Farming Ethics and the Animal Rights Debate: Part One

For most people it is impossible to think about farming and not think about animals, specifically the animals that are farmed such as chickens, cows, and pigs. Similarly it is impossible for most philosophers to think about the ethics of farming without discussing the debate over animal rights. In this blog post I shall layout the very simplest forms of this debate, and also its implications for sustainable farming.

First of all what are animal rights? This is a phrase used in many contexts but for our purposes we will define animal rights is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: “rights (as to fair and humane treatment) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all animals”.  Animal rights in the philosophical sense can have many different meanings but most would agree that put simply it is the idea that the most basic interests of non-human animals should get the same level of consideration as basic interests of human beings.

There is a range of different philosophical positions but I will discuss two of the main advocate positions: utilitarian and abolitionist, and also the main rebuttal for animal rights. The first position was laid out in a well-known article by Peter Singer. Singer first brings up the interesting idea that how we treat animals now is a discrimination, and just like other forms of discrimination it needs to be abolished.He equates it with the discrimination of the African race or women and thinks that as time goes on our moral radar screen will encompass animals as well. He also brings up an important distinction between moral equality and factual equality. For example there are some human beings better at sports, or are more intelligent, this is factual equality. Moral equality means that no matter how good you are at basketball, you get the same moral consideration. He wants us to consider the fact that an animal can suffer as being the requisite for consideration not just its sentience or ability. Singer goes on to discuss how animals show the behavioral signs associated with feeling pain, and that if we can assume infants that have no language can express pain with these types of sounds and behavior, than so can animals. He brings up a good point when he talks says, “…How many of those who support factory farming by buying its produce know anything about the way it is produced?..”. He is talking about the industrial farming practices that raise animals in such conditions that many die, or kill each other because their natural activities are so frustrated. Singer is an abolitionist which means he thinks that all killing, testing, or harming of any kind towards animals should be stopped.

Here is a neat website all about the abolitionist movement.


In my next post I will talk about the other views and my own personal view after that. However I would like to leave you with some food for thought for the upcoming view…Do you know where your food comes or what you actually eat? Also, how much do you really know already and choose to proclaim “ignorance” because it is more convenient? …more coming soon…



Of Ethics and Agriculture…

According to the,

 “The word ethics is often misunderstood, e.g. when it is identified with religion or, more narrowly, with emotion, intuition or sentiment.  All these might contribute to an ethical viewpoint (though many people do not have religious beliefs) – but defining it as ‘the science of how we should live’ puts a proper emphasis on the fact that ethics is based in reason and can be discussed openly. Bioethics deals with ethical questions that arise from our knowledge of biology and how it is used, e.g. in biotechnology.”

I am currently majoring in Biology at Winona State University. Undertaking two bachelors of Science I have learned a great deal about how animals live and plants function, and how new science and technologies are providing methods to give faster growing animals and crops. During my continuing studies I cannot stop the many questions that permeate my thoughts. While the questions about how the Earth works, from the life cycle of a fruit fly to the succession of an ecosystem are being answered; I am riddled with even more questions as to why all of this knowledge is being used solely to dominate the earth’s cycles and natural patterns instead of synthesizing and contributing to the more resilient cycle that has been in place long before we humans existed.

Personally I think we are quite arrogant and foolish in our current normative thinking of humans as being somehow superior to other forms of life. Yes, we have the ability to reason and have a high capacity for critical thinking but so far we don’t seem to use these skills in any sort of capacity that we should. We have such promise as a species, yet for all of our intelligence we will be the only species to cause its own extinction. Take for example our ever ongoing arms race with bacteria. We keep creating antibiotics to combat the adverse effects that certain bacterial infections cause us. The problem with this system is that bacteria have been around for eons longer than ourselves and can rapidly evolve to become resistant to whatever antibiotics we can create. Only human beings would have such hubris to think that we could synthetically create a worthy adversary to something that has successfully been living and evolving for 3.5 billion years. (versus our standing on the earth merely 1/2 million years…David Morrison NAI Senior Scientist June 12, 2006). This current system is why we know have ‘superbugs’ that we have no way of dealing with. Many think that pushing for more antibiotics is our only option, but there are so many alternatives out there that work better, and more importantly within the natural system. I will save the medical system rant for another post however. 🙂

Another fatal flaw in our logic is that we seem to think that there is only ever one option, to fight and to dominate. There is another and much more effective alternative however. According to Gut flora in Health and Disease, (Guarner F, Malagelada JR February 2003), …

…bacteria make up most of the flora in the colon and up to 60% of the dry mass of feces. Somewhere between 300 and 1000 different species live in the gut, with most estimates at about 500. However, it is probable that 99% of the bacteria come from about 30 or 40 species. Research suggests that the relationship between gut flora and humans is not merely commensal (a non-harmful coexistence), but rather a symbiotic relationship. These microorganisms perform a host of useful functions, such as fermenting unused energy substrates, training the immune system, preventing growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria, regulating the development of the gut, producing vitamins for the host (such as biotin and vitamin K), and producing hormones to direct the host to store fats. (

This is just one example of how humans using the accepted utilitarian, Judeo-Christian, world domination view are creating an arms race with nature, and this is a race that we cannot win. Bringing this into our key subject here we can see a similar arms race against nature in agriculture. The terrible effects that intensive farming has on the soil causes farmers to dump nitrogen and other chemicals onto the soil to keep production up. The chemicals that are dumped onto the fields are found on and in almost everything that we ingest. Our fruits and vegetables, our water supply, even the meat that you eat!

Industrial Agriculture is a reductionist philosophy. In a nutshell: the farmers, and scientists helping them reduce the productivity of crops to one nitrogen. They then feed hyper concentrated fertilizer nitrogen to the plants and bigger plants are produced. This is seen as a success but fails to see the bigger picture or consequences like the hypoxic or dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the run off of all these chemicals. It also does not take into account that plants can only uptake certain amounts of nitrogen during certain times that depend on rainfall, etc. so most of it is wasted and is leaked in high quantities into water supplies, feedstock, etc. (Union of Concerned Scientists of  Massachusetts).

Click here to visit the website that provided the above picture.

Click here to view the website where I got this information.

Agrichemical use causes contamination of groundwater reserves with poisonous pesticides or herbicides such as: Atrazine, Simazine, Dieldrin, Chlorpyriphos, Amitrol, Metolachlor, Trifluraline and Diuron Dieldrin, Lindane, and Alachlor.

Synthetic agrichemicals (and most plastics widely used in our society) are derived from oil, and thus a source of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (especially xenoestrogens) in the environment. There is also evidence to link xenoestrogens to a range of human medical concerns, particularly reproductive problems such as reduced sperm count in men and breast cancer in women.

Even the “safest” herbicides such as Roundup (glycophosphate) are now known to pose a danger to wetland ecologies, and can totally decimate frog populations at routine contamination levels.

If this is happening in America now…..

How long do you think it will take before this is happening in America….


Click here to see more about how the Chinese pollution is affecting there lives…

The problems with our current system of agriculture can be listed and discussed for an eternity. I have already outlined some of the major disadvantages in previous posts so you can review them as necessary.

Let us outline a few of the philosophical disciplines that are used in the debates within environmental ethics. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia

…Environmental ethics is the discipline in philosophy that studies the moral relationship of human beings to, and also the value and moral status of, the environment and its nonhuman contents. … (1) the challenge of environmental ethics to the anthropocentrism embedded in traditional western ethical thinking; (2) the early development of the discipline in the 1960s and 1970s; (3) the connection of deep ecology, feminist environmental ethics, and social ecology to politics; (4) the attempt to apply traditional ethical theories, including consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics, to support contemporary environmental concerns; and (5) the focus of environmental literature on wilderness, and possible future developments of the discipline.(Jan 3, 2008)…

In any literature on environmental ethics you will read about the distinction between instrumental value and intrinsic value. The former is the value of things as means to further some other ends (usually anthroprocentric ends), whereas the latter is the value of things as ends in themselves regardless of whether they are also useful as means to other ends. This basically means that instead of valuing something for what it can provide for you, you value it simply because of its own worth. For example it is often said to be morally wrong how human beings pollute and destroy parts of the natural environment and are consuming the planet’s natural resources without any thought to the consequences. The distinction that needs to be made here is why it is wrong. Is it wrong based on its instrumental value to current and future generations or is wrong because the living things within the environmant have their own rights to be respected and protected?

I am personally of the opinion that all life should be valued for its intrinsic value and not its value to humans. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic. It was refreshing to read something not quite so weighted down with the deeper language of philosophy and just glimpse into another’s mind for a moment and realize that their thoughts and ideas were similar to yours.


(Left: Aldo Leopold, Right: Christopher Stone)

I also really enjoyed reading Christopher Stone’s Should Trees Have Standing-Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. I agree with him in that Natural Objects such as rivers, and trees, and animals should have legal rights to protect them. I think most of us can agree that beating your pet dog, or making your cat homeless, or starving your horse are all morally wrong.We appreciate having laws in place to punish the people who do such unimaginable things to their pets. Why should you feel any different towards the people that are beating the soil into uselessness, making thousands of life forms homeless and extinct, and starving things like wetland ecologies?

I do not think it logically possible to believe that all living things are intrinsically valuable and not believe that all living things should have rights. I mean seriously, if we can give humans the right to sue a company for it coffee being hot, don’t you think we can give other living beings the right to live? Think about it.

All in all one could say that all of these arguments are arbitrary since it doesn’t matter why you think protecting the environment is necessary, (for the good of humanity vs. the good of all the living things themselves), the result is the same. The logic holds that the system that is currently in place will eventually kill humankind, if not our entire planet; possibly killing all living things as we know it. It all boils down to our inevitable hubris again. While we sit and argue about our opinions about this, assuming in fact that our opinions matter in the least, our planet will continue dying until either it dies, or we do. The answer is clear, we need to create a new system, starting with sustainable agriculture.

Over 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been permanently lost because of the constant use of monocultures in industrial farming. Monoculture means that the farmers use only a very small number of genetic variations in their crops. (For more information about the topic Monoculture, follow this link to read more articles.) This practice was implemented to increase the amount of food produced while lessening the amount of resources needed to produce the harvest. Monoculture will lead to build up of resistant pests and disease pathogens, the depletion of soil fertility, and it will lead to scarcity in the availability of other crop products. For example the Irish Famine or the more current issue of the Rust Fungus afflicting many countries wheat. In both cases monoculture was used, and in both cases entire crops were wiped out because the crops couldn’t resist the diseases that came. Mass starvations followed and in the case of the Irish Famine over one million lives were lost. To read more bout the Rust Fungus and its impact around the world click here.

Regardless wether you believe that the environment should be protected for its use to human beings or that it should be protected for its own sake, the environment needs to be protected and this will not happen unless the leaders of the world collaborate and make laws against its abuse. Many countries are already implementing eco-friendly laws. To see a collection of the top ten ecofriendly countries and there descriptions click here.

It is sad that here in America, one of the richest most technologically advanced countries in the world takes second place in the top ten list of the worst polluting countries in the world. Please click here to watch a video about why sustainability isn’t just an ethical standpoint, but a necessary change.

In my next post we will talk more about the animal side of farming…….

Side note: Click here to take a look at a wonderful web based interactive exercise complete with brain storming tools specific to farming and food ethics.

What is Sustainable Farming?

In 1990, the US government defined sustainable agriculture in Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1683, as “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term, satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends; make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

The Sustainable Table website, (, gives the following characteristics of this type of agriculture: conservation and preservation, biodiversity, animal welfare, economically viable, and being socially just. I will give a quick summary of each below.

When I think of conservation and preservation I go back to when I was a kid. I am sure we all rememeber our mother’s telling us that if we used something we needed to put it back. Well this is the same concept. Whatever resources that are used from the environment like water, soil, tree, etc, is put back. This makes sure that future generations will have the same resources.

In organic farming there is alot of emphasis on biodiversity. This means that several different kinds of crops are rotated so that the soil stays rich and free of disease. Another key component of organic farming is the way in which animals are treated. The animals welfare comes first on an organic farm and they are treated with respect, and are allowed to behave naturally. For example chickens are allowed to peck, and roam around vs. being kept in tiny cages. The animals are also fed their natural diet and are not pumped full of antibiotics and other chemicals.

One of the major arguments that is brought up against organic farming is that it isn’t economically viable. This is not true. While there are certain costs to organic farming, there are also bigger pay offs for it as well. For example the farmers themselves are paid fair wages and have control of their own farm. Most farmers today are dependant on government subsidies and are owned and controlled by large companies like Monsanto that force them into practices that they, the farmers, don’t even want to be a part of. Another pay off is that organic products are in growing demand, and are sold at higher prices.

The University of California has a very informative page about sustainable agriculture. It discusses what is considered to be the three main goals of the sustainable agriculture movement: environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. According to the University of California, “A systems perspective is essential to understanding sustainability. The system is envisioned in its broadest sense, from the individual farm, to the local ecosystem, and to communities affected by this farming system both locally and globally. An emphasis on the system allows a larger and more thorough view of the consequences of farming practices on both human communities and the environment. A systems approach gives us the tools to explore the interconnections between farming and other aspects of our environment.” (

Advantages and Disadvantages of Organic Farming

Here I will explore more in depth the pros and cons of organic farming with some help from Fantastic Farm’s website. (  Please check this website out to learn more about the authors.



Consumer Benefits:

  • Nutrition & Taste:
    • Organically grown food is dramatically superiorto that grown by modern conventional methods because it contains higher vitamin and mineral content. Organic food has also been shown to be better tasting by use of the Brix test. Click here for more information about Brix testing.
  • Poison-free:
    • One of the biggest advantages of organic food is that it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals. Most if not all food that is regularly put on your grocery store shelves is chock full of chemicals from pesticides, fungicides and herbicides to antibiotics and even arsenic!  There has been a dramatic upward trend in diseases and illness like cancer that are caused by ingesting chemically altered foods in industrialized societies.

…“Representative data on the number of new cancer cases in New South Wales, Australia has been collected by the New South Wales Central Cancer Registry. Adjusted to take account of our aging population, their graph (below) shows that between 1972 and 2004 the incidence of new cancer cases per year (average for both sexes) has risen from 323 to 488 per 100,000 people. This is an increase of over 50% in just 32 years…

Food Keeps Longer:

  • Chemically/Industrially farmed plants have less structural and metabolic integrity than organically grown plants. This causes the conventionally grown produce to rot faster.

Grower Benefits:

Disease and Pest Resistance:

  • Many experiments during the 1930’s through today have proven that organically grown plants resist diseases and insect pests naturally so the argument that pesticides are necessary is incorrect. Pesticides are not a necessary evil like some would have yo ubelieve, they are merely a ‘quick fix’.

Lower Input Costs:

  • Because the natural grown crops have a greater resistance to pests and diseases the organic farmers save a lot of money not buying pesticides, and fertilizers are created on site by manuring, leguminous crop rotation, composting, and worm farming.

Environmental Benefits:

Climate Friendly:

  • The conventional agriculture is very energy expensive and uses up 9 calories for every 1 calorie of food that it produces! Organic agriculture produces much less greenhouse gases and is considerably more climate friendly.

It doesn’t use soluble fertilizers:

…”Farmers pour tons of phosphate and nitrogenous fertilizer on their cropping lands every year. Because it is soluble, much of this fertilizer is either washed off the soil surface and into waterways (especially phosphates) or leaches through the soil profile beyond the reach of plants and finds its way less directly into waterways (especially nitrates). Levels of 50 mg/L nitrate (as nitrate) or above results in groundwater that is unfit for drinking. In some of the more contaminated areas, the concentration is in excess of 100 mg/L (LWRRDC 1999).”…(

With fresh water reserves under increasing pressure from climate change this is a grave situation for humanity. Click here for more information about the world’s water supply.

It doesn’t use pesticides or herbicides.

Another pollution disaster caused by agrichemical use is the contamination of groundwater reserves with poisonous pesticides or herbicides such as: Atrazine, Simazine, Dieldrin, Chlorpyriphos, Amitrol, Metolachlor, Trifluraline and Diuron Dieldrin, Lindane, and Alachlor. Even the “safest” herbicides such as Roundup (glycophosphate) – the second most widely used in the USA – are now known to pose a danger to wetland ecologies at routine contamination levels.

Groundwater studies in the US have found significant contamination. In Carolina, for example, over 27% of wells sampled in 1997 were found to be contaminated with pesticides commonly used in conventional agriculture. (Click here to go to “Nitrogen and Pesticide Contamination of Ground Water Resources” by the Ground water Quality Technical Committee of WRIA 1 Watershed Management Project.)

There is no viable method to clean up this widespread contamination that posts an unreasonable public health threat to current and future ground water users.

Beyond the water supply problem, most people don’t realize that it is difficult if not impossible to wash the chemicals off of your produce. Listed below are the “dirty dozen”; these are the fruits and vegetables you get at your grocery store that no matter how much you wash it, you are ingesting every chemical that was used on it. You should always buy organic versions of these foods. This list was taken from and condensed in table form for your convenience. Please check out his blog for more information about what the FDA allows as a ‘reasonable’ amount of poison in your food.

Produce Harmful Chemicals Commonly Found
Peaches Top 50 + Dinocap, Formetanate hydrochloride
Apples Top 50 + Prothiofos,   Terbuthylazine, Dinocap, Formetanate hydrochloride, Propargite,   Thiabendazole.
Bell Peppers Top 50
Celery Top 50
Nectarines Top 50 + Formetanate   hydrochloride.
Strawberries Top 50 + Benomyl, Formetanate   hydrochloride.
Cherries Top 50
Pears Top 50
Grapes Top 50 + Atrazine, Dinocap,   Simazine.
Spinach Top 50
Lettuce Top 50
Potatoes Top 50

Carrots, green beans, cucumbers, raspberries, domestic grapes, and oranges all rated above 40, (on a scale from 1 to 100), for chemical residue.

The top 50 chemicals applied are listed here

Read more:



  • While it is the case that in the short term industrialized agriculture has superior productivity, however in the long term the advantages will continue to fade away. As we dump more chemicals on the soil to try and make the soil maintain this high productivity of monocultures the soil quality will continue to decrease and eventually become un-usable for future generations.


  • It takes more time and skill to organically farm food because it requires the farmer to know the land, have more of a relationship with it versus relying on a quick chemical fix. Farmers have to have a greater understanding of the farming system and use careful observation to correct problems instead of using the plaster over it effect of chemicals.
  • It will also take some time to rebuild the current fields into healthy ecosystems.


  • A problem with this movement towards sustainable agriculture/organic farming is the lack of regulation. Everyone has a different idea of what sustainable means, or what organic means and without reliable regulation it is difficult for consumers to make informed choices.
  • Check out this video and website that goes over the problem of labeling.

I will end here. I think that this gives a good start on defining organic/sustainable agriculture. I would like to thank the Sustainable Table, the Fantastic Farms website, and all of the other great sites I have found during my search for information. Thank you for having so much information out there.

The outcry for a better way has been heard from farmers and consumers alike. As human beings many feel that we are the stewards of this earth and that it is our duty to ensure that we do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their agricultural needs, there also some who believe that we should hold that the environment and animals have their own intrinsic value. However, we will delve into the philosophical debates behind this line of thinking in a later post.

What is Intensive Farming?

According to the Britanica Encyclopedia intensive farming is, “… a system of cultivation using large amounts of labour and capital relative to land area. Large amounts of labour and capital are necessary to the application of fertilizer, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides to growing crops, and capital is particularly important to the acquisition and maintenance of high-efficiency machinery for planting, cultivating, and harvesting, as well as irrigation equipment where that is required.” In short, gaining the most product for the least amount of money is the only goal and to continue competing in today’s intensive agricultural world you need to use a lot of chemicals, and utilize every inch of space to make that happen.

Intensive farming had its start during the eighteenth century. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution came the Agricultural Revolution and with it came advancements in farming techniques and improvement in equipment that significantly improved yields, and helped support the urbanization of the population. Some examples include: the plow, moldboard, seed drills, sickles, reapers, and harvesters. (For more information about this equipment click the link.)

In the 19th century came more innovations such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics. The discovery of antibiotics and vaccines facilitated raising animals in smaller and smaller spaces with lower risk of disease. World War II produced chemicals that were later devleoped as pesticides. (wikipedia/inentensive farming)

“In 1960s North America, pigs and cows began to be raised on factory farms.This practice then spread to Western Europe. In Britain, the agriculture correspondent of The Guardian wrote in 1964: Factory farming, whether we like it or not, has come to stay. The tide will not be held back, either by the humanitarian outcry of well meaning but sometimes misguided animal lovers, by the threat implicit to traditional farming methods, or by the sentimental approach to a rural way of life. In a year which has been as uneventful on the husbandry side as it has been significant in economic and political developments touching the future of food procurement, the more far-seeing would name the growth of intensive farming as the major development.”(wikipedia/inentensive farming)

Wikipedia summarized current intensive farming as follows: “Factory farms hold large numbers of animals, typically cows, pigs, turkeys, or chickens, often indoors, typically at high densities. The aim of the operation is to produce as much meat, eggs, or milk at the lowest possible cost. Food is supplied in place, and a wide variety of artificial methods are employed to maintain animal health and improve production, such as the use of antimicrobial agents, vitamin supplements, and growth hormones. Physical restraints are used to control movement or actions regarded as undesirable. Breeding programs are used to produce animals more suited to the confined conditions and able to provide a consistent food product.

Industrial agriculture continues to become more intense as the companies that control the industry like Monsato Company push farmers to continue making “upgrades” that enable them to raise more animals with less space and less cost.

The advantages to intensive farming are fairly obvious; it allows you to produce a larger amount than you would normally. This is due to the animals being kept in a small space so they have less room to move about and therefore use less energy, requiring less food, which allows farmers to cut back on their costs. This keeps meat prices low and everyone is happy…right?

As our body of knowledge increases more and more disadvantages are being listed against intensive farming.

The disadvantages of intensive farming continue to become more and more apparent. I have listed the main ones below.

* Intensive farming requires the the use of various kinds of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides. This contaminates soil and water bodies such as lakes and rivers. The pesticides sprayed on crops not only destroy pests but has also been shown to be harmful when ingested by humans. Even washing will not usually take the pesticides off your fruit and vegetables.

* There are many hazardous environmental effects including deforestation, soil erosion, it affects the natural habitats of wild animals, and it is creating a severe decline of nutrition density and diversity.

* The antibiotics that are administered to the animals paves the way for super bugs that cannot be treated with our current medications making it harder to treat human disease.

* According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), farms on which animals are intensively reared can cause adverse health reactions in farm workers. Workers may develop acute and chronic lung disease, musculoskeletal injuries, and may catch infections that transmit from animals to human beings (such as tuberculosis).

* “Statistics show a direct relation between consumption of food procured from intensive farming sites and an increase in the number of cancer patients. Researchers opine that consumption of inorganic vegetables, fruits, poultry and meat could probably be one of the reasons.”(Advantages and Disadvantages of Inetnsive Farming)
* There are also many ethical debates about the treatment of animals during this process. The majority of farm animals in the U.S. are reared intensively in battery cages, overcrowded chicken sheds, sow crates, zero-grazing dairy systems, cattle feedlots or veal crates. The animals are forced to grow super-fast, pushed to their physical limits in the quest for more cheap meat, milk or eggs.

To sum up, the short term positive consequences of intensive farming are far out weighed by the negative long term effects. Next I will look at alternatives to industrial farming.

History of Farming

According to Story of Farming, “Over 80 percent of mankind’s diet is provided by the seeds of less than a dozen plant species.” Today’s post will be a quick overview of the history of farming.

Humans began as Hunter-Gatherers. We lived in small communities that were sustained soley on the food sources that were locally available.

The first metamorphisis of farming happened around 9,000 BC when people began to grow wheat, barley, peas and lentils instead of gathering them in the wild. By 6,000 BC they began domesticating sheep, pigs and goats, and cattle. (A Brief History of Farming, Tim Lambert). During this time communities gathered close to major river systems. For example the Egyptians settled near the Nile River. This ensured that every year the silt from the floods would fertilize the depleted soil.

An agriculture revolution in the 1700’s led to a large increase in the production of crops which included the introduction of “new world” crops such as corn and potatoes which produced higher yields. This revolution came about by “. . . little more then the final destruction of medieval institutions and the more general adoption of techniques and crops which had been know for a long time”(Story of Farming).

The 18th century saw the Industrial Revolution permeate farming. Until 1701 seed was sown by hand. In 1701 Jethro Tull invented a seed drill, which sowed seed in straight lines so that seed no longer needed to be sown by hand. Along side this came a change in the way people used livestock. Before the revolution most of the livestock were slaughterd before each winter because the farmers could not grow inough food to feed them through the winter. After the Industrial Revolution and thanks to the ingenius Dutch farmers started to use the 3 Field method. Land was divided into 3 fields. Each year 2 fields were sown with crops while the Dutch began to grow swedes or turnips on the third field. The turnips restored the soil’s fertility and when they were harvested they could be stored to provide food for livestock over the winter. This new method was brought into England by a man named Robert ‘Turnip’ Townsend. (See both links above)

During the 19th century farming was helped by new technology. According to A Brief History of Farming, “Justus von Liebig (1803-1873) and John Lawes (1814-1900) introduced new fertilisers. Farmers also began using clay pipes to drain their fields. Meanwhile Cyrus Mc Cormick (1809-1884) invented a reaping machine in 1834 and in 1837 John Deere (1804-1886) invented a steel plough. In 1856 John Fowler invented a steam plough.” The advent of steam power and later gas powered engines brought a whole new dimension to the production of crops. With the construction of the railways and steamships crops could now be shipped across the Atlantic, while the invention of refigeration provided a means to ship meat.  By the 1940’s farmers began using artificial insemination and far more artificial fertilisers. In the early 20th century farming became mechanised with the use of newer technologies such as comine harvesters and tractors.

As technology and science advanced so did the rate of production. It is a rare thing to find a small time farmer anymore. Intensive farming is the strategy currently being employed to feed the ever growing population. The demand to produce more crops and animals has led to astonishing negative impacts on the environment, the way we eat, and the quality of the food that we eat. Up next…exploring intensive farming…

Rough Outline

For my Environmental Ethics course this semester I will be researching the environmental problem of intensive farming and comparing it to sustainable agricultural practices. Listed below is my tentative outline of topics.

  • History of Farming
  • Explanations/defining of what intensive farming and sustainable agriculture are.
  • Exploring the advantages and disadvantages of intensive farming.
  • Exploring the advantages and disadvantages of sustainable agriculture.
  • The many different sorts of sustainable agricultural practices.
  • Farming Ethics
  • Practical Applications
  • Statistics
  • Why you should want to know where your food comes from.

I will add more topics as my body of knowledge increases and I gain more insights within my coursework to relatable philosophical queries.


Click here for more information on this story…