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Topic Objectives

I. What is food security and why is it difficult to attain?

Many people in less-developed countries have health problems from not getting enough food, while
many people in more-developed countries suffer health problems from eating too much.
The greatest obstacles to providing enough food for everyone are poverty, corruption, political
upheaval, war, bad weather, and the harmful environmental effects of industrialized food production.
1. Define food security. Note the main cause of food insecurity. Define malnutrition, chronic
undernutrition or hunger, and overnutrition. List factors that can reduce childhood hunger and
malnutrition. Compare numbers of people who suffer from not getting enough to eat versus getting too
much to health.

II. How is food produced?

High-input industrialized agriculture and lower-input traditional agriculture have greatly increased food
1. List the three systems that supply most of our food. Describe the trends in world food production since
1950. Distinguish between two forms of industrialized agriculture and the two main types of traditional
agriculture. Describe the environmental impacts of agriculture. List the ways that industrialized
agriculture violates the principles of sustainability.
2. Describe the two green revolutions. Note the limitations of the green revolution. Note other ways of
maintaining and increasing food production.
3. Define soil. Describe how soil is formed, causes of soil depletion and the rate of soil replacement.
4. Distinguish cross-breeding from genetic engineering. Describe the controversy over genetically-
modified organisms (GMOs).
5. Distinguish traditional meat production from industrialized meat production. Describe the current
status of global meat production and its limitation. Note the relationship between meat production and
fishing. Explain how sustainable meat production can be achieved.
6. Describe trends in the world fish catch since 1950. Assess the potential for increasing the annual fish
catch. Outline the major causes of overfishing. Evaluate the potential of aquaculture for increasing fish
and shellfish production.
7. Describe the energy requirements of industrialized food production.

III. What environmental problems arise from industrialized food production?

Future food production may be limited by soil erosion and degradation, desertification, irrigation water
shortages, water and air pollution, climate change from greenhouse gas emissions, and loss of biodiversity.
1. Describe the problems of topsoil soil erosion, soil degradation, and desertification. Describe the
problems of excessive irrigation, salinization and waterlogging of soils and how they can be controlled.
2. Describe how agriculture contributes to air pollution and projected climate change.
3. Describe major losses in biodiversity caused by food and biofuel production. Define agrobiodiversity.
4. List the arguments of the two sides of the controversy over genetically engineered foods. Describe the
connections between GM crops and organic food prices.
5. Describe limitations to expansion of the green revolution. List harmful environmental effects of
industrialized meat production and aquaculture, including the connection between corn, ethanol and
ocean deadzones.

IV. How can we protect crops from pests more sustainably?

We can sharply cut pesticide use without decreasing crop yields by using a mix of cultivation techniques,
biological pest controls, and small amounts of selected chemical pesticides as a last resort (integrated pest
1. Define pests and pesticide, and list five types of pesticides. Distinguish between broad-spectrum and
narrow-spectrum pesticides. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of modern synthetic pesticides.
2. Discuss the contribution of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring to the modern environmental
3. Note that target insects can become resistant to pesticides. Define integrated pest management (IPM).
Analyze the pros and cons of using IPM as an alternate strategy to chemical pesticides.
V. How can we improve food security?
We can improve food security by reducing poverty and chronic malnutrition, relying more on locally grown
food, and cutting food waste.
1. Describe two methods used by governments to encourage food production. List three programs
focused on children that could improve food security.

VI. How can we produce food more sustainably?

We can produce food more sustainably by using resources more efficiently, sharply decreasing the harmful
environmental effects of industrialized food production, and eliminating government subsidies that promote
such harmful impacts.
1. List ways to reduce soil erosion and to restore soil fertility. Describe soil erosion in the Philippines and
the connection between corn, ethanol and soil conservation. Compare use of organic and inorganic
2. List ways to reduce soil salinization and desertification.
3. Note approaches to mitigating the harmful effects of modern agriculture. Explain sustainable
agriculture, and list a few strategies that can be used to transition into a sustainable agricultural system.
4. Describe ways to produce meat more efficiently and the effects of eating less meat.
5. Describe the effects of buying locally grown food and cutting food waste.


I. What is food security and why is it difficult to attain?

A. Many people suffer from chronic health and malnutrition.
1. Food security means having daily access to enough nutritious food to live an active and healthy
2. One of every six people in less-developed countries is not getting enough to eat, facing food
insecurity—living with chronic hunger and poor nutrition, which threatens their ability to lead
healthy and productive lives.
a. The root cause of food insecurity is poverty.
b. Other obstacles to food security are political upheaval, war, corruption, and bad weather,
including prolonged drought, flooding, and heat waves.
3. To maintain good health and resist disease, individuals need fairly large amounts of
macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and smaller amounts of micronutrients—
vitamins and minerals.
4. People who cannot grow or buy enough food to meet their basic energy needs suffer from chronic
undernutrition, or hunger.
5. Many suffer from chronic malnutrition—a deficiency of protein and other key nutrients, which
weakens them, makes them more vulnerable to disease, and hinders the normal physical and
mental development of children.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2010, there were an
estimated 925 million chronically undernourished or malnourished people.
6. Many people do not get enough vitamins and minerals.
a. Many people suffer from a deficiency of one or more vitamins and minerals,
usually vitamin A, iron, and iodine.
b. Some 250,000–500,000 children younger than age 6 go blind each year from a
lack of vitamin A, and within a year, more than half of them die.
c. Lack of iron causes anemia which causes fatigue, makes infection more likely,
and increases a woman’s chances of dying from hemorrhage in childbirth.
d. One of every five people in the world suffers from iron deficiency.
e. Chronic lack of iodine can cause stunted growth, mental retardation, and goiter.
f. Almost one-third of the world’s people do not get enough iodine in their food and water.
g. According to the FAO and the WHO, eliminating this serious health problem would cost the
equivalent of only 2–3 cents per year for every person in the world.
B. Many people have health problems from eating too much.
1. Overnutrition occurs when food energy intake exceeds energy use and causes excess body fat.
2. People who are underfed and underweight and those who are overfed and overweight face similar
health problems: lower life expectancy, greater susceptibility to disease and illness, and lower
productivity and life quality.
3. Globally about 925 million people have health problems because they do not get enough to eat,
and about 1.1 billion people face health problems from eating too much.
4. About 68% of American adults are overweight and half of those people are obese.
5. Obesity plays a role in four of the top ten causes of death in the United States—heart disease,
stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

II. How is food produced?

A. Food production has increased dramatically.
1. About 10,000 years ago, humans began to shift from hunting for and gathering their food to
growing it and raising animals for food and labor.
2. Today, three systems supply most of our food.
a. Croplands produce mostly grains.
b. Rangelands, pastures, and feedlots produce meat.
c. Fisheries and aquaculture (fish farming) provide us with seafood.
3. About 66% of the world’s people survive primarily by eating three grain crops—rice, wheat, and
corn. Only a few species of mammals and fish provide most of the world’s meat and seafood.
4. Since 1960, there has been an increase in global food production from all three of the major food
production systems because of technological advances.
a. Tractors, farm machinery and high-tech fishing equipment.
b. Irrigation.
c. Inorganic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, high-yield grain varieties, and industrialized
production of livestock and fish.
B. Industrialized crop production relies on high-input monocultures.
1. Agriculture used to grow crops can be divided roughly into two types:
a. Industrialized agriculture, or high-input agriculture, uses heavy equipment and large amounts
of financial capital, fossil fuel, water, commercial inorganic fertilizers, and pesticides to
produce single crops, or monocultures.
i. Major goal of industrialized agriculture is to increase yield, the amount of food produced
per unit of land.
ii. Used on about 25% of the world’s cropland, mostly in more-developed countries, and
produces about 80% of the world’s food.
b. Plantation agriculture is a form of industrialized agriculture used primarily in tropical less-
developed countries.
i. Grows cash crops such as bananas, soybeans, sugarcane, coffee, palm oil, and vegetables.
ii. Crops are grown on large monoculture plantations, mostly for export to more-developed
c. Modern industrialized agriculture violates the three principles of sustainability by relying
heavily on fossil fuels, reducing natural and crop biodiversity, and neglecting the conservation
and recycling of nutrients in topsoil.
C. Traditional agriculture often relies on low-input polycultures.
1. Traditional agriculture provides about 20% of the world’s food crops on about 75% of its
cultivated land, mostly in less-developed countries.
2. There are two main types of traditional agriculture.
a. Traditional subsistence agriculture supplements energy from the sun with the labor of humans
and draft animals to produce enough crops for a farm family’s survival, with little left over to
sell or store as a reserve for hard times.
i. In traditional intensive agriculture, farmers increase their inputs of human and draft-animal
labor, animal manure for fertilizer, and water to obtain higher crop yields, some of which
can be sold for income.
b. Many traditional farmers grow several crops on the same plot simultaneously, a practice
known as polyculture.
i. Crop diversity reduces the chance of losing most or all of the year’s food supply to pests,
bad weather, and other misfortunes.
ii. Crops mature at different times, provide food throughout the year, reduce the input of
human labor, and keep the soil covered to reduce erosion from wind and water.
iii. Lessens need for fertilizer and water, because root systems at different depths in the soil
capture nutrients and moisture efficiently.
iv. Insecticides and herbicides are rarely needed because multiple habitats are created for
natural predators of crop-eating insects, and weeds have trouble competing with the
multitude of crop plants.
v. On average, such low-input polyculture produces higher yields than does high-input
D. A closer look at industrialized crop production.
1. Farmers can produce more food by increasing their land or their yields per acre.
2. Since 1950, about 88% of the increase in global food production has come from using high-input
industrialized agriculture to increase yields in a process called the green revolution.
3. Three steps of the green revolution:
a. First, develop and plant monocultures of selectively bred or genetically engineered high-yield
varieties of key crops such as rice, wheat, and corn.
b. Second, produce high yields by using large inputs of water and synthetic inorganic fertilizers,
and pesticides.
c. Third, increase the number of crops grown per year on a plot of land through multiple
4. The first green revolution used high-input agriculture to dramatically increase crop yields in most
of the world’s more-developed countries, especially the United States, between 1950 and 1970.
5. A second green revolution has been taking place since 1967. Fast-growing varieties of rice and
wheat, specially bred for tropical and subtropical climates, have been introduced into middle-
income, less-developed countries such as India, China, and Brazil.
a. Producing more food on less land has helped to protect some biodiversity by preserving large
areas of forests, grasslands, wetlands, and easily eroded mountain terrain that might otherwise
be used for farming.
6. Largely because of the two green revolutions, world grain production tripled between 1961 and
7. People directly consume about 48% of the world’s grain production. About 35% is used to feed
livestock and indirectly consumed by people who eat meat and meat products. The remaining 17%
(mostly corn) is used to make biofuels such as ethanol for cars and other vehicles.
E. SCIENCE FOCUS: Soil Is the Base of Life on Land.
1. Soil is a complex mixture of eroded rock, mineral nutrients, decaying organic matter, water, air,
and billions of living organisms, most of them microscopic decomposers.
2. Soil formation begins when bedrock is slowly broken down into fragments and particles by
physical, chemical, and biological processes, called weathering.
3. Soil, on which all terrestrial life depends, is a key component of the earth’s natural capital. It
supplies most of the nutrients needed for plant growth and purifies and stores water, while
organisms living in the soil help to control the earth’s climate by removing carbon dioxide from
the atmosphere and storing it as organic carbon compounds
4. Most soils that have developed over a long period of time, called mature soils, contain horizontal
layers, or horizons.
5. The roots of most plants and the majority of a soil’s organic matter are concentrated in a soil’s two
upper layers, the O horizon of leaf litter and the A horizon of topsoil.
6. In most mature soils, these two layers teem with bacteria, fungi, earthworms, and small insects, all
interacting in complex ways.
7. Porous mixture of the partially decomposed bodies of dead plants and animals, called humus, and
inorganic materials such as clay, silt, and sand.
8. The B horizon (subsoil) and the C horizon (parent material) contain most of a soil’s inorganic
matter, mostly broken-down rock consisting of varying mixtures of sand, silt, clay, and gravel.
9. The spaces, or pores, between the solid organic and inorganic particles in the upper and lower soil
layers contain varying amounts of air (mostly nitrogen and oxygen gas) and water.
10. Although topsoil is a renewable resource, it is renewed very slowly, which means it can be
depleted. Just 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) of topsoil can take hundreds of years to form, but it can be
washed or blown away in a matter of weeks or months when we plow grassland or clear a forest
and leave its topsoil unprotected.
F. Crossbreeding and genetic engineering produce varieties of crops and livestock.
1. Crossbreeding through artificial selection has been used for centuries by farmers and scientists to
develop genetically improved varieties of crops and livestock animals.
a. Such selective breeding in this first gene revolution has yielded amazing results; ancient
ears of corn were about the size of your little finger, and wild tomatoes were once the size
of grapes.
b. Traditional crossbreeding is a slow process, typically taking 15 years or more to produce
a commercially valuable new crop variety, and it can combine traits only from species
that are genetically similar.
c. Typically, resulting varieties remain useful for only 5–10 years before pests and diseases
reduce their effectiveness.
2. Modern scientists are creating a second gene revolution by using genetic engineering to develop
genetically improved strains of crops and livestock animals.
a. Genetic engineering involves altering an organism’s genetic material through adding,
deleting, or changing segments of its DNA to produce desirable traits or to eliminate
undesirable ones—a process that is also called gene splicing; resulting organisms are
called genetically modified organisms.
b. Developing a new crop variety through gene splicing is faster selective breeding, usually
costs less, and allows for the insertion of genes from almost any other organism into crop
c. Currently, at least 70% of the food products on U.S. supermarket shelves contain some
form of genetically engineered food or ingredients, but no law requires the labeling of
GM products.
d. Certified organic food, which is labeled as makes no use of genetically modified seeds or
e. Bioengineers plan to develop new GM varieties of crops that are resistant to heat, cold,
herbicides, insect pests, parasites, viral diseases, drought, and salty or acidic soil. They
also hope to develop crop plants that can grow faster and survive with little or no
irrigation and with less fertilizer and pesticides.
G. Meat production has grown steadily.
1. Meat and animal products such as eggs and milk are good sources of high-quality protein and
represent the world’s second major food-producing system.
2. Between 1961 and 2010, world meat production—mostly beef, pork, and poultry—increased
more than fourfold and average meat consumption per person more than doubled.
3. Global meat production is likely to more than double again by 2050 as affluence rises and more
middle-income people begin consuming more meat and animal products in rapidly developing
countries such as China and India.
4. About half of the world’s meat comes from livestock grazing on grass in unfenced rangelands and
enclosed pastures.
5. The other half is produced through an industrialized system in which animals are raised mostly in
densely packed feedlots and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where they are fed
grain, fish meal, or fish oil, which are usually doctored with growth hormones and antibiotics.
6.Feedlots and CAFOs, and the animal wastes and runoff associated with them, create serious
environmental impacts on the air and water.
H. Fish and shellfish production have increased dramatically.
1. The world’s third major food-producing system consists of fisheries and aquaculture.
2. A fishery is a concentration of particular aquatic species suitable for commercial harvesting in a
given ocean area or inland body of water.
3. Industrial fishing fleets harvest most of the world’s marine catch of wild fish.
4. Fish and shellfish are also produced through aquaculture—the practice of raising marine and
freshwater fish in freshwater ponds and rice paddies or in underwater cages in coastal waters or in
deeper ocean waters.
5. Some fishery scientists warn that unless we reduce overfishing and ocean pollution, and slow
projected climate change, most of the world’s major commercial ocean fisheries could collapse by
I. Industrialized food production requires huge inputs of energy
1. The industrialization of food production has been made possible by the availability of energy,
mostly from nonrenewable oil and natural gas
2. Energy is needed to run farm machinery, irrigate crops, and produce synthetic pesticides and
synthetic inorganic fertilizers, as well as to process food and transport it long distances within and
between countries.
3. As a result, producing, processing, transporting, and consuming industrialized food result in a
large net energy loss.

III. What environmental problems arise from industrialized food production?

A. Producing food has major environmental impacts.
1. Spectacular increases in the world’s food production since 1950. The bad news is the harmful
environmental effects associated with such production increases.
2. According to many analysts, agriculture has a greater total harmful environmental impact than any
human activity.
3. These environmental effects may limit future food production and make it unsustainable.
B. Topsoil erosion is a serious problem in parts of the world.
1. Soil erosion is the movement of soil components, especially surface litter and topsoil from one
place to another by the actions of wind and water.
2. Erosion of topsoil has two major harmful effects.
a. Loss of soil fertility through depletion of plant nutrients in topsoil.
b. Water pollution in nearby surface waters, where eroded topsoil ends up as sediment. This
can kill fish and shellfish and clog irrigation ditches, boat channels, reservoirs, and lakes.
3. By removing vital plant nutrients from topsoil and adding excess plant nutrients to aquatic
systems, we degrade the topsoil and pollute the water, and thus alter the carbon, nitrogen, and
phosphorus cycles.
C. Drought and human activities are degrading drylands.
1. Desertification in arid and semiarid parts of the world threatens livestock and crop contributions to
the world’s food supply.
2. Desertification occurs when the productive potential of topsoil falls by 10% or more because of a
combination of prolonged drought and human activities that expose topsoil to erosion.
3. In its 2007 report on the Status of the World’s Forests, the FAO estimated that some 70% of
world’s arid and semiarid lands used for agriculture are degraded and threatened by
D. Excessive irrigation has serious consequences.
1. Irrigation is important in boosting productivity of farms; the roughly 20% of the world’s cropland
that is irrigated produces about 45% of the world’s food.
2. Most irrigation water is a dilute solution of various salts that are picked up as the water flows over
or through soil and rocks.
3. Repeated annual applications of irrigation water in dry climates lead to the gradual accumulation
of salts in the upper soil layers—a soil degradation process called salinization that stunts crop
growth, lowers crop yields, and can eventually kill plants and ruin the land.
4. Severe salinization has reduced yields on at least 10% of the world’s irrigated cropland, and
almost 25% of irrigated cropland in the United States, especially in western states
5. Irrigation can cause waterlogging, in which water accumulates underground and gradually raises
the water table; at least one-tenth of the world’s irrigated land suffers from waterlogging, and the
problem is getting worse.
6. Excessive irrigation contributes to depletion of groundwater and surface water supplies.
E. Agriculture contributes to air pollution and projected climate change.
1. Agricultural activities create a great deal of air pollution.
2. They also account for more than 25% of the human-generated emissions of carbon dioxide and
other greenhouse gases.
3. Industrialized livestock production alone generates about 18% of the world’s greenhouse gases;
cattle and dairy cows release the greenhouse gas methane and methane is generated by liquid
animal manure stored in waste lagoons.
4. Nitrous oxide, with about 300 times the warming capacity of CO2 per molecule, is released in
huge quantities by synthetic inorganic fertilizers as well as by livestock manure.
F. Food and biofuel production systems have caused major losses of biodiversity.
1. Natural biodiversity and some ecological services are threatened when forests are cleared and
grasslands are plowed up and replaced with croplands used to produce food or biofuels, such as
2. There is increasing loss of agrobiodiversity, the world’s genetic variety of animal and plant
3. In the United States, about 97% of the food plant varieties that were available to farmers in the
1940s no longer exist, except perhaps in small amounts in seed banks and in the backyards of a
few gardeners.
4. The world’s genetic “library,” which is critical for increasing food yields, is rapidly shrinking.
G. There is controversy over genetically engineered foods.
1. Controversy has arisen over the use of genetically modified (GM) food and other products of
genetic engineering.
2. Its producers and investors see GM food as a potentially sustainable way to solve world hunger
problems and improve human health.
3. Some critics consider it potentially dangerous “Frankenfood.”
a. Recognize the potential benefits of GM crops.
b. Warn that we know too little about the long-term potential harm to human health and
ecosystems from the widespread use of such crops.
c. Warn that GM organisms released into the environment may cause some unintended harmful
genetic and ecological effects.
d. Genes in plant pollen from genetically engineered crops can spread among nonengineered
species. The new strains can then form hybrids with wild crop varieties, which could reduce
the natural genetic biodiversity of wild strains.
e. Most scientists and economists who have evaluated the genetic engineering of crops believe
that its potential benefits will eventually outweigh its risks.
f. Others have serious doubts about the ability of GM crops to increase food security compared
to other more effective and sustainable alternative solutions.
4. CONNECTIONS: GM crops and organic food prices
a. The possible unintended spread of GM crop genes threatens the production of certified
organic crops, which must be grown in the absence of such genes.
b. Because organic farmers have to perform expensive tests to detect GMOs or take costly
planting measures to prevent the spread of GMOs to their fields from nearby crop fields, they
have to raise the prices of their produce.
c. This makes it more difficult for organic farmers to compete with the industrial farming
operations that generate the GM genes in the first place.
H. There are limits to expansion of the green revolution.
5. Factors that have limited the current and future success of the green revolution include:
a. Without huge inputs of inorganic fertilizer, pesticides, and water, most green revolution and
genetically engineered crop varieties produce yields that are no higher (and are sometimes
lower) than those from traditional strains.
b. High inputs cost too much for most subsistence farmers in less-developed countries.
c. Scientists point out that continuing to increase these inputs eventually produces no additional
increase in crop yields.
d. Since 1978, the amount of irrigated land per person has been declining, due to population
growth, wasteful use of irrigation water, soil salinization, and depletion of both underground
water supplies (aquifers) and surface water, and the fact that most of the world’s farmers do
not have enough money to irrigate their crops.
e. We can get more crops per drop of irrigation water by using known methods and technologies
to greatly improve the efficiency of irrigation.
f. Clearing tropical forests and irrigating arid land could more than double the area of the
world’s cropland, but much of this land has poor soil fertility, steep slopes, or both.
g. Cultivating such land usually is expensive, is unlikely to be sustainable, and reduces
biodiversity by degrading and destroying wildlife habitats
h. During this century, fertile croplands in coastal areas are likely to be flooded by rising sea
levels resulting from projected climate change.
i. Food production could drop sharply in some major food-producing areas because of increased
drought and longer and more intense heat waves, also resulting from projected climate
I. Industrialized meat production has harmful environmental consequences.
1. Producing meat by using feedlots and other confined animal production facilities increases meat
production, reduces overgrazing, and yields higher profits.
2. Such systems use large amounts of energy (mostly fossil fuels) and water and produce huge
amounts of animal waste that sometimes pollute surface water and groundwater and saturate the
air with their odors and emitting large quantities of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the
3. Meat produced by industrialized agriculture is artificially cheap because most of its harmful
environmental and health costs are not included in the market prices.
4. Overgrazing and soil compaction and erosion by livestock have degraded about 20% of the
world’s grasslands and pastures.
5. Rangeland grazing and industrialized livestock production cause about 55% of all topsoil erosion
and sediment pollution, and 33% of the water pollution that results from runoff of nitrogen and
phosphorous from excessive inputs of synthetic fertilizers.
6. The use of fossil fuels energy pollutes the air and water, and emits greenhouse gases.
7. Use of antibiotics is widespread in industrialized livestock production facilities.
a. 70% of all antibiotics used in the United States are added to animal feed to prevent the
spread of diseases in crowded feedlots and CAFOs and to make the livestock animals
grow faster.
b. Widespread use of antibiotics in livestock production is an important factor in the rise of
genetic resistance among many disease-causing microbes.
i. Reduces the effectiveness of some antibiotics used to treat infectious diseases in
ii. Promotes the development of new and aggressive disease organisms that are
resistant to all but a very few antibiotics currently available.
8. Animal waste produced by the American meat industry amounts to about 130 times the amount of
waste produced by the country’s human population.
J. Aquaculture can harm aquatic ecosystems.
1. Advantages of aquaculture:
a. High efficiency.
b. High yield in small volume of water.
c. Can reduce overharvesting of fisheries.
d. Low fuel use.
e. High profits.
2. Disadvantages:
a. Using fishmeal and fish oil to feed farmed fish can deplete populations of wild fish. About
37% of the wild marine fish catch is used in the production of fish meal and fish oil.
b. Fish such as farmed salmon raised on fishmeal or fish oil can be contaminated with long-lived
toxins such as PCBs and dioxins. Aquaculture producers contend that the concentrations of
these chemicals are not high enough to threaten human health.
c. Fish farms produce large amounts of wastes which can pollute aquatic ecosystems and
d. Farmed fish can escape their pens and mix with wild fish, changing and possibly disrupting
the gene pools of wild populations.

IV. How can we protect crops from pests more sustainably?

A. Nature controls the populations of most pests.
1. A pest is any species that interferes with human welfare by competing with us for food, invading
homes, lawns and gardens, destroying building materials, spreading disease, invading ecosystems,
or simply being a nuisance.
2. Worldwide, only about 100 species of plants (“weeds”), animals (mostly insects), fungi, and
microbes cause most of the damage to the crops we grow.
3. In natural ecosystems and many polyculture agroecosystems, natural enemies (predators, parasites,
and disease organisms) control the populations of most potential pest species.
a. Spiders kill far more crop-eating insects every year than humans do by using chemicals.
4. When we clear forests and grasslands, plant monoculture crops, and douse fields with chemicals
that kill pests, we upset many of these natural population checks and balances that help to
maintain biodiversity.
B. We use pesticides to help control pest populations.
1. Development of a variety of synthetic pesticides—chemicals used to kill or control populations of
organisms that we consider undesirable such as insects, weeds, rats, and mice.
2. Common types of pesticides include insecticides (insect killers), herbicides (weed killers),
fungicides (fungus killers), and rodenticides (rat and mouse killers).
3. Plants produce chemicals called biopesticides to ward off, deceive, or poison the insects and
herbivores that feed on them.
4. Since 1950, pesticide use has increased more than 50-fold, and most of today’s pesticides are 10–
100 times more toxic than those used in the 1950s.
5. Use of biopesticides is on the rise.
6. Broad-spectrum agents are toxic to many pests, but also to beneficial species. Examples are
chlorinated hydrocarbon compounds, such as DDT, and organophosphate compounds, such as
malathion and parathion.
7. Selective, or narrow spectrum, agents are effective against a narrowly defined group of organisms.
Examples are algaecides for algae and fungicides for fungi.
8. Pesticides vary in their persistence, the length of time they remain deadly in the environment.
a. DDT and related compounds remain in the environment for years and can be biologically
magnified in food chains and webs.
b. Organophosphates are active for days or weeks and are not biologically magnified but
can be highly toxic to humans.
9. In the United States, about 25% of pesticide use is on houses, gardens, lawns, parks, playing
fields, swimming pools, and golf courses, with the average lawn receiving ten times more
synthetic pesticides per unit of land area than an equivalent amount of cropland.
10. In 1962, biologist Rachel Carson warned against relying primarily on synthetic organic chemicals
to kill insects and other species we regard as pests.
C. Synthetic pesticides have several advantages.
1. Proponents contend that their benefits outweigh their harmful effects.
a. Save human lives. DDT and other insecticides probably have prevented the premature deaths
of at least 7 million people from insect-transmitted diseases such as malaria, bubonic plague,
and typhus.
b. Increase food supplies by reducing food losses from pests.
c. Can increase profits for farmers.
d. They work fast.
e. When used properly, the health risks of some pesticides are very low, relative to their benefits,
according to pesticide industry scientists.
f. Newer pesticides are safer and more effective than many older ones.
i. Greater use is being made of chemicals derived originally from plants.
ii. Safer to use and less damaging to the environment than are many older pesticides.
iii. Genetic engineering is being used to develop pest-resistant crop strains and
genetically altered crops that produce natural pesticides.
E. Synthetic pesticides have several disadvantages.
1. Opponents of widespread pesticide use believe that the harmful effects of these chemicals
outweigh their benefits.
a. Accelerate the development of genetic resistance to pesticides in pest organisms.
b. They can put farmers on a financial treadmill.
c. Some insecticides kill natural predators and parasites that help control the pest populations.
d. Pesticides do not stay put and can pollute the environment.
e. Some pesticides harm wildlife.
f. Some pesticides threaten human health.
2. CASE STUDY: Ecological Surprises: The Law of Unintended Consequences.
a. In the 1950s, dieldrin (a DDT relative) was used to eliminate malaria in North Borneo. This
started an unexpected chain of negative effects.
b. Small insect-eating lizards that lived in the houses died after eating dieldrin-contaminated
insects. Cats died after feeding on the lizards. Rats flourished and villagers became threatened
by plague carried by rat fleas.
c. The WHO successfully parachuted healthy cats onto the island to help control the rats.
d. The villagers’ roofs fell in. The dieldrin had killed wasps and other insects that fed on a type
of caterpillar that was not affected by the insecticide. The caterpillar population exploded, and
ate the leaves used to thatch roofs.
e. Ultimately, both malaria and the unexpected effects of the spraying program were brought
under control.
1. CONNECTIONS: Pesticides and Organic Foods.
a. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), you could reduce your pesticide
intake by up to 90% by eating only organic versions of 12 types of fruits and vegetables that
tend to have the highest pesticide residues (peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines,
cherries, strawberries, lettuce, imported grapes, spinach, pears, and potatoes).
b. Pesticide proponents say the residue concentrations in foods treated with pesticides are too
low to cause harm.
c. Some scientists urge consumers to play it safe using the precautionary principle and buying
only organic versions of the dirty dozen foods.
2. Banned or unregistered pesticides may be manufactured in one country and exported to other
3. In what environmental scientists call a circle of poison, or the boomerang effect, residues of some
banned or unapproved chemicals used in synthetic pesticides exported to other countries can
return to the exporting countries on imported food.
4. The wind can also carry persistent pesticides from one country to another.
5. In 1998, more than 50 countries developed an international treaty that requires exporting countries
to have informed consent from importing counties for exports of 22 synthetic pesticides and 5
industrial chemicals.
6. In 2000, more than 100 countries developed an international agreement to ban or phase out the use
of 12 especially hazardous persistent organic pollutants. The United States has not signed this
international agreement.
G. There are alternatives to synthetic pesticides.
1. Many scientists believe we should greatly increase the use of biological, ecological, and other
alternative methods for controlling pests and diseases that affect crops and human health. Here are
some of these alternatives:
a. Fool the pest. A variety of cultivation practices can be used to fake out pests.
b. Provide homes for pest enemies.
c. Implant genetic resistance.
d. Bring in natural enemies. Use biological control by importing natural predators, parasites, and
disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
e. Use insect perfumes.
f. Bring in the hormones.
g. Reduce use of synthetic herbicides to control weeds.
H. Integrated pest management is a component of more sustainable agriculture.
1. Many pest control experts and farmers believe the best way to control crop pests is a carefully
designed integrated pest management (IPM) program.
2. Farmers develop a carefully designed control program that uses a combination of cultivation,
biological, and chemical tools and techniques.
3. The overall aim of IPM is to reduce crop damage to an economically tolerable level.
4. Farmers first use biological methods (natural predators, parasites, and disease organisms) and
cultivation controls (such as rotating crops, altering planting time, and using large machines to
vacuum up harmful bugs).
5. They apply small amounts of insecticides—mostly based on those naturally produced by plants—
only when insect or weed populations reach a threshold where the potential cost of pest damage to
crops outweighs the cost of applying the pesticide.
6. Broad-spectrum, long-lived pesticides are not used, and different chemicals are used alternately to
slow the development of genetic resistance and to avoid killing predators of pest species.
7. A well-designed IPM program can reduce synthetic pesticide use and pest control costs by 50–
65%, without reducing crop yields and food quality.
8. IPM can also reduce inputs of fertilizer and irrigation water, and slow the development of genetic
resistance, because pests are attacked less often and with lower doses of pesticides.
9. Disadvantages of IPM:
a. It requires expert knowledge about each pest situation and takes more time than does using
conventional pesticides.
b. Methods developed for a crop in one area might not apply to areas with even slightly different
growing conditions.
c. Initial costs may be higher, although long-term costs typically are lower than those of using
conventional pesticides.
d. Widespread use of IPM is hindered in the United States and a number of other countries by
government subsidies for using synthetic chemical pesticides, as well as by opposition from
pesticide manufacturers, and a shortage of IPM experts

V. How can we improve food security?

A. Use government policies to improve food production and security.
2. Agriculture is a financially risky business because farmers have a good or bad year depending on
factors over which they have little control: weather, crop prices, crop pests and diseases, loan
interest rates, and global markets.
3. Governments use two main approaches to influence food production:
a. Control prices.
b. Provide subsidies.
4. To improve food security, some analysts urge governments to establish special programs focused
on saving children from the harmful health effects of poverty.
a. Immunizing more children against childhood diseases.
b. Preventing dehydration from diarrhea by giving infants a mixture of sugar and salt in water.
c. Preventing blindness by giving children an inexpensive vitamin A capsule twice a year.

VI. How can we produce food more sustainably?

A. Reduce soil erosion.
1. Soil conservation involves using a variety of ways to reduce soil erosion and restore soil fertility,
mostly by keeping the soil covered with vegetation.
2. Some of the methods farmers can use to reduce soil erosion:
a. Terracing and contour planting are ways to grow food on steep slopes without depleting
b. Strip cropping involves planting alternating strips of a row crop (such as corn or cotton) and
another crop that completely covers the soil, called a cover crop (such as alfalfa, clover, rye,
or a grass-legume mixture).
c. Alley cropping, or agroforestry involves one or more crops planted together in strips or alleys
between trees and shrubs, which provide shade.
d. Farmers can establish windbreaks, or shelterbelts, of trees around crop fields to reduce wind
e. Conservation tillage farming by using special tillers and planting machines that drill seeds
directly through crop residues into the undisturbed soil.
f. Retire the estimated one-tenth of the world’s marginal cropland that is highly erodible and
accounts for the majority of the world’s topsoil erosion.

B. Restore soil fertility.

1. Topsoil conservation is the best way to maintain soil fertility, with restoring some of the lost plant
nutrients being the next option.
2. Organic fertilizer from plant and animal materials.
a. Animal manure: the dung and urine of cattle, horses, poultry, and other farm animals adding
organic nitrogen and stimulating the growth of beneficial soil bacteria and fungi.
b. Green manure: consists of freshly cut or growing green vegetation that is plowed into the
topsoil to increase the organic matter and humus available to the next crop.
c. Compost is produced when microorganisms in soil break down organic matter such as leaves,
crop residues, food wastes, paper, and wood in the presence of oxygen.
3. Organic agriculture uses only organic fertilizers and crop rotation to replenish the nutrients.
4. Synthetic inorganic fertilizers are usually inorganic compounds that contain nitrogen, phosphorus,
and potassium.
a. Inorganic fertilizer use has grown more than 900% since 1950, and it now accounts for about
one-fourth of the world’s crop yield.
b. These fertilizers can run off the land and pollute nearby bodies of water and coastal estuaries
where rivers empty into the sea.
c. They do not replace organic matter. To completely restore nutrients to topsoil, both inorganic
and organic fertilizers should be used.
C. Reduce soil salinization and desertification.
1. One way to prevent and deal with soil salinization is to reduce the amount of water that is put onto
crop fields through use of modern efficient irrigation.
d. Drip, or trickle irrigation, also called microirrigation, is the most efficient way to deliver small
amounts of freshwater to crops precisely.
e. These systems drastically reduce freshwater waste because 90–95% of the water input reaches
the crops.
a. By using less freshwater, they also reduce the amount of harmful salt that irrigation water
leaves in the soil.
2. Reducing desertification is not easy because we can’t control the timing and location of prolonged
droughts caused by changes in weather patterns.
3. We can reduce population growth, overgrazing, deforestation, and destructive forms of planting,
irrigation, and mining, which have left much land vulnerable to soil erosion and thus
4. Work to decrease the human contribution to projected climate change, which is expected to
increase severe and prolonged droughts in larger areas of the world during this century.
5. Restore land suffering from desertification by planting trees.
D. Practice more sustainable aquaculture.
1. Open-ocean aquaculture.
2. More consumers choose fish species that feed on plants rather than on other fish.
3. Polyaquaculture operations raise fish or shrimp along with algae, seaweeds, and shellfish in
coastal lagoons, ponds, and tanks.
E. Produce meat more efficiently and eat less meat.
1. Meat production and consumption account for the largest contribution to the ecological footprints
of most individuals in affluent nations.
2. If everyone in the world today was on the average U.S. meat-based diet, the current annual global
grain harvest could sustainably feed only about one-third of the world’s current population.
3. More sustainable meat production and consumption involves shifting from less grain-efficient
forms of animal protein, such as beef, pork, and carnivorous fish produced by aquaculture, to more
grain-efficient forms, such as poultry and herbivorous farmed fish.
4. Eating less meat by having one meatless day per week.
5. Healthier to eat less meat.
6. Replace meat with a balanced vegetarian diet.
F. Shift to more sustainable food production.
2. Industrialized agriculture produces large amounts of food at reasonable prices, but is unsustainable
because it:
a. Relies heavily on fossil fuels.
b. Reduces biodiversity and agrobiodiversity.
c. Reduces the recycling of plant nutrients back to topsoil.
3. More sustainable, low-input agriculture has a number of major components.
a. Organic farming.
i. Sharply reduces the harmful environmental effects of industrialized farming and
our exposure to pesticide residues.
ii. Encourages more humane treatment of animals used for food and is a more
economically just system for farm workers and farmers.
iii. Requires more human labor than conventional industrial farming requires.
iv. Yields can be lower but farmers do not have to use or pay for expensive
synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, and they usually receive higher
prices for their crops.
b. Organic polyculture.
i. A diversity of organic crops is grown on the same plot. For example, a
diversified organic vegetable farm may grow forty or more different crops on
one piece of land.
ii. Use polyculture to grow perennial crops—crops that grow back year after year
on their own.
iii. Helps to conserve and replenish topsoil, requires and wastes less water, and
reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides.
iv. Reduces the air and water pollution associated with conventional industrialized
c. Shift from using imported fossil fuel to relying more on solar energy for food production.
4. SCIENCE FOCUS: The Land Institute and Perennial Polyculture.
a. Over 3 decades ago, plant geneticist Wes Jackson co-founded The Land Institute in the U.S.
state of Kansas which uses natural systems agriculture to grow a polyculture of edible
perennial plants to supplement traditional annual monoculture crops and to help reduce the
latter’s harmful environmental effects.
b. Benefits of this approach include:
i. No need to till the soil and replant seeds each year. This reduces topsoil erosion
and water pollution from eroded sediment, because the unplowed topsoil is not
exposed to wind and rain.
ii. Reduced need for irrigation because the deep roots of such perennials retain
more water than do the shorter roots of annuals.
iii. Little or no need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and thus little or no
pollution from these sources.
iv. Perennial polycultures also remove and store more carbon from the atmosphere,
and growing them requires less energy than does growing crops in conventional
5. CONNECTIONS: Corn, Ethanol, and Food Riots
a. Some call for ending U.S. government subsidies for growing corn to make ethanol fuel for
cars and for returning about one-fourth of all U.S. cropland to food production.
b. Corn ethanol production has to be subsidized because it takes about as much energy to grow
the corn and convert it to ethanol as we get by burning the ethanol.
c. The recent shift to growing more corn to feed cars instead of people has also increased corn
prices and led to food riots in some low-income, corn-importing countries such as Mexico,
Indonesia, and Egypt.
6. Five major strategies to help farmers and consumers make the transition to more sustainable
a. First, greatly increase research on more sustainable organic farming and perennial
polyculture, and on improving human nutrition.
b. Second, establish education and training programs in more sustainable agriculture for
students, farmers, and government agricultural officials.
c. Third, set up an international fund to give farmers in poor countries access to various types of
more sustainable agriculture.
d. Fourth, replace government subsidies for environmentally harmful forms of industrialized
agriculture with subsidies that encourage more sustainable agriculture.
e. Fifth, mount a massive program to educate consumers about the true environmental and
health costs of the food they buy. This would help them understand why the current system is
unsustainable, and it would help build political support for including the harmful costs of food
production in the market prices of food.
G. Buy locally grown food, grow more food locally, and cut food waste.
1. Increase sustainability by buying more of our food locally or at least regionally grown, in other
words “becoming a locavore.”
2. Participate in community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs in which they buy shares of a
local farmer’s crop and receive a box of fruits and vegetables each week during the summer and
3. People can plant gardens and raise chickens in suburban backyards.
4. In cities, they grow food in vacant lots, on rooftops, in window boxes, and in raised beds in
unused or partially used parking lots (a growing practice known as asphalt gardening).
5. People can sharply cut food waste as an important component of improving food security.

Discussion Topics
1. What are the different agricultural systems and their history of development? Use a few of the following
issues in your discussion: one crop or livestock species; green revolution; crops with designer genes;
politics of American agriculture; feedlot beef cattle production in the Corn Belt; range livestock production
in the American West; urban growth and the loss of prime cropland; modern food storage and

2. What environmental impacts occur from traditional and industrial agricultural practices and how could
organic farming help improve sustainability?

3. How do food distribution, environmental conditions, and politics play a role in the history of great famines?
What is the best way to manage food distribution for foreign aid?

4. What have been some of the problems facing our fishing industry, and how is aquaculture playing a bigger

5. What are the benefits and the detriments of pesticides? Discuss pesticides as hazardous waste; pesticide
hazards to agricultural workers; chlorinated hydrocarbons; organophosphates and carbonates; pyrethroids
and rotenoids; biological amplification of persistent pesticides; DDT and malaria control; Agent Orange;
the Bhopal accident; pesticide residues in foods—which do you prefer: unblemished fruits and vegetables
that may contain pesticide residues or blemished fruits and vegetables without pesticide residues?; pesticide
runoff as a threat to agriculture; evaluating pesticide advertising.

6. What are alternatives to pesticide? How does integrated pest management (IPM) work?
7. How have regulations shaped our agricultural practices? Include Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and
Rodenticide Act; Food Quality Protection Act and organic farming; loss of prime farmlands to developers;
farm laborers in your response.

8. What is the relationship between the soil quality, the climate, and food production/quality?