Agricultural Elephant in the Room

This article originally appeared on Counterpunch.

Editor’s Note: DGR does not necessarily agree with all the opinions of the author. We find it very important though to raise a public discourse about big agriculture. (Monocultural) agriculture is the cradle of civilization and remains one of the most destructive practices of this culture. Continuing this practice will inevitably lead to collapse. DGR therefore strongly supports building small scale, local alternatives like permaculture/horticulture.

By Evaggelos Vallianatos

I find it strange Americans and, especially, scientists and politicians talk so little, if at all, about agriculture. And yet agriculture gives us food and, surreptitiously, threatens the future.

Vast number of Americans live in large cities like New York, Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Miami, Atlanta, San Francisco and Lost Angeles. These cities have great museums and, possibly, universities, but are agricultural deserts.

City merchants, grocers and government institutions buy most of the food they need for their large population from farmers or agribusiness, which grow food as far away from cities as they can.

The reason for the separation of the city from the country was the original sin of America: the savaging of the Native Americans and the outright theft of their land.

There was a second grabbing of land, what the British called enclosure. This time, during the twentieth century, large farmers and agribusiness put out of business small family farmers. This substantial amount of stolen land made agribusiness and large farmers kings in the countryside.

These agrarian monarchs remade rural America into toxic cornucopia gardens and feudal mills of animal feeding and slaughter, disease factories of pandemics.

Urban food deserts

This political economy employs millions of the most exploited Americans in our midst. This explains, to some degree, the illiteracy and apathy of urban people for what sustains life: food and drinking water.

Urban people don’t know how to grow food. As long as they have the money to go to the “super market,” they will continue to be divorced from life, to the point that, in fact, some have already reached, believing that bread and milk come from the refrigerator.

In other words, the scientific and political elites have signed off the end of civilization played out for millennia. They no longer worry about the quality of food and water and democracy that made civilization possible.

Political abyss

Trump was the hero of these elites. He read these sold-out Americans so clearly that he even had the audacity of launching an insurrection against the government of which he was the chief executive. This treasonous act failed, but not its underlying purpose, that billionaires own the country and its government.

These are delusions, though not to the more than seventy millions who voted for Trump. The billionaire propaganda has been so effective that these largely white Americans bought whole sale the lie of Trump that the Democrats stole the election.

The uneasy peace after the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters is unlikely to last for long. Biden’s reconciliation, his olive branch to the Republicans, will not bring Americans together.

Any rich madman becoming president or, quite possibly, ambitious military men or billionaires will come back to the Capitol with much better organized insurrections.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a warning, Wednesday, January 27, 2021, that the assault on the Capitol is inspiring more of the same attacks by “ideologically-motivated violent extremists” to “target elected officials and government facilities.”

Apparently, this leaves the Republican senators indifferent. Most of them are against putting Trump on trial. This nearly guarantees that the planned February 2021 Senate trial of Trump will declare him innocent of treason.

A result of this nature will forever be a stain on the history and reputation of this country. The United States will not be able to even pretend it’s a democracy. Moreover, it will inspire the next insurrectionists, unleashing conflicts resembling civil wars.

America is like the Roman Empire, which spent decades fighting civil wars as a prelude to actually becoming a monarchy. But, in contrast to the Roman army fighting with bows and arrows, the American army possesses nuclear weapons. This makes a real civil war unthinkable, thought the Republican politicians would love a civil war to kill the so-called leftists and socialists.

Big agriculture

This civil war-like atmosphere all but freezes agriculture to what it is: a giant extractive factory producing very large amounts of food for humans and food animals.

This factory is fueled by petroleum and petroleum-based pesticides, which wipe out honeybees, birds, and small animals, threatening and killing biodiversity, and wrecking ecosystems.

Pesticides, in addition, end up in the food people and food animals eat, thus spreading diseases like cancer and neurological disorders.

This anthropogenic toxic agriculture becomes almost science fiction and literally invisible in the animal enclosures holding about nine billion hogs, chicken, and cattle, all scheduled to be slaughtered for the satisfaction of the American palate.

However, in their short life of perpetual feeding, these animals are forced to conditions resembling those of an inferno of mountains of excrement, filth, brutality, and disease.

The 2020 coronavirus pestilence most likely escaped from these sardine can-like prisons of animals all over America and the so-called industrialized world.

The ag elephant in Biden’s oval office

I am not sure Biden is aware of this domestic agricultural nightmare. I sent him a letter outlining the emergency conditions that need remedy. Probably, he never saw my letter / article.

His climate change program promised to put America back to the Paris Agreement, revoking the license of the Keystone Canadian pipeline, and ending leasing federal land for the extraction of oil and gas.

Moreover, Biden’s executive orders on climate change promised the termination of government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and tried weaving climate concerns throughout the federal government.

These are necessary but modest steps in the right direction. Biden is open to small changes in agriculture, feeding more children, even eliminating hunger, which in 2020 touched fifty million Americans.

But where are the drastic changes necessary to convert agriculture to a life-supporting biological, social, and economic activity?

Biden picked the Obama Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, for agriculture. This man, however, is an agent of big agriculture, not a friend of remaking rural America democratic or a supporter of small family farmer who grows food without pesticides, genetic engineering, sludge, or radiation.

Agriculture remains America’s invisible hope and threat.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of 6 books, including Poison Spring with Mckay Jenkings.

4 thoughts on “Agricultural Elephant in the Room”

  1. This article seems somewhat hastily written, The only point that jumps out at me, however, is when the author says “In other words, the scientific and political elites have signed off the end of civilization played out for millennia. They no longer worry about the quality of food and water and democracy that made civilization possible.” Clearly, during the millennia following the original founding of civilization democracy has played a very minor role, and certainly did not make civilization possible.
    That said, it’s not a bad read, if somewhat lacking in originality.

  2. The article has disappointingly little to do with agriculture, and is mostly about American politics. To return to the supposed subject:

    Several years ago, I had a long conversation with Howard Lyman, the Montana farmer whose appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show led to both of them being sued for defamation by the Texas cattle industry.

    Lyman’s father wanted him to get an agriculture degree from Montana State University. Lyman came home denouncing the education he had just received, where he was taught that economical livestock management consists of limiting animals to the smallest space in which they can exist without inducing madness or pandemics, feeding them maximum doses of hormones, antibiotics, and genetically engineered food, and slaughtering them on the day they reach “maturity” as meat machines.

    It’s a safe bet that any chicken whose remains you find on grocery shelves died on its 49th day of life — that being the industry standard for chicken marketing. When baby chicks hatch in factory farms, they’re put on conveyor belts, where they are separated by gender, with the economically useless males being dumped into a bin to suffocate, and then be rendered into “poultry by-products.”

    “Free range” chickens are raised in huge barns, with all their food and water inside, and one door open at the and of the barn, which is half the size of a football field. Chickens are physically capable of walking out onto a hypothetical “free range.” A few chickens look out at something vaguely resembling “Nature.” Buf they rarely walk down the ramp, for fear of being left out to starve.

    Animal rights activists often take clandestine videos of “down cows” (animals that can’t stand anymore) being scooped up by forklifts, to be dumped alive onto trucks, and be rendered into “animal by-products.”

    The U.N. estimates that within a few decades, 80% of all humans will live in cities, so that the maximum amount of increasingly barren cropland can be used for agriculture. Industrial agriculturalists even boast that it’s theoretically possible to feed 10-12 billion humans, rather than intelligently and humanely preventing this end game scenario through birth control. Instead, we blindly watch and do nothing, on the lame argument that family planning is a human right. The underlying argument is that religions thought up for moral control, 3000-5000 years ago, teach that invisible deities demand that we reproduce like rabbits until the world collapses under human weight and stupidity.

    And thanks to the popes, imams, and evangelists, we’re almost there.

  3. Thank you for drawing attention to the cruelty of the factory farming of animals. Likewise to the root cause lying in overpopulation.

  4. Agriculture per se is the problem and always has been. “Big” agriculture and monocultural agriculture are merely worse versions of it. The problem is not “threatening and killing biodiversity, and wrecking ecosystems,” those are symptoms. The problems are agriculture, which among other things created massive gross overpopulation; and overconsumption, which resulted in agriculture in the first place (in this instance “overconsumption” means killing anything you don’t eat, and humans don’t kill the plants and animals that they kill to plant crops).

    Civilization was made possible by agriculture. DGR is supposedly opposed to civilization. Therefore, DGR should be opposed to agriculture. I realize that some at least one of the leaders of DGR envisions some sort of pastoral future with cattle, but this would be just as destructive as anything. What should be envisioned is a future with exponentially fewer humans living simply and naturally as hunter/gatherers and focusing on expanding their consciousness, not harmfully & unnaturally manipulating the physical/natural world with things like agriculture.

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