"When we feed the soil with artificials, it creates artificial plants, which make artificial animals, which make artificial people, and they're all kept alive by artificial medicine."
Sir Albert Howard, the godfather of Modern Scientific Aerobic Composting, "An Agricultural Testament", 1943
By the 1960's, the world was rapidly changing. It was becoming inventive, modern, and the population had grown immensely. People needed feeding, so as part of the western world's growth came pasture improvement programs - the success of the rapidly expanding global meat, crop and dairy industries absolutely depended on it.
The dirty name of the game became Profit through intensive farming, and the methods used to achieve this new, rich, fertile world meant introducing soil improvers - fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
For the meat and dairy industries, the primary focus was on changing the soil fertility to increase the carbohydrate content in pastures to maximise production; fatter animals for meat, increased milk production per cow, and thus more profitability. How was this done? Chemicals.
For the crop industry, the emphasis was on improving yield and efficiency by making the crops resistant to bugs, and killing the surrounding weeds to clear the way for improved crop production. How was this done? Chemicals.
This was modern-day progress, and it was the direction we were all heading in; every-thing was advancing and changing for the so-called better. The wheat that we know today is very much part of this story, and it affects our horses as well because almost every shiny feedbag in our feed merchants today includes wheat, or a wheat by-product (wheatfeed) as an ingredient. Thing is, the wheat of today is something entirely different to what it was 40/50 years ago, when our horses could happily - or should I say comfortably - eat a grain feed. Cut to today, and they can't - see our Wheat - the beginning of today's disease culture page in our Why what we feed has to be right chapter.
The rest of the story
We also now live in an industrial toxic world; there’s chlorine and fluoride in our water; irradiation, pasteurisation and homogenisation of our foods. There's crop spraying, chemtrails and electro-smog (think cell phones and their towers which emit radiation). Our air and water is contaminated and our soil is sick - you only have to look at the trees to see they’re gradually dying. Another horrid example - both mercury and aluminum are toxins included in most vaccines; individually they wreak havoc, but together they're like a nuclear bomb hitting the nervous system. The list goes on. I say this a lot on this website, so apologies in advance.
For those of us living next to crop growing, the breeze carries the chemical sprays into the air which we all breathe, and for our horses it lands on their grazing pasture which they ingest. For those of us on ex-dairy farms now providing horse-livery, it’s this same improved, chemically fertilised pasture that many of our horses now graze on. For those of us buying manufactured horse feeds with numerous ingredients, and unless stated 'Organic', you can guarantee that your horses are eating intensively farmed crops, including weird wheat, which have been chemically treated, and very likely GMO mass-produced.
There’s no question - every-thing truly has changed. Never in human history have we ingested chemical herbicides, fungicides or pesticides before, yet today we have plants that not only absorb them but can withstand them - they're designed to - so we’re all now consuming large amounts of these toxic 'ides' in our feeds.
Then there's the uncomfortable subject of GMO crops, which are now so widespread worldwide that they're a household name. These are crops which have been engineered to withstand the 'ides', i.e. Monsanto's RoundUp and it’s active ingredient Glyphosate. Spray it on a field and a GMO crop will withstand it, while the other plants around it die. It's done not for the betterment of the resulting foodstuff, but to make harvesting easier. And it's causing significant health issues to the world - GMO foods in livestock have been shown to damage virtually every organ.
The GMO subject is huge, the studies are vague at best, and sadly, the world's decision-makers turn a blind eye. GMO’s add nothing to the nutritional value of the plant, nor do they serve the plant nutritionally. Tricking the plant into creating herbicide tolerance yields a profit increase but does nothing for either our health or the health of the planet.
Glyphosate has been classified by the WHO as a probable carcinogen, with a group of 94 scientists publishing a study endorsing that it’s actually not ‘more than likely’ a probable carcinogen – it is a carcinogen. So, we’re spraying our crops with a carcinogenic weedkiller, and Monsanto are making $-Billions from it. It’s now being found in umbilical-cord blood; it’s in every human cell, in our environment, our water and our food. And our horses are consuming it as well, not just in their feedbowl but in the air they breathe and on the pasture they graze on.
I'm really not wishing to scare-monger - this is just the way the world is now - this is our 'normal'. However, this chapter is about our horses' feedstuff, and the good news is that there's plenty we can do about it. Bear with me though, because to know what we need to do, we need to understand what's actually going on so we know what to fix.
To put it in perspective
Four major factors have played key roles in declining food nutrient values, with significant drops in crucial minerals like phosphorus, selenium, copper, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron:
- The start of mechanized farming in 1925
- The introduction of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in 1946
- The use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides starting prior to 1960
- The introduction of genetically engineered plants and glyphosate in the 1990s
As you can see on the chart below (courtesy of Dr.Mercola), these minerals were plentiful in food before the advance of mechanized farming. By the time genetically engineered crops were introduced along with the herbicide glyphosate in the 1990s, levels had dropped to alarming levels.
So how have these four factors so severely impacted the mineral content of food?
- Mechanized farming methods, intended to make life easier for farmers, damage soil quality.
- The quality of food plants can only be as good as the soil in which it is grown. Why? Healthy soils contain an immense diversity of microorganisms. These organisms are responsible for the plant’s uptake of nutrients, which in turn provide you with the nutrients you need. No microrganisms? No nutrient-rich plants.
- The changes in farming in the 1920s, intended to make production easier and more cost efficient for farmers, initiated this nose dive on food nutrient values, thanks to its lethal effects on soil microorganisms. Mechanized farming – or the use of advanced machinery – decimate these nutrient-creating microorganisms in the soil. And since the soil microorganisms can’t replenish themselves in time for the next year’s growth, the minerals became depleted at a record rate and aren’t available for the plants’ uptake.
- Conventional farming methods also rely heavily on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that can kill off the microbial inhabitants of the soil. While the introduction of ammonium nitrate fertilizer stimulated greater yields in cops, it changed the chemistry of the soil in negative ways, leading to decreased numbers of soil microorganisms and increased pests.
- Then along came the toxic pesticides in the 1950s. They effectively killed the pests and fungi, but they too had a lethal effect on the soil microorganisms. In effect, this crippled nature’s ability to provide the minerals needed for proper plant growth and nutrition.
- By the time genetically engineered (GE) seeds and glyphosate were introduced, any minerals left were hyper-chelated and unavailable to plants except for the patented GE plants.
It's no wonder we have little to no significant nutrients left in our food that isn’t grown through regenerative farming methods that specifically enhance soil quality. Sadly, these days, if our crops aren't grown by organic and regenerative or Biodynamic® farming methods, it simply won't contain all the vitamins and especially minerals our horses - and us humans - require for optimum nutrition.
Conventional farming methods don't focus on the nutrient quality of food
It's about maximising efficiency and profit via chemically induced growth rate, pest resistance, and the physical traits of produce, like size. It’s about faster, bigger, and cheaper, and it's affecting our horses' health with every bite. And it’s not only minerals that may be lacking - a landmark study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (Dec.2004) looked at U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits:
- In the UK from 1940 to 1990, copper levels in vegetables dropped by 76 percent and calcium fell by 46 percent.
- They discovered reliable declines in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the 50-year period.
- Other similar studies have found significant declines in vitamin A and C, calcium, iron, and potassium.
- According to an Australian soil scientist, conventionally grown apples have lost 80% of their vitamin C, so that famous saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is pretty pointless unless that apple tree is grown in healthy organic soil.
All of these researchers attributed these vitamin losses to the same culprits responsible for the massive decline in minerals: Modern agriculture and its focus on growth, pest resistance, climate adaptability and physical traits of fruits and vegetables like size, instead of soil quality and food nutrients.
Where we're at today (2021)
- 90% of the global grain trade is controlled by just 4 multi-national corporations.
- 9 Big Food companies control what is bought and sold in retail outlets, including most health foods and organic brands.
- 75% of our food comes from just 12 plants.
The makers of seeds and agrochemicals and Big Food companies drive what is grown, how it's grown, to whom it's sold, and what price, locking most farmers into a vicious cycle of less choice, less profit, and more environmental destruction.
The farmers are the heroes, not the villains in this story. They just need a pathway to extract themselves from their current treadmill and retool their land as regenerative farms and ranches.
Farms that produce food in ways that are unsustainable in the long run - requiring large inputs of fossil fuels and water - drive soil erosion, climate change, and loss of biodiversity and are far less resilient than well-managed regenerative, organic, and sustainable farms.
I'll end this page with a quote from a bit of a hero of mine, Guy Singh-Watson, who founded Riverford, the organic veg-box company:
"Technology and globalism have transformed many industries, often at huge human cost. How we farm has environmental, social, landscape and health impacts that provide strong arguments against sacrificing it on the altar of global, neo-liberal economics. Big doesn’t have to be bad, but in farming, it usually is: for wildlife, for food quality, for animal welfare, and for the communities which lose the infrastructure of integrated small family businesses. Big cannot cope with the intricacies of mixed farms and varied landscapes, so it uses all its power to make things the same: in neighbouring fields, then on neighbouring farms; in Cornwall and Cambridgeshire, then in Cambridgeshire, Kansas. The same varieties sold by the same three global seed companies. The same commodities sold to the same four global grain traders, and retailed through the same few supermarkets under the same global brands."
I think I've made my point, so let's pull all this together. We need nutrient-rich food to build a healthy body and mind. If the soil quality isn’t there, we're simply not going to get high-quality food with the nutrients we need, whether human or horse.
So, with this in mind, let's get back to what we feed our horses and the next chapter; my personal take on Today's Feed Industry.