May 18, 2021
The National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. (NAS) has published proceedings titled, “Air Quality-related health damages of food,” which claim agriculture is a major contributor to air pollution in the U.S. and worldwide.
“Poor air quality is the largest environmental health risk in the United States… and agriculture is a major source of air pollution,” begins the report. Many in the university community believe there has been a lack of focus on the environmental impacts of food production. It may be that people desire to eat first and worry about air pollution second, third, and fourth.
Livestock to blame
Of course, this study is mainly an attack on livestock production. In fact, the study claims “Agricultural production in the United States results in 17,900 annual air quality-related deaths, 15,900 of which are from food production. Of those, 80% are attributable to animal-based foods, both directly from animal production and indirectly from growing animal feed.” The study believes that the consequences of growing all our crops and producing all our animals is becoming more apparent and is becoming more of a problem. We are now seeing “Meatless Mondays” called for by some of our political leaders.
It would be helpful to see what these political leaders buy and eat since they are so concerned about U.S. agricultural practices resulting in 17,900 deaths.
Remember that these death numbers come from “models.” These death numbers are driven by ammonia emissions and PM2.5. It is claimed that particulate matter (PM2.5) “…is also a major contributor (4,800 27% of total) largely from dust from tillage, livestock dust, field burning, and fuel combustion in agricultural equipment use.”
One has to suspect that these professors simply do not eat any of the bounty created by the American agricultural food production system. One also has to suspect these professors have never spent a day witnessing people who are starving to death because of lack of food.
There are apparently 308 counties in the United States which are responsible, according to the models, for 47% of the total deaths. One would not be surprised to hear that many of the counties are in the Upper Midwest Corn Belt, North Carolina, California and Pennsylvania.
Particulate matter from PM2.5 and ammonia (NH3) “…together comprise 97% of agricultural PM2.5–related deaths.”
To put this number in perspective, there were 2.8 million deaths in the U.S. in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It remains to be seen what the number will be for 2020. The leading causes of deaths for individuals in the United States appear to be heart disease where 659,041 deaths occur, Alzheimer’s disease causing 121,499 deaths, and intentional-self harm suicide causing 47,511 deaths.
There is a list of 15 leading causes of death, and air pollution from agriculture is not listed among any one of them. You can search the data base state by state but still you will not find any number attributed to agriculture.
In fact, you will find deaths caused by Septicemia, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, nephrotic syndrome, but I challenge you to find any category that suggests there are 17,900 deaths caused by agricultural dust, fertilizers, ammonia emissions from animal operations, and from animal operators. These professors must believe that we in agriculture and the American public are stupid, blind or both. I realize the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has taken some hits recently with regard to its credibility. I would suggest that the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics probably can be trusted. It maintains the National Vital Statistics System. That particular bureaucratic organization has looked at the deaths, percent of total deaths and death rates for the leading causes of death in the U.S. and in each state. It has looked at the death members from 1999-2015 and it has pages and pages of tables which can be reviewed. When reviewing these tables, one never sees agriculture and its emissions as a leading cause of death. Go figure!
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.
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