fatal Harvest Reader. It is true that checks and balances are a fallacy. More people are waking up, and informed people like you are helping.

  3. Michael Kenny said on October 31st, 2007 at 12:55pm #

    Devinda Sharma’s answer applies not just to India and not just to agriculture! The world is sick and fed up with being given a choice only between being bullied and pushed around in their own countries by right-wing Americans and being bullied and pushed around in their own countries by left-wing Americans. The implicit assertion of master race status by people who are largely the descendants of Europe’s failures is both absurd and offensive. “Come home, America” said George McGovern many years ago. The modern generation of Americans should heed his advice!

  4. william said on October 31st, 2007 at 9:10pm #

    Regarding the potential health hazards of genetically engineered seeds, ‘absence of proof is not proof of absence’. I believe it is only a matter of time before science catches up with GMO’s and discovers serious, unforeseen health-safety consequences.

    Pro-GMO activists will say that we have been doing ‘genetic modification’ for centuries, so what’s new? Recombinant DNA technology was first discovered in 1973, and seeds created from this technology (GMO’s) were not marketed until 1996. This technology (which allows not only trans-species transgenics, but also trans-kingdom transgencis) is dangerous, and its discovery triggered the 1975 Asilomar Conference in Pacific Grove, California.

    From a July 1, 2007 article in the New York Times (’A Challenge to Gene Theory, a Tougher Look at Biotech’ – Denise Caruso): “Evidence of a networked genome shatters the scientific basis for virtually every official risk assessment of today’s commercial biotech products, from genetically engineered crops to pharmaceuticals.”

    So it goes with scientific proclamations: safe today, health hazard tomorrow.

    Let’s hope it’s not too late when science catches up – once they are let loose on the environment, you cannot call genes back.

  5. Marcelle Cendra said on November 1st, 2007 at 7:59am #

    For the purpose of focusing on “activism,” permit me to make one point here with regard to William’s entry. I have no argument with what he’s saying about scientific proclamations. Of course not. However, this comment provides a good example of something that’s “wrong” with those wanting to actually “fight” our present momentum. That is, there’s a spotlight on what we can expect to turn out in findings of the future, but no comment on the most important part of the article, the call for action. It’s a no-brainer that the scorecard is in on the science, even if the official proclamations are lagging. In the meantime, what are we going to do about this situation? If anyone else adds a comment here, I’d really appreciate an additional word or two about that aspect of the piece. Not that I don’t appreciate William’s contribution here, I do.

  6. anthony innes said on November 2nd, 2007 at 4:31pm #

    further to this valuable discussion and those interested.
    One of the very best sources for an informed researched take on global food issues is:
    So Shall We Reap
    Author Colin Tudge
    Publisher Penguin.ISBN # 0-141-00950-0
    Whats wrong with world food and How to FIX it.This brilliant stuff from a man who credentials are impeccable.This is the clearest,most sensible presentation of where we are up to and why it has to change and realistically how to get there from here.I have given it to ultra conservative farmers,financial administrators and disaffected kids who all come back to me with thanks for saving them years of downtime coming to understand the problemn.PLEASE help this man’s study be more widely discussed.If you are considering diet and food production this is for you.

  7. Marcelle Cendra said on November 2nd, 2007 at 9:10pm #

    Perhaps it would be beneficial for you (Anthony) to pen in a few of the suggestions in Tudge’s book…here. The “how to get there from here” angles, I’m sure, would be very welcome. MC

  8. william said on November 3rd, 2007 at 9:31am #

    The multinational biotechs are a physical force; the idea in the minds of the people that GMO’s comprise health safety risks is the counter physical force.

    People who believe that genetically modified foods are unhealthy will not buy foods that contain them, and they will demand labeling laws so that they know what they are buying. This real market force (an idea), forces suppliers to react (e.g., the recent reaction against rBGH).

    The explosion in the demand for organics over the last ten years further illustrates the power of an idea.

    So blogs like this one are the real ‘activism’ – they create, nurture, and maintain the right idea.

  9. Marcelle Cendra said on November 3rd, 2007 at 6:51pm #

    Dear William:

    Thanks for following up your initial contribution as per my request/suggestion. On the most fundamental level, yes…the thrust of what you’re saying is true. However, haven’t the Big Agricultural Demons co-opted the organic movement to a great degree, watering down meaningful standards? To a significant degree. And the notion that if people know something is harmful for them they’ll act appropriately…isn’t that primarily “wishful.” In fact, hasn’t the scorecard been in on genetically modified crap for quite some time? Yes. Haven’t politicians (who seem to be “required” by the public) not acted on that info thus far…very much? Yes. Postings and comments like what’s here are valuable. And necessary. But the value is extremely limited. First, there’s the fact that The Choir is basically what’s tuning into the new additions to the valuable info here and elsewhere. Secondly, in the world of implementation…there’s the kind of Aldous Huxley effect going on…whereby even stuff that people should know better about (do know better about considering what’s been published)…is not acted on meaningfully. Like immunizations for school and radiation from cell phones. There are tons of other examples too. Examples of PR winning out over common sense and grounded research findings. What say you and you all? MC

  10. william said on November 4th, 2007 at 8:40am #

    Hi Marcelle,

    To the extent that we buy into the false idea ‘I am a person’, we believe that we need to inform every ‘one’. This is not true – every person is a conduit to the ‘collective consciousness’, and in a real sense, to inform the few is to inform the many.

    Ideas are seeds, and it is often more effective to plant an idea into the mind of a sleeping person (even if that sleep is ‘soma-induced’). It is all in the seed and in the planting.

    Each human being is a unique package of properties and methods, and there is no telling how the ‘idea’ will manifest through a particular one; but when the idea reaches critical mass, a Gandhi or Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King will appear to inspire the collective action.

    Regarding ‘Big Demons’, to the asymmetric warrior they are the best kind – easy to see. Often it takes a person of clear vision to point them out so that others also see.

  11. Marcelle Cendra said on November 4th, 2007 at 10:28am #

    Dearest William:

    Your intentions as far as I can see are pure, well-meaning, certainly. However, you opened an interesting door here…which we all might want to ponder a moment in a different light than perhaps you envisioned. That is, your Theory of Seeds incororates the “image” of Mother Theresa, and I was wondering whether or not you were privy to the recent article by Michael Parenti (and/or the works of others) on the subject of “The Saintly” MT. –MC P.S. More importantly, Gandhi and King both stepped outside of their personal realms to reach “additional” people…and I’m wondering what’s being done, if anything significant, in that regard vis-a-vis Agribusiness. Whether anything’s even on the horizon. Possible.

  12. william said on November 6th, 2007 at 5:54am #

    In your last comment you have uncovered the real culprits behind the many ills that our civilization is facing: the concepts of ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’. Ultimately, they are where the battle lies. Thank you …