“We have to have food.”
How many times have you heard that? They’re the five magic words most favored by defenders of “modern” agriculture — the Alice in Wonderland world that’s turned farms into factories and animals into machines.
Simple, basic, indisputable truth. And, in the opinion of at least one expert: “BS.”
That last is not a scientific term, but it comes to you from a scientist. One you’ve met before. We call him “Dr. V.” He’s a veterinarian and a certified top level dairy cow expert who works for the US Department of Agriculture at a leading university. Because the university has ties to factory farms, Dr. V prefers to remain anonymous.
But he won’t remain silent when it comes to the five magic words.
“That’s BS,” he said. “OK, we have to have food, but conventional farming is using more resources to produce a little amount of food when we could produce ten times more a different way. It’s just wasteful.”
“Conventional farming” is defined by Dr. V as regular, commercial, industrialized farms, as opposed to small, old school farms that could be organic. And if we know what’s good for us, Dr. V says organic is the future.
“A conventional farmer needs to use water, oil, land, seed, fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides, and all of these are really expensive, not only because they cost money but because when we use these resources, we can’t replace them,” he said. “They’re not renewable.
”Organic farmers don’t need as much oil, because they’re not pumping poop all over the place and hauling poop all over the place. They need lime, but the seeds they use they’ll produce themselves. They need fertilizers but not in the amount of the conventional farmer, and when they do use fertilizers they use them in a good way. They use pesticides and fungicides, but those pesticides don’t use oil to produce. All conventional farms are based on oil. We are reaching the point where we’re going to more money, getting the oil than we’re going to get from it.
“So if organic farms produce more food with less input, which do you think is going to be better in the long run?”
The long run gets short shrift, though, when today’s profits trump tomorrow’s conservation. It’s that way in most businesses, and it’s especially true with CAFOs, which are Dr. V’s area of special expertise.
“If you put any kind of animal in a concentrated condition, and if you feed that animal just a limited variety of food, you are just creating ideal conditions for a disease breakout,” he said. “So why are you telling me now that concentrating these animals in a very small area with very high density is good?
“The only reason is money, because we are turning animals into machines and because we want to make a farm into a factory. We want to standardize the animals and their production so we can have a perfect product. Money is the only reason, and it’s not working because the fertility of those animals is decreasing and the disease outbreaks are increasing. They are lasting less.
“If I buy a cow today and put it on my land and milk it twice a day, that cow can last 20 years. If I put it on a dairy farm, it can last 11 or 12 years. But the average age of a CAFO cow is three to four and a half. And now think about the amount of money and time you put into that cow.”
Dr. V thinks about those things all the time. He’s a veterinarian not a mathematician, but when it comes to cows, he’s more than able to do the arithmetic.
He points out that conventional farmers use ten pounds of food to produce one pound of beef cow, and only 60% of the cow is meat.
“People will consume 20 to 30% of that meat, and 50% of that is being wasted. he said. “Is that how we’re going to feed the world?”
As Dr. V sees it, not for long.