Eric Schlosser didn't shy away from criticizing South Dakotas agrSiculture when he spoke to nearly 1,000 people on the campus of South Dakota tate University last week.
"Do you think you are really better off than were you 30 or 40 years ago?" asked the author of Fast Food Nation and a leading critic of what he calls industrial agriculture.
"I saw a lot of emptiness out there," he said.
Schlosser was in South Dakota for talks at Black Hills state University , Spearfish S.D. and at SDSU. His presentation, "Fast Food, Big Ag, and the Land," was part of the SDSU Harding Lecture Series.
Schlosser blamed the decline in the rural population partly to the rise in fast food and the standardization, technology and consolidation that corporations brought to agriculture.
South Dakota farmers and their families are guinea pigs in an experiment with GMOs, pesticides, growth hormones and confined animal feeding operations, Schlosser said.
No one knows if GMOs are safe long term, he said, "but you will be the first to find out" because 98% of the crops your grow are GMOs."
He said that confined animal feeding operations are polluting the water and that pesticides are contaminating the water and the air. Roundup, he said, is now been found everywhere, even in the rain.
The federal government shouldn't be supporting industrial agriculture, Schlosser said. He cited the millions of dollars several large farms in South Dakota have received in farm program payments.
Clearly, industrial agriculture is not self-reliant or independent, he said.
Schlosser urged the South Dakotans to covert to organic production. He said South Dakotans should be growing healthy food for people instead of feed for livestock and ingredients that corporations are using in foods that are making people obese.
Some in the audience applauded Schlosser's criticisms of South Dakota agriculture and his advocacy for local foods and organic farming.
Others challenged Schlosser.
"It great out there," said one student, who identified himself as the fourth generation on their family farm. He said he planned to go back to the farm and work to the feed the world.
Schlosser was over simplying the reason for the decline in the number of farms and rancher, he said. "Consolidation has happened in every business."
Schlosser wasn't moved students' assertions that GMOs and other new technology represented the best hope for feeding the world's growing population.
He said doubted industrial agriculture is as efficient as proponents claims because they do not count the costs of the harmful effects on human health and the environment.
"I would argue ….this industrial food system has done remarkable harm," he said,