What Is Happening to the Land That Grows Your Food?
WHEN you walk through a field or forest, how many dead animals do you notice? Animal life abounds in such areas, and animals regularly die. Yet it is rare to see dead animals in fields or forests. Why? Because scavengers—insects, birds and animals—work to keep the earth clean. Microscopic organisms finish the job, decomposing all dead matter, turning it into plant food.
Given its opportunity, the natural creation will keep, not only the air and the water, but also the land clean for man to enjoy. But this is so only if man conducts his affairs in harmony with natural cycles and laws. That is not being done at present.
Despoiling the Land
One way in which the land is being fouled is by the avalanche of garbage being dumped on it, particularly around cities.
The refuse pile for 1969 in the United States totaled about 250,000,000 tons, more than a ton for each person. Of this, about 60 million tons were not even collected. It was added to the nation’s highways, streets, recreational areas and fields as filth.
Consider this partial list of what was thrown away in just one recent year in this one country:
20,000,000 tons of paper
26,000,000,000 bottles and jars
The problem is complicated by the fact that so much of the trash is not the kind that decays easily. Of the containers of glass, tin, aluminum, plastic and paper, only the paper and tin disintegrate fairly readily. The rest, especially the plastics, are largely “nonbiodegradable.” That is, they are not easily assimilated into the earth’s natural cycles that restore materials to their basic elements by decay or corrosion. So, they remain, making man’s environment look like a garbage dump.
Is the problem unique to the United States? By no means. The German paper Schwarzwald Bote says: “The German Republic is slowly suffocating in junk, garbage and exhaust.” The Toronto Daily Star reports: “Canadians will soon be wallowing in their own garbage unless ‘dramatic and drastic’ changes occur.” Such is the condition in nearly every highly industrialized country.
The German magazine Stern says that “in the last 25 years about one and a half million tons of DDT have been sprayed onto the surface of the earth. That is about 75,000 freight train carloads of poison. . . . DDT dissolves very slowly. Of the 75,000 carloads, 50,000 are still highly active. These 50,000 carloads have . . . formed a poisonous veil that covers the entire earth.”
Cows and animals used for meat eat vegetation containing DDT and other chemicals. So much of these chemicals has gotten into food and drink that many mothers who nurse their babies produce milk that contains more DDT than the law allows in dairy cow’s milk. A British scientist reports that British breast-fed babies consume at least ten times the recommended maximum of the pesticide dieldrin alone, and West Australians even more.
Today, instead of using manure and crop rotation to keep soil fertile, farmers use chemical fertilizers. But, as Time magazine notes: “Just as people get hooked on drugs, so the soil seems to become addicted to chemical additives and loses its ability to fix its own nitrogen. As a result more and more fertilizer has to be used.” Crops are big, but the soil is steadily being robbed of its natural fertility.
The damaging effects of some chemical sprays are not easily traceable. In Germany, studies were made of the effects on potato and tomato plants by the most widely used chemical weed killer. The plants appeared to grow unaffected, their fruitage looked normal. Animals fed on their products grew normally. But the offspring they produced did not. As the writer in Bild der Wissenschaft states: “I wish to repeat. In the treated plants there were no visible damages. No visible damages were found in the experimental animals, but in their offspring there were.” The plants had invisibly undergone molecular changes and produced changes in the animals that ate them.
The question now raised is, How do these chemicals affect humans?
Added to all the above, man has devastated the land by deforestation, strip-mining and overcultivation. Scientists calculate that it takes some five hundred years of vegetable and animal decay to produce just one inch of fertile topsoil. Yet man’s carelessness has caused millions of tons of topsoil to be stripped off and blown away or washed into rivers and seas. Should we not instead show appreciation for this priceless heritage—and respect for the One who provided it?