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Resource Depletion: The Costs of Industrial Agriculture 

From mechanized feedlots to automatic irrigation systems to agricultural machinery, North American agriculture has become increasingly industrialized, placing ever-greater demands on fossil fuel, water and topsoil resources. Petroleum not only fuels trucks and mechanized farm equipment, but also serves as a base for synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, tying the cost of growing food increasingly closer to the price of oil.

Land Management: Degrading and Undervaluing Farmland

Throughout much of North America, especially in the United States, land management techniques have been draining the soil of nutritional value. Monoculture, the practice of continually planting the same solitary crop on one plot of farmland, removes nutrients from the soil that must be replenished with additional fertilizers. 

Food Waste: Compromising Food Security 

The United Nations estimates that one-third of the world’s food goes to waste, either during agricultural production, post-harvest handling and storage, processing, distribution, or consumption. In North America, a large percentage of this loss comes from consumers wasting food. Additionally, North American consumer expectations that fruits and vegetable should be pristine and without blemish means that supermarkets and restaurants are forced to reject produce that is edible yet aesthetically imperfect due to an unusual shape, size or color. Further demand for extensive selection causes supermarkets to purchase an excess of produce, driving prices up and increasing potential for spoilage.

Demographic Changes: A Disconnected Public

In North American, the last 50 years have brought a major cultural shift that has removed consumers further and further away from their food sources. U.S. Census data from 2010 showed around 80% of Americans living in urban areas. Entire neighborhoods, known as food deserts, have no fresh produce for sale. As urban areas grow, farmers receive increasing pressures from encroaching developers and communities to sell their land.

Political Issues: The Business of Food

While consumer habit has a profound effect on food, government policy bears just as heavily on the industry. Agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry with powerful lobbyists. In the United States, untold amounts of food remained rotting on the vine due to a shortage of migrant workers. Recent tightening on immigration policy has drastically cut down on the nation’s imported workforce at a time when very few Americans have any connection to farming let alone a desire to work on one.

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Martin Shum