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production of food products has changed dramatically over the past several years. Technological changes in machinery, increased use of better and more expedient forms of transportation, and improved fertilizers have all contributed to a more efficient food production process. This more efficient process, however, has not come with some requisite problems.
The existing system of delivering food products in the United States is a major contributor to the world's global warming problem. The largest contributor to global warming is the use of fossil fuels. One study released in 2000 estimated that nearly ten percent of all the energy used in the United States was consumed by the food industry. (Heller, 2000).
This large use of fossil fuels is generated throughout the food production and delivering industry. A large measure of this use is through the extensive reliance upon artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Although the use of these products results in increased production, the manufacturing of them requires a significant amount of energy. Producing and distributing of these products has been estimated at 5.5 gallons of fossil fuels per acre. (Fossil Fuels)
Adding to the food industry's environmental impact is the current system of food product delivery. Globalization has become a modern fact of life and it has had it impact in the food industry as well. Traditionally, the nation's diet was largely localized. Consumers were forced to rely upon the products offered within a short distance to their homes but today that has all changed. Because of technological improvements in both the production and transportation of food products American families are able to enjoy their favorite foods year round.
The convenience of having food products available year round regardless of the season has resulted in the nation's food products being transported greater distances. Wheat is distributed nationwide from the Great Plains. Corn is sent to all corners from the Midwest corn belt and nearly all the vegetables gracing American tables are grown in California's San Joaquin Valley. As a result, the average food product in the United States travels an estimated 1,500 miles from the moment it is first planted until it is ultimately consumed (Heller, 2000). The transportation of said food is estimated to have added 30,800 tons of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. (Pimentel, 2008)
The use of fossil fuels and the resulting global warming effects are not the only environmental concerns that are brought about by the production of food. Agricultural pollution is the number one cause of water quality problems in America's lakes, rivers and streams. This pollution has destroyed many of the country's ecosystems and caused the possible extinction of many creatures. A wide range of contaminants generated from agricultural activities including artificial fertilizer residues, insecticides, herbicides, pesticides and farmyard waste contribute to this pollution. The industry has made some efforts to curtail the level of its contribution to this type of pollution but, despite these efforts, agriculture remains the number one cause. (Marks, 2001)
The food industry in America is not only causing damage to our environment through its practices it is also producing and promoting food products that are causing Americans significant health problems. One of these health problems is the increased use of processed foods. Processed foods, that is, foods altered from their natural state for convenience, have become a major portion of the diet of most Americans. If it is boxed, bagged, canned or jarred it is processed. These foods, although fast and easy, are linked to obesity, have been associated with increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and general overeating. (Goldhammer. Alan) (Tsang) (Mercola) (Tsang G.R.)
90% of all the money that Americans spend on food is used to buy processed foods. These foods are readily available through fast food restaurants, grocery stores and vending machines throughout our cities and towns. The fact that these foods are so readily available and of such poor quality has led some, like associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard University David Ludwig to say that they are actually discouraging healthy eating and leading to a "toxic environment." "The food industry would love to explain obesity as a problem of personal responsibility, since it takes the onus off them for marketing fast food, soft drinks, and other high-calorie, low quality products, Ludwig says. (Wroth)
Obesity in America has reached epidemic levels. Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher claims that 300,000 Americans die each year from illnesses caused or worsened by being overweight. (New York Times, 2001) The health care industry is buckling under the estimated $117 billion cost that is associated with the care of this obese population. (General, 2007) Even more disturbing is the severe increase in the rate of obesity among children in America. (Tartamella, 2006) Food makers spend some $1.6 billion annually to reach children and other consumers through the traditional media as well as the Internet, in-store advertising, and sweepstakes. An article published in 2006 in the Journal of Public Health Policy puts the number as high as $10 billion annually. (Lewin, 2006)
Clearly one of the main reasons for the increase in obesity can be traced to massive amounts of advertising done by the food industry. Even when the industry is apparently attempting to conduct serious study into the health effects of their products the results tend to appear more like advertising. The industry profits through tax deductible dollars to create overweight consumers and leads the cost of caring for the resulting obese citizens to the rest of society.
Type 2 diabetes is sweeping rapidly through America and it is no coincidence that its rise comes on the heels of the growth of the processed food revolution. Statistically, a child born in the United States in the year 2000 has a 1 in 3 chance of contracting diabetes in his lifetime. For an African-American child this chance increases to 2 in 5 while a Latin American child has a staggering 50% chance.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that diabetes cost the United States $92 million in direct medical costs and an additional $40 billion in indirect costs such as lost worker productivity. The American Diabetes Association estimates that the disease accounts for a staggering 19% of all health spending in the United States. (Center for Disease Control, 2003) Although the food industry has acknowledged that obesity, diabetes and some possible link to cancer might be attributed to processed foods, they have not yet done anything substantive to manage the problems.
Processed foods connection to cancer is not as easily documented as its role in obesity and diabetes but there still remains strong evidence that there may be a link in the increased use of processed foods and an increase in cancer. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain cancer fighting phyto-chemicals that are not present in processed foods. These natural chemicals work to prevent oxidative damage that can lead to free radical production and cellular death. Free radicals cause membrane damage and communication between cells becomes hindered. A single cell does not receive the signal to stop, and it begins to divide and spread, leading to cancer. Processed foods lack natural vitamins and minerals that ensure proper growth, vitality, health, prevention or even cure some chronic diseases such as cancer. (O'Brien, 2009)
Further confusing the issue is the widespread abuse of the animals used by the food industry to produce their products. Prior to the twentieth century the abuse of animals used for food was not an issue. When small family farms and traditional ranching methods were used the treatment of these animals was fairly humane. Today, however, factory farms have become the norm so the systematic and prolonged abuse of animals raised for human consumption has become widespread. The vast majority of our meat and dairy products sold in grocery stores comes from animals forced to live in factory farms that impose significant stress on the animals in exchange for the financial benefits of efficiency. Animals in these facilities are forced to endure both physical and emotional abuse. This abuse takes the form of being deprived of the ability to perform behaviors inherent to their species, housed in overcrowded facilities with insufficient light, water and food and being subject to given steroids to enhance growth and antibiotics to withstand the unsanitary conditions in which they are forced to live. In the end these poor animals must then suffer through a slaughtering process that is as inhumane as the living conditions. (Eisnitz, 2006)
Specific abuses include the cramming of hens into cages so small that they cannot spread their wings and using steroids to promote growth. (The PoultrySite.com) Growth that is so rapid that it causes a chicken that would ordinarily reach full adulthood in approximately three months to do so in only three weeks. (Mench, 2001) The forced confinement of pigs and young calves in cages designed to restrict all their movement. This confinement lasts for several months and is ended with the animal being slaughtered. (Eckholm, 2010)Finally, there is the widespread use of corn as feed in…[continue]
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