DEAR DR. FOX: We read your liberal viewpoint with frustration as you blame farming for the woes of our modern culture. It is U.S. agriculture that halted global famine and increased world food production. You run around screaming like Chicken Little. Where is your effort at pushing for individuals to produce some of their own food instead of eating industrial foods?
It's not farming that is the problem. Overpopulation is the problem. You should preach about that issue. -- N.G., Pennsylvania
DEAR N.G.: I am not a "liberal," but rather a realist. You are quite correct that human overpopulation is a critical issue, along with overconsumption in more affluent countries and sectors of society. But the industrialization of agriculture has not helped feed the hungry world since its global corporatization, which has marginalized many sustainable indigenous farming practices. Farmers become corporate serfs both in the U.S. and abroad. Parity and social justice finish up on the manure heap, while those on top farm the government for more subsidies.
Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, who developed hybrid high-yield wheat to "feed the hungry world," feared corporate takeover by multinational agribusiness for exactly these reasons. For details, go to pbs.org and search for "Norman Borlaug."
Capital-intensive industrial agriculture, with its over-reliance on fossil fuels and toxic petrochemicals, is a major contributor to the climate crisis, and reducing its carbon footprint is an ethical imperative. Hundreds of thousands of acres of corn, soybeans and other crops are left bare after harvest, rather than being seeded with carbon-sequestering, soil-enriching cover crops. This is criminal neglect -- the antithesis of good land management and stewardship. Nearly all U.S. corn crops, and up to half of its soybeans, are coated with neonicotinoids -- insecticides banned in Europe in order to save the bees and other beneficial wildlife. Runoff from factory farms, containing agrichemicals and animal waste, contaminates municipal tap water and threatens public health.
Remember America's history: The genocide of indigenous Native Americans and mass slaughter of great herds of buffalo made way for the cattle barons and the romanticized cowboys, along with the sod-busters who destroyed the prairie and created the Dust Bowl. Today we waste ever more land, once protected under the USDA's Conservation Reserve program, to raise feed for livestock and poultry and for export -- especially to China. In my opinion, every high school student should read Wendell Berry's "The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture" before graduation.
Overfishing is yet another issue; the fishing industry decimates ocean ecosystems and contributes to the starvation and death of marine mammals and birds around the world.
I am a longtime supporter of organic farming; humane, sustainable agriculture; community-supported farmers markets; and communal fruit, herb and vegetable gardens for "locavores." Becoming vegan, or at least vegetarian, is one way to help heal the planet, restore wildlands and reduce the suffering of farmed animals. A plant-based diet may also lower an individual's risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19! (Hyunu Kim et al.; BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health. For details, visit ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8219480.)
DEAR DR. FOX: Thank you so much for your contributions to help our planet and its inhabitants. I have been curious about the many who have swallowed misinformation in recent years. -- J.D., Tulsa, Oklahoma
DEAR J.D.: Your words of support and encouragement are much appreciated, especially since I get many negative letters from those in denial!
It is good news that the Biden administration has reversed Trump's opening of Alaska's Tongass National Forest to large-scale logging, and has restored protections to this vital, climate-stabilizing rainforest ecosystem -- one of the largest remaining in the world. Likewise, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro must step up protection of the burning Amazon and Pantanal.
The redemption of our species and recovery of our humanity lies in restoring our relationships with nature. We must cease treating the environment as our own exclusive resource and other sentient beings as commodities, objects, pests and disposable pets.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)