Industrialized Agriculture: Can the World Afford it?

Industrialized livestock has become the world’s largest supplier for meat and dairy products, making up more than 43 percent of total global meat production in 1996. Throughout the world however, more and more small farmers are being pushed out of the livestock market, unable to compete with multinational corporations.

In the United States ConAgra, Cargill and Tyson (formerly IBP) slaughter over 80% of all cattle. Beyond the social injustice created by large scale industries, the environmental implications are catastrophic. “E.P.A. estimates that almost half the wells and surface streams in the US are contaminated by agricultural pollutants”(Coffin 2001).

There are many reasons for the influx of corporate industrial livestock production: the world’s population has increased from 2.555 billion in 1950 to 6.228 billion in 2002; and people have been eating more meat, 2.27% more per person than in 1950.

Corporate industrial farming is growing at a tremendous speed. As the demand for cheaper and more accessible meat and dairy products rises, the market also must shift to meet that demand. Many governments have now installed subsidies for their farmers. These subsidies are mostly found in the developed nations, and are correlated with “efficiency”. This efficiency can simply be explained as, “how many animals can be crammed into the smallest space for the least cost and greatest profit?”(Shiva 2000)

These subsidies have been brought up in global trade agreements, and those countries involved have agreed to phase out their subsidies over the next few decades (Uruguay Round).

However, no real effort has been made to enforce these promises.

Also, many trade agreements like GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), which in 1995 evolved into the World Trade Organization, further remove small farmers (especially in developing nations) from being competitive in the global market because, “any restriction on imports & exports is illegal, even though such restrictions might be necessary for cultural, ecological and economic reasons”(Shiva 2000).Ê What needs to begin for livestock is less importation and exportation of goods; there should not be a global market for livestock products.