Corporate farming, at times known as agribusiness, has had a profound effect on not only the way we eat as human beings, but on the very concept as to how we look at the food. When we use the word farm, we like to think of the classic painting of mom & pop in front of the red barn with a pitchfork and happy little cows in the background.
Nothing of course, could be further from the truth. Today's agribusiness is one, smooth, streamlined process, designed for getting maximum profit from minimal effort. It doesn't stop at the production, but in fact moves onto the distribution aspect of food as it gets to our table. The problem with this concept of course is that by reducing the actual number of companies that produce our food, it limits the diversity of the food being produced, and if one of these great agribusinesses should stop functioning, a great deal of the food chain could be threatened.
Environmentally, of course, when things are streamlined for profit, there is often a great cost. Because larger machines are needed to harvest and process food, the effects of these machines billow diesel byproducts into the air. They are expensive to purchase and maintain, especially as technology becomes more and more integrated to them.
One of the worst cases of environmental abuse is by Cattle farming, and specifically I refer to a case in Ohio (citation 1, below) where on a 185 acre farm, cow feces were stacked on a concrete pad that heaped as tall as a basketball hoop. This particular farm generated 131,000 TONS of Manure per year.
Other examples (citation 2, below) follow:
In California, the majority of nitrate production occurs from the agriculture industry, toxifing 100,000 square miles of ground water.
Nitrates produced by Hog Farming in Oklahoma destroyed ground and well water systems in 2001 requiring the company doing the damage to provide drinking water to nearby residents.
Open air, 'lagoons' at times larger than a football field are prone to spilling and bursting. In 1995 once such lagoon burst and spilled 25,000,000 gallons of waste into the, New river in North Caroline, killing an estimated 10,000,000 fish and caused 364,000 acres of wetland to shell fishing.
What can we do?
Be aware of where your food comes from. Whenever possible try to buy from local farms. Not only will you be able to speak with the actual persons who have created your food, you'll be putting your hard-earned money back into the local economy. This is not to say that local farmers aren't in it to make a buck, but at least you'll have some clue as to where your money is going. Remember, you're the consumer. You can vote with your dollars and purchases to make sure the food you buy has a less damaging impact on the environment.
Citations and References:
(1) The supersizing of America's livestock farms
For cheaper grocery prices, are we risking our health, the environment and squeezing out small farmers?
By Mike Wagner and Ben Sutherly
Dayton Daily News
(2) NRDC:Facts about pollution from Livestock Farms
The Meat You Eat: How Corporate Farming Has Endangered America's Food Supply Isbn 0312325355
CORPORATE AGRIBUSINESS RESEARCH PROJECT
Contract Farming article on the impact of these practices in India:
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American meal
Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World