Hey again everyone!
For my second round of research in this cycle, I will be continuing my study of the modern food industry, and how it affects biodiversity and human social constructs. In this post, I will be specifically discussing the effect that the food industry has on biodiversity, and how it is affecting the environment.
To begin this research, we first must understand what biodiversity is, and how it has changed over the decades. Biodiversity is defined as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.” (1) So, in other words, biodiversity one of the cornerstones of life on Earth, and creates variation among individual organisms, species, and entire ecosystems. So, it's very, very important. Unfortunately, biodiversity has been decreasing in recent years for numerous reasons; many of which are directly and indirectly caused by the food industry. The first example that I will be discussing is deforestation, and how the food industry greatly exacerbates this problem. Agricultural growth is estimated to be the direct cause of approximately 80% of deforestation worldwide. In Latin America, commercial agriculture is the main direct driver, responsible for 2/3 of all deforestation, while in Africa and Asia agriculture accounts for 1/3 of deforestation. (2)
Farmers cut down forests to create more space to plant crops and to allow livestock to graze. Often, small farmers will clear a few acres by cutting down trees and burning them in a process known as slash and burn agriculture. Deforestation can have a very negative impact on the environment, as it causes a loss of habitat for millions of species. 80% of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and many of them are not capable of adapting fast enough to rapid changes in their habitats. Deforestation also impacts climate change. Soil in the forest is generally moist, but without cover from trees shielding the ground from the sun, this soil will dry out quickly. Trees also help to maintain and regulate the water cycle through returning water vapor to the atmosphere. Without trees to perform these tasks, many former forest lands can quickly become barren deserts, and will not be able to support wildlife inhabiting that area. (3)
Another factor that impacts biodiversity is pollution, with one of the main causes being factory farming. Research has shown that factory farming’s crowding and confining of animals before killing them and mass-production of animal products poses a real threat to public health, and damages the environment. Factory farms put together tens or hundreds of thousands of animals in confined areas, and a large operation can produce as much excrement as a small city. In fact, this amounts to about 130 times more excrement than is produced by the entire human population every year. For hundreds of years, farmers have used manure from animals to fertilize their fields to improve crop growth, but factory farms produce far more waste than the land around them is able to absorb, making it very difficult to safely eliminate this toxic by-product. Animal waste is very different from human waste, as it is not processed like sewage, making it approximately 500 times more concentrated than our waste is. This allows pathogens like e-coli and salmonella to remain intact, along with harmful agricultural chemicals such as pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. Of all the chemicals applied in the U.S. every year, about 37 percent is used to grow crops for animals raised for human consumption. (4,5) This hazardous waste is the cause of land, water, and air pollution, and is one of the great contributors to the loss of biodiversity in this world.
All forms of pollution pose a serious threat to biodiversity, but pollution caused by the food industry is a major and increasing cause of biodiversity loss and ecosystem dysfunction. So, how can we resolve this critical problem regarding biodiversity? The answer to this question is to resolve the numerous problems in the food industry. If we can do this, then it is would be a monumental step to righting many of the wrongs that we see in the way that business of food production is conducted in our world.
In my next round of research, I will be discussing how the food industry affects human social constructs, and how it has accelerated the Westernization of global culture.
As always, if you have any questions, suggestions, or concerns, please leave me a comment! Thanks for reading!