How industrial agriculture created a global environmental injustice

Isaias Hernandez

Isaias Hernandez

Isaias Hernandez is the creator of Queer Brown Vegan where he makes accessible environmental education content.

For a long time, big agribusiness has dominated our food system, focusing on economic growth and corporate gains while ignoring its long-term environmental impact. Big agribusiness was introduced during the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, seeking to expand the production of food from small-scale local farmers to large corporate businesses. Agribusiness has heavily altered ecosystems. Modern agriculture contributes to around 10.5% of greenhouse emissions in the United States. With climate change making headlines around the world, many governments are measuring the long-term environmental impact their industries are creating.

The term Agribusiness was coined in 1957 by scholars John H. Davis and Ray A Goldberg — they argued that privatizing the agriculture industry would create positive change rather than allowing the government to control the sector. Agribusiness is defined as the production of economic growth through the development of farm crops, including the production, processing, distribution, and transportation of food. While 70% of the world's food is provided by small-scale farmers, food production in the US is dominated by agribusiness. In the United States alone, agribusiness, food, and related industries generate around $1.109 trillion, making it one of the largest sectors of the economy. While agribusiness has reported making positive contributions to the world such as the production of food, employment, and lower prices for basic commodities, there are still major concerns about its environmental impact.

Modern commercialized forms of agriculture heavily rely on monocultures, the cultivation of a single crop on a large tract of land. Monocultures initially increase yields, but also heavily rely on pesticides and insecticides, and lead to soil degradation. A famous case study looked into the production of corn following corn blight in the 1970s in North America, which resulted in the destruction of 15% of crops. The disease spread due to the fact that corn was being grown at a high density, making it easily susceptible to plant diseases. Excessive usage of pesticides and insecticides has destroyed beneficial insects and bacteria that have promoted plant productivity and has led plants to be more vulnerable to catching diseases. On top of that, monocultures require high-intensity water usage for irrigation. Agribusinesses use extractive methods such as collecting water from nearby lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, thereby harming these ecosystems. With the rapid development of agribusinesses across the globe, forests are also being cleared to make room for large monocultures, which alters ecosystems by reducing species diversity.

While the world produces more food than it consumes, that food still fails to deliver high nutritional content. The fruits, vegetables, and grains that are eaten today have lost a significant amount of their vitamins and minerals, which raises questions about the current ways agricultural systems operate. Scientists have noted that there are a multitude of reasons for this issue such as usage of chemical fertilizers, monocultures, and food processing methods. While climate change is getting worse every year, scientists have strongly suggested that we should rethink monoculture practices and address the damage caused by agribusiness industries.

In order to create a system that is healthy for the environment, polyculture, agroecology, and regenerative agriculture have been suggested to combat the negative effects of monoculture. Long-term effects of industrialized agriculture are already apparent in low-income Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities, whose water and air are contaminated by the chemicals used in agriculture. Our system for food production is broken and was designed for rapid growth and corporate profits while ignoring environmental impact, thus creating not only an injustice, but also a long-term problem for the planet.

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