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What percentage of food production costs is due to oil-based pesticides?

Answers:1   |   LastAnswerAt:2010.08  

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Asked at 2010.08.31 03:06:39

answer Loren S  Answered at 2010.08.31 03:06:39
Both oil and natural gas are invaluable resources for our industrial food system. Ten calories of fossil fuels are used in the production of each calorie of food today. Of that about one-third is in production, one-third is in processing and packaging, and one-third is in distribution and cooking.

Let’s start with oil. About one fifth of all petroleum used in the US is used in agriculture. This accounts for nearly 400 gallons of oil equivalent per person per year. First of all, oil is the basis of all commercial pesticides – whose use, as you know, is ubiquitous in industrial agriculture.

More than one billion pounds of pesticides are applied each year in the US alone. Less than one hundredth of a percent reaches the target pest and the remaining 99.9 percent pollutes the environment. More than 90 percent of US corn farmers rely on herbicides and many of you are no doubt also aware of the use of certain strains of crops that are bred to be used with pesticides. Environmental effects also include increased health risks to agricultural workers exposed to pesticides, including a possible correlation between high rates of lung cancer in farmers and pesticide use.

On the farm oil is also used to fuel tractors, combines, harvesters, and other large machinery. This allows larger plots to be farmed and encourages mono-cropping, mostly corn and soybeans in this part of the country. These crops are then likely fed to livestock or processed into the oils used in packaged food.

Now onto natural gas-derived nitrogen fertilizers. Natural gas is a critical feedstock for nitrogen fertilizer production through the Haber-Bosch process, and accounts for 70 – 80 percent of the cost of fertilizer. It has been said that 40 percent of the world’s population is alive today because of the Haber-Bosch process and the use of natural gas in fertilizers. The environmental effect is that fertilizer run-off accumulates in bodies of water, resulting in eutrophication and algal blooms.

Another use of oil in agriculture is in the transportation of food, and perhaps this is its most vital role in the industrial food system. For the large mono-cropping operations that use oil-fed machinery and massive amounts of petroleum-based pesticides and natural gas-derived fertilizers would not be viable if the crops couldn't be transported to processing facilities and national and international markets, then finally to wholesale and retail outlets, restaurants and consumers' homes.

Cheap, abundant oil gave us cheap, abundant transportation and cheap, abundant food. Today you can go into any grocery store and see products from thousands of miles away, from all over the globe. Apples from New Zealand sit next to locally-grown apples. Lettuce from Arizona is shipped in in the dead of winter. The average calorie of food travels 1500 miles from the farm to our plate.
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