In this lesson, we’ll learn what a traditional food chain is and then apply it to the human food industry. We’ll also go over some criticism of the current industrial food chain.
What Is the Industrial Food Chain?
Did you ever wonder where your food comes from? It’s actually harder to trace than you might think.
For example, a box of macaroni and cheese has not only wheat from a farm, but also some amount of cheese from cows that needed feed from a farm, too. Then, all those ingredients needed to be shipped to a factory, where they were assembled and boxed into your dinner!This sequence of events is called the industrial food chain. The industrial food chain is a diagram showing how food is transferred in our food industry.
Farming and Crops
Plants are the basis for all food chains, not just the industrial food chain. Plants create their own energy from the sun and are known as producers. In the industrial food chain, farmers tend to massive crops of land, often with only one crop grown through monoculture.
Efficiency of the field often is maximized through irrigation and use of fertilizers and pesticides. Many of the crops planted, like soy beans, wheat, and corn, are used for animal feed and are the base of many of the processed foods we know. Other crops we consume, such as tomatoes and strawberries, are also grown in this way.Some farmers are moving to organic farming, without the use of industrial fertilizer or pesticides.
Local produce has taken traction as well and can be found in health food stores and farmers’ market stands in the summer. These farms are smaller and more sustainable for the environment.
Crops from industrial farming are then used to feed humans directly, create feed for farm animals, or as an additive in processed foods. Organisms that eat only plants are called primary consumers; this includes cattle as well as people who are vegetarians. Primary consumers like cattle are used to support secondary consumers, or organisms that eat meat, like many humans. Meat is one of the biggest and most controversial industries in America and an important part of the industrial food chain.
Let’s look at how meat is produced for our grocery stores.Most meat in America is produced through factory farming. As the demand for inexpensive meat rose throughout American history, factory farms were developed to maximize food production with minimal cost. Factory farms look like large warehouses, filled with hundreds of animals raised for the meat industry. Animals are often crammed together, with little room for natural movement or grazing.Although some farms are trying to clean up their act and give animals more humane conditions, even some farms that are marketed as sustainable in health food stores still don’t have healthy conditions for their animals.
Following these primary consumers are secondary consumers, which are most humans.
We eat both meat and vegetables, or processed versions, making us omnivores. Although this may seem healthy, most people, especially those living in poverty, get the most processed food at the top of the industrial food chain. Fast food joints are notorious for supplying factory farmed meat at a low price, as well as other portions of the meal infused with excess sugar derived from industrially-farmed crops. These meals are low cost and filling, which appeal to many people living at the poverty line. Unfortunately, a diet of mostly highly processed fast food has been linked to various health problems, like diabetes and heart disease.
Other foods that come from producers and primary consumers include boxed food we might find at the store, such as pasta, sauces, chips, and dairy products. There are healthy processed choices for the secondary consumer, but patrons need to be cautious about what ingredients to choose when selecting a dinner.
Although crop farming increases the number of plants on earth, there are still detriments to the environment. Excessive use of pesticides and fertilizer are extremely damaging to the environment. Fertilizer runoff can impact other ecosystems, such as creating algae blooms in local water sources, disrupting their natural food chain. Monocropping also poses a problem. Planting single crops can rob the soil of important nutrients, damaging the land for further use and creating the need to cut into natural areas to produce more farms.
As the focus of recent documentaries, like Food Inc., factory farming is controversial, to say the least. Photos of animals cramped in tiny quarters, never allowed to wander a pasture and wallowing in their own waste, haunt the Internet. Unfortunately, for some farms, this is the reality. Undercover journalists have investigated factory farms and found animal cruelty and extremely unsanitary conditions. Ecologists worry about the amount of antibiotics used to prevent the animals from getting sick in this living space as well.
Excessive antibiotics leads to super bugs that are resistant to treatment, or have antibiotic resistance, and can ravage both animal and human populations. Proponents of sustainable meat suggest purchasing only local meat that has been raised without antibiotics, where animals are free to graze outside in a more natural environment.As secondary consumers in the industrial food chain, we need to be cautious of how our grocery store purchases affect the global ecosystem.
Choosing fresh, local produce and meat can have a positive impact on both the lives of animals and humans. At a minimum, it’s important to understand where other, more processed and cheaper foods come from, so we can make informed decisions.
In summary, the industrial food chain shows the transfer of energy, or food, from agricultural industry to the processed foods we know at the grocery store.
The producers are farmed from seeds in massive industrial farms. Producers, like corn, wheat, and soy, are used to feed primary consumers, like cattle and chicken, in factory farms, large scale farms with questionable conditions for animals. People worry about the sustainability of farms, the treatment of animals, and antibiotic resistance.
There is also concern for the nutritional value of processed foods at the top of the industrial food chain.