Mad Cow and sustainable agriculture

Ryan at Ryan at
Mon Apr 8 17:08:48 MDT 1996

One of the interesting side issues of the Mad Cow story is how little
attention is paid to the horror stories about the downside of chemically
assisted farming. During the drafting of Farm Bill 1995, several reports came
out about farmers and their families getting sick, miscarriages, livestock
dying without explanation, infection and pests becoming resistant to
treatments, and water and soil contamination.

Some farmers have been trying to break the stranglehold of chemically
assisted and heavy debt mega-farming for smaller, diverse and healthier
farms. Legislation continues to strongly favor the expansionist model of
farming which means more acreages, technology, chemicals and capital
investments. Farmers that opt for a sustainable operation are resisted. They
are penalized by all the government programs and even some farm
organizations. Land grant universities are little more than private research
labs for big agribusiness interests and have very little information to
offer. (Although this is slowly starting to change.) Most sustainable
operations have started using rotational grazing practices from New Zealand

At the macro level, agriculture is one of the most concentrated industries.
Three companies control 75% of the market in beef. Four companies worldwide
control 90% of the world grain trade. Companies like Cargill want to keep
production maximized and keep prices down so they can sell more product
overseas where they make more profits.

Independent and sustainable producers get lower prices for their livesock
than their larger competitors, and meet frustration trying to find
alternative markets. They have met some and increasingly successful options
like Community Supported Agriculture and farming cooperatives. There is some
hope for this small movement of farmers that want to provide healthier
alternatives but their future really depends on changing the laws and current
markets that conflict with their approach.

Sally Ryan

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