What is sustainable agriculture and why is it important?

Sustainable agriculture; “That’s farming that doesn’t have a negative effect on the environment and farm animal’s right?  “What has that got to do with me?”

Many of you might think that the way in which a farmer grows and treats his for crops for disease, or rears his animals, has no direct relevance on you or your family but this is not entirely true.

  • Pesticides
  • Fungicides
  • Pollution
  • Animal welfare
  • Food safety

These elements are affected by the farming process.

With climate change on the increase along with the sharp rise in population, it is no surprise that the world is feeling the strain when it comes to fresh food production.

Growers and farmers in Scotland have certain regulations and guidelines to follow to minimise the risks of environmental pollution not to mention the health and wellbeing of consumers.  There are also guidelines for livestock farmers that set standards for the welfare of each animal.

But wait…

How do we, as consumers, know if every farmer or grower has the interest of the humans and the environment at heart?

How do we know if guidelines are adhered too?

What can we do as consumers?

Pesticides in agriculture – are they dangerous?

Now, ask anyone what they think of pesticides and I am guessing the majority of them will have a negative view, they would be right – pesticides are poisons.

The majority of pesticides used in the UK are chemicals designed to kill and destroy insects, viruses, bacteria, plants and animals.  There are a wide range of legislative controls surrounding their sale and use in the UK however this doesn’t mean that they do not cause harm.

“A product must provide an extensive range of scientific and technical data. Through this data, they must demonstrate that the product is effective and humane and poses no unacceptable risks to people (including users, local residents and bystanders), wildlife and the environment” HSE

How do you determine if a risk is acceptable or not?

Impact of pesticides on humans and the environment

Children and babies in the womb are more susceptible to the harmful effects of chemicals because their metabolism works faster, taking on board more air, water and fluid that a fully grown adult.

Pesticides are reported to be one of the reasons for the rise in child illness, cancer, diabetes and learning disabilities.

The rise in other disease like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and reproductive dysfunction in adults has also been linked to pesticide exposure.

Are these risks acceptable?

We recently wrote about pesticides on fruit and vegetables and their effect on children – you can read this here:

Pesticides – are they dangerous to children?

How am I exposed to pesticides?

PAN UK website

PAN-UK (Pesticide Action Group) advise that exposure to pesticides can occur in many ways. Exposure can occur in agriculture, through the treatment of crops, plants and grain stores. It can occur in forestry, gardening, professional and domestic pest control and through the spraying and use of amenities e.g. our parks, pavements and playgrounds. Exposure can also occur through the treatment of wood with preservatives, the treatment of boat hulls with anti-fouling agents, and the treatment of livestock with anti-parasitic preparations, e.g. sheep dip etc. In addition, pesticide residues found on, and in, our food also puts us at risk.

Health effects of pesticides

How does farming cause pollution?

When air and soil pollution is mentioned, the commonplace assumption would be that this pollution is a result of chemical pesticides.  This would be true, in part; however the overcrowding of livestock has a big part to play in the worlds increased emissions.

Fact: Methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 on a 20 year time frame – Drew T Shindell

Livestock and methane emissions are increasingly becoming documented to be one of the main contributors to the depletion of the planet:

Are farmed animals mistreated?

With the overcrowding of animals brings with it the concerns over animal welfare.

Animal welfare is a huge topic so we are not about to try and cover it in this article.  What we will do is highlight some points and give you several points of reference to allow you to dig deeper.

We mentioned methane emissions earlier;

Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean “dead zones,” and virtually every other environmental ill. Yet it goes on, almost entirely unchallenged – Cowspiracy

Methane’s impact is 34 times greater than CO2 with the majority of its production coming from gas processing and livestock.

Naively I  thought (maybe hoped) that all farming practices in Britain today, was carried out ethically and that each and every animal was cared for. This doesn’t seem to be the case.

Cruel Britannia features footage from some of the biggest UK names in meat and dairy production. Including Cadbury’s (milk); Happy EggsBernard Matthews (turkeys); Gressingham Foods (ducks); Delamere Dairies (goat’s milk); Faccenda (chickens) and more.

There are no words to describe how truly awful these practices are…

You may remember a documentary by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall highlighting the cramps and cruel conditions that intensively farmed chickens are kept in.

Chickens that are intensivley farmed and being reared for meat are kept in conditions where there are 17 birds to each square metre of factory floor – that is less that the size of an A4 piece of paper per bird.  They can’t run free they are starved of natural light and slaughtered 39 days after they were hatched.

You can watch the whole documentary here:

Now this documentary, along with the ‘Chicken out’ campaign and backing from Jamie Oliver was over 10 years ago.  Yes, there has been some change when it comes to buying eggs; consumers now have the choice to buy battery farmed eggs, free range eggs and organic eggs but is there really much of a difference?

It has recently been reported that large supermarkets are using dubious marketing tactics to trick customers into buying intensively reared chicken

You can read more about that here:

Dubious packaging and marketing tactics by supermarkets to sell customers intesivley reared chickens

What can farmers do to help the negative effects of traditional farming?

Sustainable agriculture could be introduced worldwide and reduce, if not eliminate, the issues we have touched upon by using crop rotation and natural fertilizers.

It doesn’t stop there; at the point of harvest, fruit and vegetables are cleaned with chlorine however chlorine is ineffective, unsafe and increasingly being banned by various governments.

There are solutions on the market today that enables growers and packers to spray and fog safe chlorine alternatives onto harvested fruit and vegetables.  It is safe to the consumer and increases the shelf life of vegetables by one day.

Adding just one additional day to the life of fresh produce would save the UK 250,000 tonnes of food waste this equates to £500 million pounds annually.

By reducing the number of animals on a farm and providing space for them to roam and graze gives each one a better quality of life. It reduces the methane emissions that are a contributor to the depleting ozone.  Consumer demand also plays a large part in the meat industry so behavioral change is needed to encourage less meat consumption. Until the demand for cheap, fresh meat decreases the emissions from livestock will still be one of the largest contributors to deforestation, water consumption and pollution.

Fact: 1lb of beef takes 25,000 gallons of water to produce – Cowspiracy

Demand for water will exceed supply by 40% by 2030. This is clearly a huge problem that requires addressing before the problem is too big to handle.

Large scale water filtration and disinfection technology opens doors to the reuse of water and is an essential aspect of sustainable agriculture and the circular economy, but one which is often overlooked.

What next

Farming is a key source of income for more than a third of the world’s population (European Commission) however sustainable farming is imperative to ensuring the longevity of the world’s food resources and the health of the plant and its inhabitants.

Bridge Biotechnology are not in the business of farming, it would be beyond out remit to advise on exact changes that should be made to traditional farming practices, or the swaps that could be made with products.  However, we are concerned with the shape of the planet and the practices that are allowed to be carried out to the detriment of the humans, animals and the environment.

We have given you several resources, we would encourage you to take a look, dig a little deeper and make informed choices.

As individuals we can make changes in our day to day life to reduce the negative impacts we have on the planet. It takes for the larger bodies to make changes to the farming industry to right the current wrongs.

It might seem like a huge task, to change and improve traditional farming methods but in recent years there has been a big shift in people’s views on single use plastics.  So much so, that customers, supermarkets and producers have taken steps to reduce plastic production

What are supermarkets doing to help the current plastic crisis?

Do you think the farming industry will be able to implement changes to put the brakes on the detrimental effects of traditional methods?

Making changes in the products we use, the food we eat and how we stay healthy and active can seem like a daunting task.

Where do you start?

Where do you find the time?

Maybe you have you made some changes but don’t know what else you can do?

Our ‘Detoxify your life’ project could help you along the way; one email each month with helpful suggestions to detoxify your life one step at a time – interested?

 

We have given you a few links and resources in this article, to make it easier to find them, we have listed them here:

Sustainable agriculture for the future we want – European Commission

Cowspiracy  

News report on big supermarkets tricking customers into buying intensively reared chicken

Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall – chicken run documentary 

Cruel Britannia 

What are supermarkets doing to help the plastic crisis?

Pesticide action group (PAN UK) 

Health effects of pesticides

Viva – be kind to all kind

Cadbury's (milk)

Happy Eggs

Bernard Matthews (turkeys)

Gressingham Foods (ducks)

Delamere Dairies (goat's milk)

Faccenda (chickens) 


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