The failure of modern industrial agriculture

Categories: Big picture
Published on: March 14, 2015

Dollars & Sense / John Ikerd / March/April 2015

Dollars Sense 0315coverAgricultural industrialization has had a devastating effect on the quality of rural life. Industrial agriculture has replaced independent family farmers with a far smaller number of farm workers, most of whom are paid poorly. In 1960, farmers were still more than 8% of the U.S. workforce. They are less than 1% today. Rural communities have suffered both economically and socially from this loss of traditional farm families. More than 50 years of research demonstrates that communities supported by small to mid-size family farms are better places to live, both economically and socially, than are communities dependent on large farming enterprises.

Perhaps most important, industrial agriculture has failed in its most fundamental purpose: providing food security. The percentage of “food insecure” people in the United States is greater today than during the 1960s—early in the current phase of agricultural industrialization. Furthermore, the industrial food system is linked to a new kind of food insecurity: unhealthy foods. A recent global report by 500 scientists from 50 countries suggested that “obesity is [now] a bigger health crisis than hunger.”