NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is Your Food Making the Planet Sick?

November 23, 2010

Modern agriculture has been blamed for a host of environmental problems, including global warming, water pollution and ecosystem damage.  While growing crops and raising livestock does have significant environmental impact, in many cases the situation has been misrepresented or oversimplified, and some of the proposed solutions have been ineffective or more costly than the benefits derived, says Amy Kaleita, a senior fellow with the Pacific Research Institute. 

Critics of production agriculture contend that farmers over-apply fertilizers and that is the cause of significant water quality problems.  The agricultural and environmental data on this subject are complex, but the data mount a challenge to the fertilizer contention.

Since 1964 total pesticide use on major crops has more than doubled.

  • Water testing indicates that more than 90 percent of samples have detectable levels of one or more pesticides.
  • The impacts of pesticides are difficult to assess and few studies have been able to compare the ecological impacts of pesticides to crop protections.
  • Yet, insecticide use is a fraction of what it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

Organic food, touted as good for the earth, can actually be more environmentally risky.

  • Organic farms rely heavily on tillage, consuming energy, increasing soil carbon emissions and making erosion more likely.
  • Organic farms also use pesticides derived from botanical, mineral and biological sources, some which have the same active ingredient and control mechanism as conventional counterparts.

Agricultural production as currently practiced in the United States is not at odds with a cleaner environment.  Outcome-based policy, crafted on sound science, will enable farmers to maintain environmental quality while continuing to provide a growing global population with a high-quality diet.

Source: Amy Kaleita, "Is Your Food Making the Planet Sick?" Pacific Research Institute, November 2, 2010.


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