The Consequences of Man’s Evolving Farming Practices

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GrapevineConsumers are increasingly aware of the nutritional and health values of unprocessed ingredients. They are seeking out products grown, raised or prepared as they were for centuries before the industrialization of food products, before the era of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and yes, before GMO products.

Before the Industrial Revolution, Nature dominated the production of food. Man reluctantly accepted that a portion of the annual crops would be sacrificed in the name of the balance of Nature. Foraging birds and other wildlife were in symbiosis with man in sharing resources. Nature provided insect control and crop fertilization; Man grudgingly shared his harvest with Nature.

With the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century came the introduction of petroleum-based products that changed the landscape, and economies, of our planet. New industries emerged that catapulted nations and societies into a new era of urbanization, innovations in manufacturing and the obsession with corporate bottom lines.

Farmers, including vineyard owners, seeking to optimize their cash flow, reverted to low cost practices and enhanced financial returns. Man-made chemical fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides became the norm. By the 1960s, many farmers had succumbed to a profit-over-safety mentality.

Years later, American consumers became aware that pesticides such as DDT and chlordane could be unhealthy, thus outweighing the economic benefits touted by manufacturers. Eventually, these chemical fertilizers, in addition to causing long-term deterioration of soil fertility and tilth, were ascertained to be dangerous to humans and were banned.   

The 21st century has brought another revolution – one that is consumer-led. Technology has created a vast, thriving, industrial food complex, at times fraught with health risks. In the face of this juggernaut, consumers have become highly educated, and vocal, in demanding disclosure of product ingredients and processing. Concepts such as natural, organic and sustainable have entered the lexicon as the underpinnings for making healthy food choices.

Today, when the growing numbers of informed and diligent consumers prepare a meal of the most healthful foods found in the marketplace, they sit at table proud of their choices. They may celebrate their meal with a glass of wine. Ah, peace of mind that the industrial food complex has been successfully sidestepped.

But perhaps not.

The recent introduction of GMOs has raised concerns over the long-term negative health effects on humans. Compounding this uncertainty is a consumer’s inability to identify such products, which are proliferating in several agricultural markets. Over 80% of all corn and soy grown in the United States today is from genetically engineered seeds.

Another battle between Man and Nature being waged in farms and vineyards today is the impact of the unintended consequences of the industrial food complex. New studies have been conducted to determine the impact of synthetic agricultural products on naturally maintained farms and vineyards. The results are not promising.

Natural winemaking has grown significantly over the last few decades, with popular support for the health of vineyards and the atmosphere. Here’s the rub: natural forces may adulterate and affect grape crops regardless of Man’s effort to insulate himself from the influences of industrial behemoths.

Examples abound:
  • Shifting winds that carry air-borne pesticides and herbicides from non-organic vineyards and other farmlands to organically sustained vineyards;
  • Higher-than-normal rains that carry atmospheric-trapped contaminants across a wide swath of vineyards;
  • The run-off of contaminated water from multiple sources into organic properties and water sources.

The dangers of industrial herbicides and pesticides are well documented. Several years ago, a French laboratory tested 92 bottles of wine and found small (non-lethal) traces of pesticides in all 92 bottles, a number of which were organically produced. Another, unrelated, laboratory test of 300 bottles found pesticides in over 90% of them.

The results of another study were equally alarming. An activist group sent a sample of ten anonymous bottles of wine produced from prime northern California vineyards to a laboratory for testing of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the chemical pesticide Roundup. All ten wines, including those that were produced organically, tested positive. 

In the 21st century, is Man in harmony, or at war, with Nature? Unfortunately, given the long-term influence of the industrial food complex, only future generations may find out.

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and Program Director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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