Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Disagree with Dr. B?

The following posted in response to this post:  Reports of the Earth’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated

I wondered if I would ever disagree w Dr. B. In this case, I do. Industrial agriculture achieves its incredible outputs at great ecological cost - I don't think even Dr. B could argue that point. Among other things, we have an industrial food chain that cost shifts both the environmental costs and the cost of production - that is to say, the low cost we pay at the point of sale hides the real costs of these foods due to the market distorting interventions of the USDA.

The ecological damage of the current USDA manipulated agricultural model is based on a crude oil made into fertilizer system which makes the land unusable for any other purpose, and delivers significant pollution to streams, rivers and the Gulf of Mexico (which, as commons, are not defended well as they would be if they were private property). The industrial model also requires the use of significant irrigation, the long term consequence of which is inarguable over-salinization and therefore sterilization of the land; it has been known since biblical times that 'salting' ruins the agricultural potential of land.
If the USDA/industrial model emerged as a result of markets, I would have some reason to believe it is the best available option, but since it is the direct result of USDA manipulations, and the agricultural cartels (which have undue influence over the more than 150,000 employees of the USDA), there's every reason to believe there are more sustainable methods of agricultural production which might well be both less expensive at the point of sale, but also would produce higher quality food, and have a less negative ecological impact (or positive impact). One excellent example of an alternative farm, which I request that Professor Boudreaux examine, is Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm. His innovative techniques provide outstanding yields with minimal processed feed and no use of ammonium nitrate. The Polyface model does not hide or shift costs, and would beat the industrial model easily in point of sale cost if not for the interventions of the USDA which subjects his model to absurd industrial agricultural policies - making his product slightly more expensive at the point of sale, if far better in quality, than that which the USDA/industrial food chain produces. A very accessible introductory read on the topic is the imperfect but good "Omnivore's Dilemna" by Michael Pollan.
It's far too large a topic to expound upon in this post, but a massive, negative, unintended consequence of the USDA/industrial food system is that low cost at point of sale, poor quality foods - high fructose corn syrup, processed cereal grains, over processed grain fed dairy products - are rapidly driving US health care costs through the roof (hyperinsulinemia and all related 'diseases of the West' -; and the escalating HC costs have become the justification for even greater government intervention and distortions in health care markets. Isn't this always the way it goes ...
In closing - the mixed blessing of the industrial food chain as it operates now is that the very poor can buy very poor quality food at low 'point of sale' costs, but the cost of the system (in terms of total cost, ecological impact, and health impact) is both hidden and shifted. The system exists as it is due market distortions resulting from USDA interventions, including rules that violate your rights to buy food from whomever you would like to. The damage to the average American's health due to over consumption of artificially low priced, low quality food is just another cost of the USDA/industrial food system - paid in human suffering and increasing government intervention in the health care system. The USDA/industrial food production system is "stupidity gone to seed."

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