Week 7 Commodity Crops and CAFOs


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  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xThSnJb8miQ – clip from documentary Food Inc.
  • From beer to frozen yogurt to candies to cake mixes to hot sauces to mayonnaise to salad dressing to vitamins
  • Non-food items – toothpaste, cosmetics, disposable diapers, trash bags, cleaners, batteries, magazines & compostable products…Non-visible additives on food items – vegetable wax, pesticides, coating in cardboard it was shipped in…Buildings – wallboard, joint compound, linoleum, fiberglass, and adhesives…
  • Processed food –The more complex your food system, the more you can practice “substitionalism” without altering the taste or appearance of the product (i.e. switching from corn to soybean to sunflower oil dependent on price)Add months, even years, to shelf life allowing to market globallyFarmer will see only 4 cents of every dollar spent on corn sweeteners – ADM, Coca-Cola and General Mills capture most of the rest
  • more fertilizer than most plants - more than half of all of the synthetic fertilizers are applied to corn = fossil fuels into food –
  • more fertilizer than most plants - more than half of all of the synthetic fertilizers are applied to corn = fossil fuels into food OR if prices didn’t recover, he could keep the money he’d borrowed and give the gov’t his corn which would go into a “ever-normal granary”
  • high grain prices hit supermarkets = all-time high. “Reengineering the American food system, driving down prices and vastly increasing the output of American farmers. What had long been the dream of agribusiness (cheaper raw materials) and the political establishment (fewer restive farmers) now became official government policy.”
  • Biggest privately held corporation in the world = CargillNeither company sells products directly to consumers
  • made meat possible which used to be a special occasion in American homes – so cheap and abundant that many eat it as many as 3x a day
  • Colorado FactsThere is one factory farmed hog for every 5 people in Colorado.There is one beef cattle on an industrial feedlot for every 5 people in Colorado.The average Colorado hog factory farm has more than 30,800 hogs — about six times larger than the national average.The more than 181,000 beef cattle on industrial feedlots in Yuma County, Colorado produce as much untreated manure as the sewage from the Los Angeles and Atlanta metro areas combined.The more than 295,000 beef cattle on industrial feedlots in Weld County, Colorado produce as much untreated manure as the sewage from the New York City and Chicago metro areas combined.The 1.1 million beef cattle, 862,900 hogs, 108,500 dairy cows, and 3.7 million egg-laying hens on factory farms in Colorado produce as much untreated manure as 151 million people — about half the U.S. population.
  • Cows raised on grass simply take longer to reach slaughter weight than cows raised on richer diet like corn – devotion now to shortening a beef animals’ life = 14 - 16 mos. Get a steer from 80 to 1,000 pounds in 14 months take a tremendous quantity of corn, protein, fat supplements, and new drugs
  • Feeding ruminant protein to ruminants – FDA makes an exception for blood products; initially thought of “protein as protein” and fed cow parts to cows until they discovered mad cow disease – banded in 1997; rules still allow feather meal and chicken litter (bedding, feces, and discarded bits of feed) are acceptable cattle feeds, as are chicken, fish, and pig meal
  • 4 giant meatpacking companies (Tyson subsidiary IBP, Cargill subsidiary Excel, Swift and CO. and National) slaughter and market 4 of every 5 beef cattle born in US
  • Unnaturally rich diet of corn undermines the health of the humans who will eat it – we inhabit the same microbial ecosystem as the animals we eat, and whatever happens in it also happens to us (new strains of resistant bacteria that will someday infect us and withstand the drugs we depend on to treat that infection)
  • Old fashioned “mixed” farms – made biological sense – feed animals the waste of your crops, feed their waste products to your cropsNow animal feedlots took an elegant solution and neatly divided it into two new problems – a fertility problem on the farm (which must be remedied with chemical fertilizers) and a pollution problem on the feedlot (which seldom is remedied at all)
  • Feedlot wastes also contain heavy metals and hormone resides, persistent chemicals that end up in waterways downstream (and pharmaceuticals) – endocrine disruptors - fish and amphibians exhibiting abnormal sex characteristics
  • Liquid manure – why manure not sprayed on neighboring farms – N and phosphorus levels are so high that spraying crops would kill them.
  • "Dead zones" are areas within waterbodies where oxygen becomes severely depleted when massive algae colonies--fed by nutrient-rich manure and other agricultural waste--die off. The oxygen-depleting algae decomposition process has disastrous results for fish and other aquatic life. This fishkilloccured on the Neuse River in North Carolina an area of intensive factory farming.
  • "In September 1999, almost immediately after receiving two strikes from Hurricane Dennis, Hurricane Floyd came roaring through Eastern North Carolina. In his path lay nearly 2,000 factory farm cesspools loaded with hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic fecal waste, wastewater treatment plants, factories and communities, many of which were in the flood plain."
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utB4BHFW-zs - The Rise of Industrial-Scale Chicken Production
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCE08GpBtLg - How Chicken Litter Becomes a Water Pollutant
  • Week 7 Commodity Crops and CAFOs

    1. 1. The carbon we are made of (unless you eat primarily organic food) originates from corn plants
    2. 2. Citric and lactic acid; glucose; fructose; maltoxdextrin, ethanol, sorbitol, and mannitol, and xanthan gum; modified and unmodified starches; dextrins and cyclodextrins and MSG… form of corn
    3. 3.  1/5th of the corn from elevator     travels to a wet milling plant Wet milling - very energy intensive way to make food 5 gallons of water to process a bushel of corn Dent corn – high fructose corn syrup, food starch, ethanol and animal feed Waxy corn – stabilizers, thickeners, and emulsifiers for food industry
    4. 4.  What if the corn crop fails?  We are omnivores and need many different nutrients  A lot of energy is used to produce corn in the first place
    5. 5. EVENTS What happens? What is generally UNSEEN PATTERNS & TRENDS What’s been happening? What are the trends? What changes have occurred? UNDERLYING STRUCTURES, ORGANIZATIONS What influences the above patterns? MENTAL MODELS: Assumptions, values... What assumptions do people have about the above? L E A R N I N G
    6. 6.  Hybrid corn is “greediest of plants” – needs high N  50 gallons of oil per acre of corn (pesticides, fertilizers, tractors, transportation…)  Bushel of corn is ~ $1 beneath the true cost of growing it
    7. 7. BEFORE 1970 – New Deal Farm Program  Actually supported prices and limited      production Target price based on corn production If prices dropped – farmers could take out a loan, use corn as collateral, store grain until prices recovered Farmers give up corn OR pay back loan Ever-normal granary – averted overproduction; kept the market from further weakening Prices climbed – gov’t sold corn from granary – helped pay for farm program
    8. 8. TODAY (AFTER 1970)  Big Ag (Food processors and grain     exporters) profit from overproduction and low crop prices Earl Butz – The Shift to Cheap Corn! Replaced New Deal System with a direct payment to farmers (commodities) = removed the floor under the price of grain New subsidies encouraged farmers to sell their corn at any price since gov’t would make up the difference CHEAP “JUNK” FOOD
    9. 9.  Farm income has steadily declined along with corn prices - forcing millions of farmers deeper in debt  Perpetual downward cycle – farmers destroy the land trying to squeeze a few more bushels from the soil yet the bushels each farmer produces lowers the price of corn  Demand for food isn’t elastic – people don’t eat more because food is cheap  Elevator is the only buyer in town - only pays for corn and soybean – not broccoli or lettuce… The market tells farmers to grow corn and soybeans  Subsidy checks represent half of the net farm income today – treasury is really subsidizing the buyers of the cheap corn (Cargill, Coca-Cola, Archer…)
    10. 10. OVERPRODUCTION…  Need to find people and animals to consume it  Cars to burn it  New products to absorb it  Other nations to import it
    11. 11.  Factory farms  Industrialization of our food system  Obesity epidemic  Prevalence of food poisoning  Mexico loosing their farms because of imported corn (cheaper and flooding in from the north) Paradox – “Getting rid” of corn surplus could contribute to both obesity and hunger.
    12. 12.  Provide the pesticide and fertilizer  Operate most of the grain elevators  Broker and ship most of the exports  Perform the wet and dry milling  Feed the livestock / slaughter the     corn-fattened animals Distill the ethanol Manufacture HFCS Help write the many rules that govern the whole game = considerable influence over US Ag. policies True beneficiaries of the “farm” subsidies that keep the river of cheap corn flowing
    13. 13.  A gathering of animals to feed on cheap corn  Vegetation and grasses absent from animal diets  Animals confined for 45 days or more a year
    14. 14.  We inhabit the same microbial ecosystem as the animals we eat  New strains of resistant bacteria that will someday infect us may withstand the drugs we depend on to treat that infection  Whatever happens to this system happens to us  Unnaturally rich diet of corn undermines the health of the humans who eat it
    15. 15.  Each cow requires 150 gallons of water a day for       drinking and the removal of waste Water Pollution – ammonia, phosphorous, pathogens and parasites, bacteria, viruses, algae blooms, apoxia… Air pollution – respiratory diseases, nitrogen, odors Creation of new super viruses Contaminated drinking water Contaminated crops Loss of property value