Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Feeding a Growing Population vs. Conserving Biodiversity

Variety, variety, variety. This is what our Canadian Food Guide Promotes. This is how we are told to eat. But how can we consume a variety of foods if we are limited to relying on a few highly productive array of crops and livestock breeds?

Foods contain combinations of nutrients and other healthy substances. No single food can supply all the nutrients we need. For example, the vitamin C that oranges provide cannot be found in cheese. Similarly, the vitamin B12 that cheese provides cannot be found in oranges. This variety we have is essential to our growing bodies. Many of our crops have been altered in order to produce more rapidly-growing, efficient, and pest-free foods. The process of natural selection has been replaced with artificial selection, where people try to replicate individuals that have desirable traits. For example, vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage come from the wild mustard plant.

Corn, which is present in a massive amount of the foods we consume, is also the result of artificial selection. Corn originates from teosinte (furthest left).


For many years now, we have turned to industrial agriculture in order to increase production rates so that our growing population can be fed at a cheaper cost. Industrial agriculture is a type of modern farming that involves the industrialized production of livestock, poultry, fish, and crops. General features of this practice include monoculture, genetically engineered crops, large scale irrigation, and high mechanization. However, industrial agriculture has been heavily criticized for reduced quality of soil and crops, loss of biodiversity, pollution, unhealthy livestock and food toxicity due to the use of chemicals. Animals are often injected with hormones in order to quicken growth rates. The main goal here is to produce large amounts in a short period of time.

Sustainable agricultural, on the other hand, places an emphasis on permanence, quality, animal welfare, and biodiversity. With sustainable agriculture, foods are produced without excessive use of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, which lessens the likelihood of certain diseases. Natural resources are preserved and pollution is reduced, saving the billions that environmental damages from industrial agriculture would have cost. This practice produces healthy, nutritious food and an environment that will last for future generations. So why has sustainable agriculture become our second choice?

Differences Between Industrial Agriculture and Sustainable Agriculture

The belief that sustainable agriculture cannot feed our growing population is an assumption, not a fact. We have to think about the long run, and how industrial agriculture will affect us; as the methods that may seem beneficial now, are going to cause harm in the future. All creatures are interconnected. The extinction of one species will lead to the extinction of several others, so the risks of industrial agriculture outweigh the benefits. Our goal is to feed a growing population while simultaneously conserving our biodiversity. Why are we made to choose one or the other? With the incredible accomplishments that humans have achieved, why does sustainable agriculture at a global level seem so unattainable?


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S.A. (2011). Eat a variety of foods. Retrieved from

GRACE. (2007). What is sustainable agriculture?. Retrieved from

Annenberg Foundation. (2011). Artificial selection at work. Retrieved from

Chappell, M.J. (2007, October 4). Shattering myths: can sustainable agriculture feed the world?. Retrieved from

HMMI, (2007). Evolution of Corn [Web]. Available from

Cohen, B. (2009, May 12). Industrial agriculture v. sustainable agriculture. Retrieved from

Uganda Wildlife Society, . (2008, November). Conserving biodiversity on farmland: a guide to agriculture extension work. Retrieved from


  1. Hey Dyrosha! Your bioblog definitely brought out some interesting points. It is true that we are always encouraged to consume a variety of foods in order to obtain all the essential nutrients that will lead us to a healthier lifestyle. Which leads both of us, and I believe a lot of other individuals, to wonder why the use of monoculture is encouraged or even used in farming to begin with. We, as a society always seem to strive for diversity to survive and this new innovation just seems to go against that. Yes, like you said it has benefited us in some ways, but the negative impacts that it has caused to our society is even greater. As mentioned, it has disrupted our biodiversity and the well-being of our environment as a whole. I agree that the thought of industrial agriculture as the only way to feed our growing population is ridiculous. It is evident that farmers have provided us with more than enough food for a cheaper cost, even after determining the effects it has had and will have on our environment. I mean, is it really that much to ask to pay a few more cents for produce to preserve our planet? Like I said in my bioblog, sustainable agriculture is and should be the only way to go!

  2. Hey Dyrosha,
    You definitely raised some good points here! It's undeniable that sustainable agriculture is the more environmentally-friendly choice, and industrialized agriculture's disadvantages are horrible. I simply don't think the human population will ever rely solely on sustainable agriculture. Humans will always look for the easiest and cheapest way to do things, it's just the way we are. Although we were brought up to be good stewards of the Earth, not everyone shares those same values. In the end, however, I don't believe it's a question of people's morals, I think it's just what we've become used to. How often do we find ourselves buying free-range chicken or organic bananas? We know the environmental and ethical benefits of making these choices, but they aren't always the most practical. I do completely agree with you though in the sense that we need to think about how industrialized agriculture will work against us in the future, because if its disadvantages aren't apparent now, I can guarantee they will be in the near future.