In the documentary Food, Inc., narrator Michael Pollan examines the conditions and the consequences of corporate farming in the United States. He takes his audience to the industrialized animal farms and exposes the process of chicken, pork, and beef production, suggesting the industry exploits animals and is not entirely sustainably, both economically and environmentally. The film also explores the lethal consequences of meat contamination, specifically E. Coli, which results from mass-produced beef. Finally, for the latter part of the film, Pollan introduces organic farming as something that should be explored to improve food production practices. Organic farming brings many positive changes to the food industry. Animals live comfortably in an open grass field and they are fed natural products that their bodies are designed to digest; organic fruits and vegetables are grown without pesticides; workers work outdoors under the sun and fresh air. By all means, we should buy organic foods because it is obviously healthier and better for the environment; and Pollan’s documentary implies that we should get rid of corporate farming once and for all. The question is, can we really sustain our current standards of living solely with organic farming, or is it just a fantasy? This paper explores the reality of organic farming.
We will examine the issues derived from organic farming methods. For example, can we grow enough food to feed the world? Can the majority of citizens afford the higher costs for this food? Is the food as clean and healthy as we think? My preliminary research materials indicate that many households in North America can’t afford food at current prices; organic foods are even more expensive. Even if you can afford food at higher prices, my sources also show that not all organic products meet health standards. As an increasing percentage of North Americans embrace organic products, it is important that we know the truth behind them.
As the population increases, the production of food is at a relatively stable state and causing serious concern about the ability to produce enough food to feed the world’s hungry (Scialabba, 2007). So the answer is not in producing food that is manufactured in the healthiest way that should be the top priority; instead, governments need to think about imposing policies that concentrate on maximum food production methods, while keeping humane practices in mind. Three factors need to be taken seriously in order for a country to be able to feed its citizens: the availability of arable soil, population pressures, and the accessibility to water. Third World countries are particularly susceptible to the pressures of overpopulation and a lack of water and arable land (Scialabba, 2007).
One way in which humanity can ensure there is enough food for the world is to decrease the number of babies each person has. But key decision-makers have a much greater ability to control the use of natural resources and food production than to tell a couple that their baby cut-off is at two. Any effort to control food production, however, has proven futile in other countries where the attempt to more efficiently grow food while increasing its production has been undercut by population growth that is so rapid, it outweighs the effect of efficient food production. So how could a world completely owned by organically growing food be efficient enough to serve a growing, hungry population? (Scialabba, 2007).
Already, one billion people suffer from a lack of food. Approximately 400 million are chronically malnourished. Approximately 11 million children younger than 5 die each year because they are too hungry (Scialabba, 2007). To keep up with the demand for food, people must either come up with a better way to produce food or they must stick to conventional growing methods. Organically-grown food only produces an average of 80 percent of what food grown in the traditional way can produce (Letourneau and Bothwell, 2008). A Wageningen Universiteit study compared 362 published organic-conventional crops and compared the yields. The study claims that there are challenges in the upkeep of nutrients because they are unsustainable when growing organic products. There is limited availability of organic manure.
Not only is an increasing population making this planet unsustainable, but the number of these people being poor is also rising. This makes it further difficult to feed these people’s mouths. The United Nations reported that the countries most greatly affected by this suffering are South Asian, specifically India and sub-Saharan Africa. The UN anticipates the problem persisting through 2020, but predictions beyond that haven`t been committed (Global Poverty, 2009). But poverty is reaching every country on the planet, even the United States and Canada. Fewer people can afford food at current prices, let alone organic foods. Organic foods are 10 percent to 100 percent more expensive than conventionally-grown foods. However, there is no scientific proof that eating organic food has any extra health benefits. Furthermore, organic farmers also use chemicals and pesticides (Melik, 2012). Consumers today see the word “organic” on food labels and automatically assume it is healthier, a phenomenon known as the “health halo effect.” Because of this illusion, consumers perceive these products as tastier and lower in calories. They pay higher prices for them even if they do not really offer health benefits (Lee, Shimizu and Wansink, 2011). Some companies have even been caught labeling their products as organic, when they are in fact the same as the typical product on grocery store shelves.
As if the inability to meet the demand of a growing population who are increasingly poor aren’t enough to deter policy-makers away from the cultural hurrah of organic farming, it should also be noted that organic foods are not as clean as we imagined. In fact, they are full of bacteria, as organic pesticides are not as effective as conventional pesticides. Organic pesticides also don’t pass safety standards. Organic farming can also potentially increase the rate of global warming because it requires more land, water, nutrients, and manpower (Johnston, Rob). By the definition of “organic farming,” organic farms are not allowed to enrich their soils with nitrogen fertilizers, since they are produced from an industrial process. Therefore, many of these farmers rely on composted manure, which creates a perfect home for microbes such as E. coli, a lethal pathogen (Miller, 2010).
While the idea of living solely on organic farming is ideal because of its ties to treating animals humanely, providing workers with a better environment and apparent health benefits, there is not to this day a clear partnership with organic farming and feeding the world’s hungry. Developed countries should take a lesson from the situation in Third World nations, which are essentially a snapshot of what can happen in developed countries in the future. As more and more pressure is put on water sources in various nations, and the amount of arable soil makes way to development that comes with population increases, countries such as the United States and Canada could more closely resemble places like Kenya and Somalia 20, 30, 40 years from now. If greater attention isn’t given to finding an overarching solution to the hunger pains, rather than reaching for ways to only eat organically, then the list of nations that fall victim to a lack of food will grow until only the world’s richest have an ample food source (Scialabba, 2007).