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Sustainable Agriculture

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Most farming done today is industrial. Agriculture has been relying a lot on synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides, large amounts of water, and factory style practices for raising livestock and crops. Artificial hormones in milk, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, mad cow disease, and large-scale outbreaks of potentially deadly e.coli are all associated with this industrial form of food production. Sustainable agriculture is a healthy alternative to industrial farming. It involves not harming the environment, being humane to animals, giving fair pay to workers, and supporting farming communities.

There is one major dispute with sustainable agriculture and that is that the definition is more a way of life than a strict set of rules, and farmers can interpret the meaning differently. There is also no legal obligation to follow any of the criteria for sustainability, so food can be labeled sustainable when in actuality it isn't. Many terms that describe this type of food, such as natural or cage free, do not have a legal or clear definition. For example, cage-free chickens might not be raised in cages, but they could be raised in overcrowded conditions in indoor barns, which is still inhumane.

According to, sustainable agriculture has 5 main characteristics. They are: Conservation and preservation, biodiversity, animal welfare, economically viable, and socially just.

Conservation and preservation is basically the theory that, what is taken out of the environment is put back in. This is done so that we never have a risk of running out of things like water and soil. Any waste from sustainable farming goes directly back into the farms it came from. Farmers use manure as fertilizer for their crops. This eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers and avoids the pollution problems associated with manure lagoons (Sustainablefood).

Industrial farms concentrate an enormous amount of animals in a very small area, so the farms generate far too much manure to be absorbed by the land. Excess manure is stored in these manure lagoons, and is often over-applied to fields. Not only does all this manure create an overwhelming stench, it also releases hazardous gases into the air, and often contaminates local groundwater and surrounding waterways with pathogens and excess nutrients.

Sustainable agriculture also tries to be as locally based as possible. Doing this helps cut down on fuel costs. Rather than shipping food thousands of miles away, sustainable farms sell produce locally through farmers markets and farm stands. This prevents environmental damage and human health problems caused by transportation-generated pollution. Foods purchased locally are also fresher, and therefore contain more nutrients. Sustainable farms also help minimize fossil fuel consumption through techniques such as no-tillage or low-tillage farming, efficient application of manure, and crop rotation. "Small-scale, organic farming operations have been shown to use 60% less fossil fuel per unit of food than conventional industrial farms" (Sustaintable).

Sustainable farms raise many different plants and livestock on one farm because it helps to enrich the soil, which is where biodiversity comes in. Sustainable farms help preserve genetic diversity by raising a wide range of animal breeds and crop varieties. These farmers raise animals and plants that are adapted to the surrounding environment. Doing this avoids reliance upon large quantities of chemical inputs or genetically modified crop varieties. Chemical pesticides are used minimally and only when necessary. Sustainable farms often rely upon alternative pest control methods such as habitat manipulation, biological control, and use of pest-resistant plant varieties.

Animals are treated humanely and are well looked after. They are free to carry out their natural behaviors and are fed a natural diet. Factory farmed animals are crammed together in confined areas without access to sunlight, fresh air, or open pasture (Sustainablefood). Unsanitary conditions in animal confinement units cause widespread disease and aggressive behavior. Most animals never see sunlight and their feet never touch the ground.

Animals are raised without routine use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are administered only if an animal is sick. When this happens, the animal is pulled from the herd and treated, but the meat is not sold as "no antibiotics used." Every year, approximately 25 million pounds of antibiotics and related drugs are administered to animals for non-therapeutic purposes (Sustainweb). This is more than 8 times the amount used to treat disease in humans. Overuse of antibiotics is contributing to antibiotic resistance, making human medicines less effective and causing U.S. health care costs to increase by $4 billion each year (Sustainweb).

Hormones are not administered to animals on sustainable farms. This protects human health, animal health, and the natural environment, which is otherwise polluted with hormone residues contained in manure.

Sustainable farms are also economically viable.



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