Hoosiers Are Sick: The Failure of Industrial Agriculture

MUNCIE, Indiana BLOG – There has been plenty of news coming from Indianapolis which has placed Indiana in a negative light. Unfortunately, all the negative news provided a smoke screen for another year of poor wellness rankings in Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index and County Health Rankings. Hoosiers lost out because they didn’t learn about our poor wellness figures, especially in Delaware County. Our state and county are bottom dwellers – we are sick and unhealthy – we are not in harmony with our surroundings. These poor rankings are symptoms of deeper problems.

What seems to be the problem?

Since we are surrounded by industrial agriculture, let’s check with a Big Ag expert, or thought leader on agricultural economics.

Several years ago, we met John Ikerd at a local farm conference. John is a professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri-Columbia and author of several books, including The Essentials of Economic Sustainability.

There’s that word again – sustainability. Harmony, wellness and sustainability are nearly synonymous.

He recently wrote an article for Dollars and Sense. It should be scrolling across Hoosier’s TV screens with the words – “Newsflash: Industrial Agriculture has Failed.

John writes:

For agriculture, the benefits of industrialization have been fewer and the costs have been greater. The reality of agriculture is in conflict with the worldview that supports industrialization. Industrialization is rooted in a mechanistic worldview: the industrial world works like a big, complex machine that can be manipulated by humans to extract natural resources and use them to meet our needs and wants. In reality, the world is an extremely complex living ecosystem, of which we humans are a part. Our well-being ultimately depends on working and living in harmony with nature rather than conquering nature. We are currently seeing the disastrous consequences of treating living ecosystems as if they were inanimate mechanisms.

Notice the highlighted sentence in the quote above, “Our well-being depends on working and living in harmony with nature…”.

With a Wellbeing ranking of 48th of 50 states, I’d say the Hoosier state is far from being in harmony with our surrounding ecosystem.

Another way of saying we are ‘not in harmony’, is we are ‘not at ease’, or ‘dis-eased’.

Merriam Webster defines ‘diseased‘ as “a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms“.

Our poor wellbeing is showing many bad symptoms. Most of them are captured by Gallup-Healthways and County Health Rankings (University of Wisconsin). You can add poverty, inequality, pollution, lack of food security, access to physical and mental health services, as well.

According to a 2013 study completed by the Canadian Medical Association, titled “What Makes Us Sick”, they found the following social determinants to be contributing toward our poor health:

  • income
  • housing
  • nutrition and food security
  • early childhood development

In addition to the above factors, they also found:

Several other social determinants of health were mentioned, such as culture, the environment, education and health literacy. Participants stressed that society, governments and healthcare providers all have an obligation to address such problems as poverty, inadequate housing and nutrition.

If industrial agriculture was such a goldmine for our state’s economy, why aren’t we all prospering?

Instead, the social determinants we keep discussing across our socio-economic grid are contributing toward our diseases.

Do any of these poor results make the front pages of our newspapers or play repeatedly on our nightly television news in Indiana?

These two statistics show Hoosiers are in last place. We are supposed to be a competitive state, so why have our leaders been so accepting of our poor performance?

From our experience with Gannett newspapers, they aren’t saying a word about it, because once you report it, Hoosiers will want to know why. The answers will offend Gannett’s top advertisers, so they bury their head in the sand. We’ve written about it countless times in Muncie Voice – most recently here, here and here.

Just recently, we had a few corporate heroes stand up for the LGBT community, but why won’t they stand up for our health. Why aren’t our nurses, doctors and hospitals marching in Indianapolis? Why won’t anybody hold our government accountable for these poor results?

On a local note, why isn’t IU Health/BMH the biggest champion of health in our community?

Nobody wants to think our medical industry is staying quiet because they profit from our poor health, but the Indiana Medical Association and the American Medical Association are some of the largest lobbying interests in the country. If they advocated for our health, our government would take notice. So would our media, but crickets.

Ikerd’s article addresses the negative impacts of Big Ag on economics, environment, quality of life and food security, which all lead back to our poor wellness rankings:

In economic terms, industrialization allows capital and technology to be substituted for workers and managers. In other words, it allows raw materials or natural resources to be transformed into more valuable products while employing fewer, lower-skilled workers—in both labor and management positions. In a world with an abundance of natural resources and a scarcity of workers, industrialization seemed a logical strategy for economic development. With increases in populations and depletion of natural resources, the economic benefits of industrialization have declined while the negative consequences for unemployment and environmental degradation have grown.

Again, if you look closely at his words, we cannot sustain this imbalance. John Ikerd is speaking of industrial farming’s negative impact on our lives, but he might as well be talking about all our systems – they are all producing more negatives than positives – we cannot sustain a society based merely on GDP growth, stock market returns, or a system that benefits 1%, while making serfs of the other 99%. We’ve gone well beyond the point of just damaging our environment. Naomi Klein and others have coined our current economic reality as “extractive capitalism”.

This extractive form of capitalism is causing a natural imbalance – we are causing more damage to selves and our environment than we gain from removing the natural resources. Not living in harmony with our environment has negative consequences like poor health, pollution, and climate change, for example. Because systems are like engines, when one or two parts start to falter, it causes all the other parts more stress. Before long, the engine won’t work properly at all.

This didn’t happen overnight. Indiana’s engine has been fallen apart for decades. The decisions being made seem to help Indianapolis and Hamilton County, while rural Indiana is ignored.

The laws being passed in Indianapolis have allowed small farms with many workers to be replaced by large farms with a few workers. The self-regulated confined animal feed lots are causing multiple levels of harms to selves and environment. These farms are contributing to the development of superbugs, overuse of antibiotics and high levels of protein in our water. Our lakes become overgrown with blue-green algae in the summer making it toxic for animals and humans.

Even though system failure lights are flashing in bright red, our government is being paid to look the other way. Instead of performing their duties of protecting the public, they have turned over Indiana to large moneyed interests. The fourth branch of government, our free and independent press, is silent.

Hoosiers are grossly misinformed and uninformed, intentionally. We are unable to act because we don’t know any better. We have no idea where our food comes from and how the animals are treated in CAFOs, mainly because Big Ag has paid large sums of money and provide boiler plate laws to prevent you from knowing. The innocent sounding ‘Right to Farm’ legislation protects these farms, instead of protecting consumers/residents/citizens. The legislators vote some of them down, but the loose regulation continues.

Bottom line; our public health; our personal wellbeing; is being sacrificed for the profit making of a few powerful and wealthy interests who funnel millions to elected officials and their parties to keep quiet. Their silence is bought, and regulations are kept at a minimum.

John’s conclusion mirrors that of many experts who are looking critically at all our failing systems:

The challenge in the United States and the so-called developed world is to create a food system that will meet the basic food needs of all without degrading its natural and human resources. Ecological and social sustainability, not just yields, is the logical motivation for organic agriculture in the so-called developed world. Globally, industrial agriculture is not needed to “feed the world.” Small, diversified farms already provide food for least 70% of the world’s population and could double or triple yields without resorting to industrial production methods.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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