Undesired Consequences of the Industrial Food Complex

Rainforest Destruction in Our Shopping Cart

For years, forward-looking thinkers like Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry have warned us about the unsustainability of modern industrial agriculture. Vandana Shiva, in her book Stolen Harvest, notes that:

“[T]he right of corporations to force-feed citizens of the world with culturally inappropriate and hazardous foods has been made absolute. The right to food, the right to safety, the right to culture, are all being treated as trade barriers that need to be dismantled…we have to reclaim our right to nutrition and food safety. Food democracy…is the new agenda for ecological sustainability and social justice.”

The connection between deforestation-related emissions and agricultural expansion is well documented. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture and deforestation account for roughly one third of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Take for example, the rapid expansion of three globally-traded agricultural commodities into tropical rainforests: soy, palm oil and cattle.

The mad-cow outbreaks and the resulting law passed by the EU in 1994, increased global demand for soy as animal feed, which resulted in a dramatic increase in carbon emissions from the clearing of the Amazon rainforest to make room for soy fields.

Global demand for cheap beef has pushed the Brazilian cattle sector deeper into the Amazon where rainforest is burned to make further room for a herd that has grown to 75 million cows. Industrial cattle expansion into the Amazon is the largest driver of deforestation there. This, in turn, is the largest single source of Brazil’s massive carbon emissions, helping to make Brazil the fourth largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting country in the world.

The third largest emitter of global GHG emissions is Indonesia--another country seeing tremendous forest loss and carbon emissions at the hands of agricultural expansion - in this case for palm oil. The rapid expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia is a direct result of our food decisions.  Global demand for manufactured foods with long shelf lives such as cookies, cereals, crackers and chips, has increased demand for the vegetable oils found in many of these products. As food companies raced to comply with an order by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to label trans fats in foods in 2006, the spike in demand for palm oil as an alternative increased the incentive for the rapid expansion of palm plantations into the rainforests of Indonesia.

Today, one of the most important social movements of our time is underway as millions work to reform our industrial food production system. There are many threads of advocacy: school lunch reform, the campaign for animal rights and welfare, the campaign against genetically modified crops, the various veins of corporate campaigning around how the agribusiness industry is impacting human rights & the environment, the rise of organic and locally produced food, struggles for local food sovereignty, farm bill reform, food safety regulation , student organizing around food issues on campus, efforts to promote urban agriculture and ensure that communities have access to healthy food, farm worker rights, nutrition labeling, feedlot pollution, and the various efforts to regulate food ingredients and marketing.

RAN’s agribusiness campaign intersects with these issues as we connect the dots between heavily processed, palm oil laden foods in North America, and the destruction of tropical rainforests converted to biological deserts of industrial scale agriculture.

Blue print for reform

  1. Reduce your waste. Each year, American food waste represents the energy equivalent of 350 million barrels of oil.
  2. Buy local. Support community agriculture rather than corporate agriculture and the palm oil-laden heavily processed “foods” increasingly pushed by transnational corporations. As Michael Pollan puts it "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."
  3. Eat foods with a low carbon footprint. Eat local foods to lower the amount of carbon used in transportation. Eat less meat, the production of which is energy intensive. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), recommends that people reduce their meat consumption to tackle climate change. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated in 2008 that meat production accounted for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Take action. Take ownership of the problems we’ve helped create. Join us in pressuring Cargill - the largest importer of palm oil into the U.S., a global trader of 25% of the world’s palm oil – by joining our rapid responder list to take action when it’s urgently needed.


Learn More

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Green tells a moving story about the corporate conversion of rainforests in Indonesia for palm oil, tropical wood and paper through the eyes of a dying orangutan - a victim of deforestation and resource exploitation. This film is a visual journey illustrating the impacts of land clearing, the effects of consumerism, the tragic loss of biodiversity and the other harsh realities that Indonesian rainforest destruction is inflicting upon endangered species like the orangutan.