Researchers point to industrial farming and agriculture as the culprits in the next mass extinction on earth. What is industrial farming doing and why is it so dangerous?
Professor Raj Patel
The lead researcher behind the conclusion that industrial farming is going to bring about the next mass extinction is Professor Raj Patel of the University of Texas at Austin. Prof Patel is the author of “The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy” and will be a keynote speaker at the Extinction and Livestock Conference in London in October. The Extinction and Livestock Conference is put on by Compassion in World Farming and the WWF. The purpose of the conference is to address the current species loss worldwide and the imminent mass extinction.
Prof Patel believes that mass deforestation, dead zones in the sea and pillaging of fishing grounds all by giant corporations prove that they cannot be trusted with the world’s food supply and production. He explains, “The footprint of global agriculture is vast. Industrial agriculture is absolutely responsible for driving deforestation, absolutely responsible for pushing industrial monoculture, and that means it is responsible for species loss. We’re losing species we have never heard of, those we’ve yet to put a name to and industrial agriculture is very much at the spear-tip of that.”
The Last Mass Extinction
The impending mass extinction that Prof Patel and his colleagues are referring to would be the 6th mass extinction the world has seen. However, that may seem like a lot of extinctions to us as we haven’t been around for any. The last mass extinction occurred over 65 million years ago. When an asteroid strike hit earth, the last of the dinosaurs were wiped out. That asteroid strike also caused huge clouds of smoke to erupt which blocked out the sun for almost two years.
One of the issues Prof Patel brought up was dead zones. A dead zone is an area of water that doesn’t receive enough oxygen to support marine life. The marine life - both animals and plants - in the area die due to suffocation. There is currently a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that has grown to roughly the size of Wales. This dead zone is the result of fertilizer that has washed into the gulf from mainland USA farms.
Prof Patel shares his thoughts on the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, “That dead zone isn’t an accident. It’s a requirement of industrial agriculture to get rid of the sh*t and the run-off elsewhere because you cannot make industrial agriculture workable unless you kick the costs somewhere else. The story of industrial agriculture is all about externalising costs and exploiting nature.”
Another example of the devastating effects of industrial agriculture is seen on soy plantations. Prof Patel looked at soy plantations located in the Amazon and other areas of South America. He shares that many places are feeling pressure to produce soy and nothing else.
Prof Patel explains, “Various kinds of chemistry is deployed to make sure it is only soy that’s grown on these mega-farms. That’s what extinction looks like. If you ever go to a soy plantation, animal life is incredibly rare. It’s only soy, there’s nothing there for anything to feed on. And that soy is then turned into food for humans, often by passing it through cattle and chickens.”
Animals in Danger
Animals all over the world are endangered and rapidly losing population due to farming practices made popular through industrial agriculture.
In Sumatra, forests are often destroyed in order to create palm plantations. These forests are naturally home to elephants and jaguars, who are left displaced and hungry. If enough of their habitat is destroyed, their population will dwindle.
In the sea, small fish like anchovies and sardines are being pulled out of the ocean in massive numbers. These small fish are being turned into fishmeal in order to feed farmed salmon, pigs and chicken. Sadly, animals that rely on these fish for their diets, like penguins, are left to suffer and starve.