As the population grows, we need to find a sustainable way to keep everyone fed. Our current arrangement is not it. From its adverse environmental effects to political corruption and everything in between, here are ten problems with our current food system.
Rampant Animal Cruelty
Our intensive food system cultivates plants and animals on an industrial scale. As a result, the animals cannot roam and consume their natural feed in most cases. Instead, they eat inappropriate rations while in cramped and unsanitary conditions. Furthermore, they are administered drugs, vitamins, minerals, and antibiotics to speed their growth and mitigate the ill effects of their mistreatment.
Destruction of Small Business Agriculture
Most of the agricultural production in our food system is done by a small number of huge companies. These megacorporations have the capital to invest in proprietary, genetically engineered seeds, advanced machinery, and hi-tech processing equipment. As a result, small-scale, traditional farms cannot keep up. Moreover, since scale brings efficiency per unit, large operations can afford to sell their products at lower prices, further undermining small businesses.
Astronomical Resource Consumption
Innovation has led to a per-unit decrease in resource consumption over the past seven decades. However, the absolute resource drain from the food system is staggering. Industrial farming consumes nutrients, fossil fuels, and freshwater more than any other human activity, by far. Moreover, as the human population grows and the food system must satisfy demand, total resource consumption will continue to rise.
Increasing Environmental Pollution
The byproducts of our food system have a highly destructive effect on the environment. For example, chemical pesticides, herbicides, and animal waste pollute the land and water. Furthermore, erosion and over-farming render land unusable at a high rate. Concurrently, agriculture and food production emit over 70% of human-produced greenhouse gas, causing severe harm to the atmosphere.
Growing Health Concerns
As the food system pollutes the environment, the environment damages human health. The chemical content in the atmosphere, water, and soil poses serious health risks. Furthermore, people consume the dangerous herbicides and pesticides used on food. Finally, many illnesses are becoming harder to treat because bacteria grow more resistant to the common antibiotics that treat livestock.
Many of the foods we eat come from monocropped land bereft of nutrients. While the food may provide enough calories for subsistence, it does not provide the essential minerals we need. Moreover, our meat, fish, and poultry are fed cheap and inappropriate foods, and the quality of animal products suffers in turn.
Demand May Outstrip Supply
The population is growing faster than expected. The U.N. believed that our food production would need to increase 60% by 2050; however, they have revised their estimate. They think we will have to double food production, yet all the evidence suggests the rate of production increase is tapering off.
Crops Are Used for Non-Food Purposes
The last three decades have seen an increase in ethanol and biofuel production. Although there are some environmental benefits to using these fuels, people often ignore the external costs. For example, ethanol requires a vast amount of arable land. The pollution and destruction from intensive corn farming far outweigh the benefits of fuel that burns only slightly cleaner. The corn should be used as food or not farmed at all.
Centralized Control of the Food Supply
Fewer and fewer companies increasingly control food production, processing, and retail. This consolidation has negative social and economic consequences, especially in countries where labor is easily exploited. Furthermore, large companies often flout government regulations with impunity, participating in corrupt dealings to increase profit.
Funding for Innovation Is Not Distributed Evenly
More efficient, eco-friendly, and healthy techniques are only available in countries that can afford to fund development. This disparity means less affluent societies are falling further behind. Moreover, industrial farming drives most innovation, and it allocates less money to alternative forms of production. As a result, promising sustainable food production methods like vertical farming, synthetic proteins, and aquaponics are under-researched.
- Ethics are important. Supporting vegan initiatives, or even becoming vegan, can go a long way toward eliminating animal cruelty. It is also a more sustainable manner of consumption.
- Get your food from small, traditional producers. It will be more nutritious from farms that let livestock graze wild and rotate crops appropriately.
- Support transparency and accountability. Consider avoiding foods from megacorporations that engage in predatory labor practices, flout regulations, and exploit the environment for profit.