Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
uncomfortable politics may be, agricultural debates cannot
be discussed honestly without including politics. To ignore
political issues about food is to dismiss as irrelevant those who
make political arguments, and this topic endeavors to take all
arguments—and all people—seriously.
Don't worry, this is not a topic about conservatives versus
liberals. What is most important in explaining the political
side of agricultural controversies is not one's political party,
but one's attitude towards large corporations. It is striking
how often the world “corporation” appears in topics and docu-
mentaries by food activists. For this reason, the words “conser-
vative” and “liberal” will not appear in subsequent chapters,
but the term “corporation” will be used throughout.
It is interesting that liberals dislike big business and con-
servatives dislike big government, because agriculture in
modern democracies consists of both. Agriculture used to
consist mostly of small farmers, small craftsmen supplying
their inputs, and small businesses distributing food to con-
sumers. From the Middle Ages to the early nineteenth century
about 90  percent of the population labored on farms. Today
that percentage is less than 2  percent. Agricultural produc-
tion has not fallen, though. Amazingly, it has risen because
the average farm has increased in size, and more importantly,
soared in productivity. This rise in productivity is partially
attributable to the dramatic increase in efficiency and innova-
tive technology fostered in part by what we today call “agri-
business.” Chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, synthetic
growth hormones, and better crop and livestock genetics have
increased the amount of food each farmer can produce.
The vast majority of our food has passed through at least
one large corporation between the farm and the fork, and for
those who distrust big business, this fact can create an atmo-
sphere of suspicion. Why are large farms and corporations so
dominant in food? One reason is economies of scale, whereby
a firm can produce each unit at a lower cost the more of those
units it produces. Studies have shown that large Illinois farms
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