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Modern Agriculture


Human component: agriculture and development- Harvesting crops removes organic matter from the system.

intensive subsistence agriculture: practice that involves the effective and efficient use -- usually through a considerable expenditure of human labor and application of fertilizer -- of a small parcel of land in order to maximize crop yield.

Chinese Agroecosystem

double cropping: practice in the milder climates where intensive subsistence fields are planted and harvested more than once a year.

commercial agriculture: farming primarily for sale, not direct consumption.

green revolution: the invention and diffusion of new machines and institutions, from the core to the periphery, to increase global agricultural productivity.

Green Revolution Beneficiaries

mechanization: term applied to the replacement of human farm labor with machines.

chemical farming: application of inorganic fertilizers to the soil and herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides to crops in order to enhance yields.

agribusiness: a set of economic and political relationships that organizes agro-food production from the development of seeds to the retailing and consumption of the agricultural product.

farm crisis: the financial failure and eventual foreclosure of thousands of family farms across the U.S. Midwest.

agricultural industrialization: a process whereby the farm has moved from being the centerpiece of agricultural production to become one part of an integrated string of vertically organized industrial processes including production, storage, processing, distribution, marketing, and retailing.

food chain: five central and connected sectors (inputs, production, outputs, distribution, and consumption) with four contextual elements acting as external mediating forces (the state, international trade, the physical environment, and credit and finance).

food manufacturing: adding value to agricultural products through a range of treatments -- processing, canning, refining, packing, packaging, etc. -- that occur off the farm and before they reach the market.

food regime: specific set of links that exists among food production and consumption and capital investment and accumulation opportunities.

globalized agriculture: a system of food production increasingly dependent on an economy and set of regulatory practices that are global in scope and organization.

Agricultural patterns:
traditional vs. conventional

biotechnology: technique that uses living organisms (or parts of organisms) to make or modify products, to improve plants and animals, or to develop microorganisms for specific uses.

(The following is from Rachel's "Biotech In Trouble"--Part 1, Part 2)

Medical biotechnology is a different industry and a different story because it is intentionally contained whereas agricultural biotech products are intentionally released into the natural environment.

The government has maintained that Monsanto's "New Leaf" potato -- which has been genetically engineered to incorporate a pesticide into every cell in the potato, to kill potato beetles -- is substantially equivalent to normal potatoes . . .

. . . even though the New Leaf potato is, itself, required to be registered as a pesticide with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (See REHW #622.)

Virtually all the [fast food] chains, Procter and Gamble, Frito-Lay & Burger King are phasing out Monsanto's pesticidal potato.Hardees is presently using but is considering whether to abandon it.

According to the NEW YORK TIMES, U.S. farmers have sustained a serious financial blow because they adopted genetically engineered crops so rapidly.

In Europe, genetically engineered food has to be labeled and few are buying it.

In 1996, the U.S. sold $3 billion worth of corn and soybeans to Europe. Last year, those exports had shrunk to $1 billion -- a $2 billion loss.

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in its latest (April 2000) report on biotech foods said safety problems might include these:

GE crops: they have the potential to produce unexpected allergens and toxicants in food . . .

and the potential to create far-reaching environmental effects, including harm to beneficial insects, the creation of super-weeds, and possibly adverse effects on soil organisms.

Previously unknown protein combinations now being produced in plants might have unforeseen effects when new genes are introduced into the plants

The mechanism for creating unexpected proteins or unexpected toxins or allergens would be pleiotropy, the NAS explained [pg. 134].

Pleiotropy is the creation of multiple effects within an organism by adding a single new gene. "Such pleiotropic effects are sometimes difficult to predict," the NAS said. [pg. 134]

The NAS said that FDA, USDA and EPA all need to pay attention to such "unintended compositional changes" of genetically modified foods.

New toxins may be introduced into foods. The NAS said, "there is reason to expect that organisms in US agroecosystems and humans could be exposed to new toxins when they associate with or eat these plants." [pg. 129]  

Existing toxins in foods may reach new levels, or may be moved into edible portions of plants. (pg. 72.)

Nutritional content of a plant may be diminished. [pg. 140]  

Agricultural and environmental problems that might occur from genetically modified (GM) plants:

When a plant is genetically engineered so that the plant itself becomes pesticidal.

Pesticidal crops may affect creatures besides the specific pest they were intended to kill. The NAS says, "Nontarget effects are often unknown or difficult to predict." [pg. 136]

New chemicals in GM plants might kill predators and parasites of insect pests, thus leading to the loss of nature's own biological controls on certain pests. [pg. 74]

Fallen leaves from GM plants might change the biological composition of the soil, leading to changes in nutrient uptake into plants or even toxicity to creatures living in the soil. [pg. 75]

Plants themselves might become toxic to animals. [pg. 75]

Genes from genetically-engineered plants will escape and enter into wild species. This is called gene flow . . . Wild plants are going to receive genes from genetically modified organisms. The biotech firms are re-engineering nature without understanding the means or the ends.

Once new genetic materials are released into the environment, they cannot be retrieved. Unlike chemical contamination, biotech contamination is irreversible.

Precision Agriculture - The application of the combined technologies of Global positioning systems and Geographic Information Systems is allowing farmers to map the intimate details of their field.

Yield Mapping