By: Annette Brinckerhoff
Browsing the headlines, I notice a recurring theme concerning food, our food. That thing that we rely on to stay alive. These headlines read, “MRSA superbug found in supermarket pork raises alarm over farming risks,” or “Monsanto weed killer can ‘probably’ cause cancer: World Health Organization,” and “Bees feeding on fungicide-dosed flowers develop health issues, studies say”. As the debate continues on the use of GMO’s and the conditions and treatments of the animals we eat, real time consequences are occurring.
Antibiotics are given to livestock to prevent the spread of disease in tightly packed conditions of an intensive farm. Regardless of the debated effects of consuming these antibiotics in our food, bacteria has grown resistant to antibiotics making them useless. Increasing the dosage of antibiotics has only provided short term solutions, and has created a much bigger problem of superbugs. Superbugs are bacteria which have become resistant to antibiotics and are therefore difficult to control and eradicate. The phenomenon is not contained to a specific country or type of livestock and the bacteria for MRSA has already crossed into the human population in Denmark. Although this superbug doesn’t always have symptoms in people, it has been known to cause lethal infections like pneumonia and blood poisoning. The Danish government has countered this by reducing the amount of antibiotics by 15%, raising cleanliness standards, and providing MRSA training for farm workers.
Antibiotics in livestock are only part of the problem, agriculture is also facing huge challenges. In June, France banned the weedkiller roundup from being sold in garden centers after the WHO announced that glyphosphate was “probably carcinogenic”. A study conducted by the IARC concluded that glyphosphate, a product which for many years was advertised as safe to use by the chemical companies who sold it, actually causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Its use in private gardens, parks, children’s playgrounds, etc has since been banned because of the exposure to the common consumer.
Problems with agriculture extend beyond weedkillers and fungicides. Over 26 countries have passed GMO regulations, with a few even banning genetically modified foods all together. Despite the much debated health effects of consuming genetically modified foods, strong arguments address the environmental and social impacts. With highly toxic pesticides, which keep getting stronger as insects develop tolerances, being sprayed indiscriminately the toxic chemicals are absorbed into the soil, get washed away in the rain, and impact ecosystems they weren’t meant to touch. The chemicals degrade the top soil, making land unusable, forcing farmers to level more land for agricultural purposes. On a social level, the cycle of dependence on a few multinational corporations is daunting. With kill genes requiring farmers to buy seeds on a yearly basis, and expensive pesticides many rural, small scale farmers are pushed into a cycle of debt. Dynamics like this led to the suicides of many farmers in rural India, which pushed mass protests, and eventually to banning of GMO’s in the country.
With only a few corporations in control of the world’s food supply, it is daunting to think of how prices, distribution, and politics can get in the way of a basic resource such as food. With the benefits of GMO’s drastically inflated through the help of publicity teams, lobbyists, and politicians, and arguments warning of the harms undermined. We are what we eat, and our relationship with our food mirrors our relationship with nature. We must care about what we eat and how we produce it in order to ensure a sustainable future with food for all.