Modern agriculture is a profoundly unnatural system that has widespread consequences on the global biosphere. This system requires mass conversion of Earth’s diverse natural habitats to single-purposed, biologically depleted farmland. Modern agricultural applications and practices such as GMOs, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, deforestation and monocropping directly cause major environmental issues including soil degradation, biodiversity loss, water pollution, ocean dead zones, water crises, greenhouse gases and more. The final result is the production of highly processed food and animal products at the expense of human health and animal welfare.
50% of Earth’s habitable land (or roughly 30% of Earth’s land surface) is used for agriculture; 77% of that is for livestock, either as grazing land or feed 1
In order to create farmable land, natural ecosystems are replaced through deforestation or habitat destruction. This altered land supports less microbial, fungal, plant, and animal biodiversity.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, global tree cover has gone from 50 million to 40 million square kilometers. Roughly 15% of this loss has been in the past 25 years 2
There has been a 20% decline in average abundance of terrestrial native species, mostly since 1900 3
In order to maintain farmable land, undesired species are killed with pesticides, while crops are genetically modified to be immune. These chemicals destroy life and spread into the larger ecosystem contributing to soil degradation, insect decline, water pollution, and more.
Globally, we use approximately 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides per year 4
Because the soil is depleted from nutrients, farmers must rely on synthetic fertilizers at significant cost to the environment. They require immense amounts of fossil fuels to produce, release nitrous oxide, and create ocean dead zones as fertilizer runoff promotes excessive algae growth that depletes the water of oxygen.
As the largest consumer of water resources globally, modern agriculture is directly linked to water crises around the world. It redirects freshwater that would otherwise go to natural ecosystems and people to the production of livestock feed. The remaining local water systems are often polluted by agricultural runoff: manure, fertilizers, and pesticides.
75% of the world’s freshwater resources are devoted to crop or livestock production 3
Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions—methane is released by livestock, nitrous oxide from fertilizers, and carbon dioxide from deforestation.
25% of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions come from land clearing, crop production and fertilization, with animal-based food contributing 75% of that 3
Animal agriculture breeds disease. In order to counteract disease proliferation, intensive animal farms apply high amounts of antibiotics which lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria. There is a constant risk of animal-to-human transmission of new infectious diseases.
Roughly 70% of antibiotics sold in the US are used in animal agriculture 5
Also important are the ethical issues regarding the suffering and abuse of intensive-farmed animals, mostly hidden to the general public. The subjugation and treatment of sentient beings in intensive farms is simply cruel.
Lastly, modern food production is very inefficient.
Around a third of the world’s food is lost or wasted every year 6
All of this paints a clear picture: modern food production is unsustainable.
“Animal Agriculture” https://ponadr.blog/2019/10/11/animal-agriculture/
“On Meat Consumption and Society” https://ponadr.blog/2020/02/06/on-meat-consumption-and-society/
“The Deal with GMOs and Organic Food” https://ponadr.blog/2019/11/22/the-deal-with-gmos-and-organic-food/
- https://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/chart-shows-worlds-land-used/ https://ourworldindata.org/crop-yields
- https://ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment https://www.ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf