Capitalism, Wars and Epidemics (III)

b) The agriculture of death: Toxic nutrition, health scourges of “obese capital”

The current pandemic is the culmination of an accelerated process of environmental destruction caused by a hyper-capitalization of agriculture that has become intensive and globalized. Where a shortage of arable land exists, capitalist groups, especially Chinese, are indulging in a “land grab” (a frenzy of buying land) outside their borders (Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mozambique, Congo, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Laos, Australia, New Zealand, etc.). The consequences of this hyper-capitalization are massive pollution of land, water resources and oceans. Worse, it threatens, through its toxic fallout, all animal and human life.

83% of the world’s agricultural land is used for animal husbandry, and it takes 7 kilos of cereals to produce 1 kilo of beef. A global count gives one and a half billion cattle. The world’s livestock population of all farm animals is 28 billion heads of cattle for 8 billion heads of human livestock, from a capital point of view. (1)

Let’s take the most telling example, that of Brazil: 91% of the land taken from the Amazon rain forest is used for pasture to produce soy and (transgenic) cereals to feed herds predestined to end up miserably on the plates of human carnivores. These forests, which absorb 30% of the CO2 released into the atmosphere, are inexorably destroyed: 13 million hectares are destroyed annually. Everywhere, monstrous bulldozers pass by, while squads of mercenaries from the big land capital light gigantic fires and practice pigeon shooting on the natives who refuse to be expropriated.

Same phenomenon in Argentina and Paraguay (Gran Chaco), where the viandification” of suitable land by international agribusiness is leading to massive deforestation, as well as irreversible damage to health from the application of glyphosate and other pesticides. Argentina, for example, alone lost 22% of its forests between 1990 and 2015. And in most cases, transgenic soybean farms (produced by Monsanto/Bayer!) have replaced them, with the very active support of political parties.

The Amazon, considered the “green lung of humanity”, which contains half of the world’s animal and plant species, provides the planet with one-fifth of its fresh water, is literally condemned to death by agro-capitalism: 40–55% of its surface area is expected to disappear by 2050.

Living plant life is literally being killed, in the sense given to it by the current President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who declared: “A policeman who has never killed is not a real policeman.” It would be just as wise to write on the pediment of the temples of Brazilian capital (but also US, Chinese, etc., ad infinitum): “A capitalist who has never massacred nature is not a real capitalist.”

The same massacre of the forests occurs in Southeast Asia. To meet growing needs, especially in India and China (for daily cooking, fast food and industrial food), but also in Europe for “bio-diesel”, palm oil production has exploded: it has tripled in twenty years, while huge fires have been burning down tropical forests (in 2015 and 2019).

Capital, whatever its national crest, is fully responsible for the disaster: from the capitalist production and import companies of China and India to the big multinationals of agribusiness: Nestlé (Switzerland), Unilever (Anglo-Dutch), Kellogg’s (USA), Colgate-Palmolive (USA), Elevance (USA), AFAMSA (Spain), ADM (USA), Procter & Gamble (USA), Reckitt Benckiser (UK), etc.

This agricultural hyper-business based on bovine cattle breeding poses a major risk to water resources. Water will start to run out by 2025. A kilo of beef requires 13,500 liters of water, compared with 1,200 liters for a kilo of wheat. Not to mention the pollution of the water tables by animal waste, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals, fertilizers and the rich array of pesticides and excess fertilizers (phosphates, nitrates). (2) Not to mention these “green tides” of toxic algae that invade the European and American coasts and give off a deadly gas: they often come from animal excrement that is transformed into polluting nitrates.

This pollution is of course in addition to air pollution (CO2, methane, nitrogenous oxide, etc.), which causes at least 7 million deaths, as we have already pointed out. This industrial pollution, even in food, will result in a global warming of 4°C in 2100 (or +10°C on the continents!), if capitalism continues to perpetrate its misdeeds on earth. In this case, it would do better than the medieval Black Death of 1348-1353, which killed a third of the European population. “Hyper-modern” capitalism, that of the “technological revolution”, would see three quarters of humanity disappear! (3)

In addition to these different types of pollution, there is also the pollution of food. The food offered in supermarkets and consumed by families and communities is poisoned. Let’s start with the basic products. Cereals? The rate of bakery products containing pesticides has more than doubled from 2000 to 2014. Those served for our toddlers’ breakfast contain the carcinogenic Bayer/Monsanto glyphosate. Fruits and vegetables? ¾ of the fruits and 40% of the vegetables (non-biologic) carry traces of pesticides, the harmfulness of which is no longer to be proven.

Meat? Its excessive consumption can threaten human health, increasing the prevalence of various cancers, cardiovascular diseases, cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, poly-arthritis. Let’s not talk about processed meats – present in prepared dishes – which receive a carcinogenic seasoning: sodium nitrate, causing at least 40,000 deaths worldwide.

Fish? Constituting 7% of the proteins consumed by the world’s population, they are becoming increasingly rare, even a luxury product. Overfishing, which has exploded over the last 60 years, threatens at least a third of the aquatic fauna. Only 10% of large fish remain. The Mediterranean is threatened to become a dead sea. In addition, the oceans are polluted by mercury and dangerous plastic micro-particles that are eaten by fish. As for farmed salmon, boosted with fish meal, they can fall victim to one of those toxic algae that capitalism has caused to proliferate, when they are not – like human beings – victims of viruses: that of infectious salmon anemia (ISAV).

And what about the good old pinard [jug wine], this meager consoler of the draftees who were sent to their deaths; “the consoling wine, deep as the grave” (Marie Dauguet, Poème du vin, 1910)? A study revealed in 2013 that wine, “nectar of the gods, genius of men” contained 300 times more pesticides than drinking water. And we don’t count the sixty or so chemical additives added in the tun by the producers?

This type of toxic food (junk food) has created a breeding ground for the spread of more virulent viruses. People weakened by pollution and inhumane working conditions lose their immune defenses. They lose them all the more as their food hygiene is catastrophic, a “hygiene” modeled on fast food: rapid ingestion of industrialized meals, no time off for a quick return to work. Time is money for a capital that must circulate ever more rapidly! A time when everything is calculated to the nearest thousandth of a second, at the risk of a crash! (4)

In the developed countries of the West and East, obese individuals, often diabetics, who are more likely to suffer from heart and respiratory problems, are ideal candidates for Covid-19. According to initial data from a French registry, 83% of patients in intensive care are overweight. (5) The situation is more dramatic in the USA where 42% of American adults are obese, 9% of which suffer severe obesity. The poorest have to make do with toxic and cheap industrial food: a “McDonald’s” burger costs one dollar, a salad 10 dollars! Deprived of access to healthcare – blacks in particular – who pay the highest bill: a demographic minority (32%), they represent 67% of coronavirus victims in Chicago, and even 70% in Louisiana. (6)

In Mexico, 72% of adults are overweight, often diabetic, as a result of continuous ingestion of sweetened drinks, whether light or not. Coca Cola is the primary cause of both scourges. It even finds its place in babies’ bottles (an 11-month-old baby reached the record weight of 28 kilos!). Sodas are sold at the same price as a bottle of water! Coca Cola is a state within the state. Vicente Fox, who was director of Coca Cola Mexico, even presided over the country from 2000 to 2006! (7)

Under this regime, human beings will not die of hunger – as long as the circuits of economic exchange are not cut off by an XXL crisis (cf. conclusion); they will continue to be intubated with “junk food”. With the Coca Cola (or Nestlé) diet: dying of thirst seems an inexorable destiny. Coca Cola in Mexico (but also in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.) pumps without the slightest restraint into the water tables. The result? Villages connected to the network have nothing left to tap; agrarian communities no longer have water to grow their vegetables, no income, and they consume cheap coca to cheat hunger… As for the waste left by Coca Cola (plastic bottles, toxic sludge from its factories): it will never be treated. (8) It adds up to the waste left by the dyeing and textile industry, and the chemical industry (red sludge and others).

This “junk food” diet should not be taken as proper to the USA and Mexico. There are already 700 million Chinese with overweight, almost half of the population! This phenomenon has exploded since the 1980s, during the last four decades, which saw a gigantic slag heap of “wealth”, in fact junk foods, junk bonds, and decayed wares subject to programmed obsolescence. In this society of obese capital” everything is XXL, from the financial and monetary capital in circulation to the size of soda drinks (3 liters) and “big macs”. In the end the coffins that carry away the victims of “obese capital” are XXL, when they are not simply thrown into mass graves, as in the Middle Ages or during wars.

It was in such a situation that the coronavirus arose, which took advantage of the general health catastrophe, the accumulation of capitalist mismanagement, the weakening of entire populations, either by a noxious diet, or by manifest food deficiencies (undernourishment), or by the ingestion of time bombs (compound meats), or by industrial pollution, or finally and above all by the capitalist model of productivity at all costs. Capitalist “civilization” at the time of the coronavirus is that of the throwaway society, starting with the wage earners, even more so in times of open crisis.

In the societies of the ‘Ancien Régime’, the various plagues appeared in a context of famine or undernourishment. Their spread led to more famines; the destruction of entire communities made it impossible to cultivate the fields. When there was a recovery, when agricultural workers, because of their scarcity, were able to negotiate the best price for their labor (as after the Black Death), there was a recovery, and the standard of living rose. Epidemics (malaria, plague, etc.) seemed to recede with the resumption of a certain normality, of which the cauldron was tangible proof. A Sicilian proverb states: “The cure for malaria is the bottom of the cooking pot.”

In the “modern”, hyper-capitalist world, all the “revolutions” carried out (agricultural, computer science, biotechnology, robotics, etc.) cannot push back the walls of a building undermined by its own contradictions. At the end of the last four crazy decades, Capital has sacked, as never before in history, all natural and human resources. Deconfinement or not, there will be neither a return to a certain “normality” nor a truce in this war proclaimed from the beginning of the confinement that subjects half of humanity to a state of exception.

Capitalism, by completing the commodification of nature, has in fact declared a permanent war against humanity and life itself. Not a state of emergency but a state of near-normality of a system incapable of overcoming its contradictions.

Next chapter: 
c) Commodification, the permanent war of capital against nature


1 Fred Vargas, L’Humanité en péril, Flammarion, 2019.

2 Idem.

3 Pablo Servigne & Raphaël Stevens, coll. «Anthropocène», Seuil, 2015.

4 Frédéric Lelièvre & François Pilet, Krach Machine, Calmann-Lévy, 2013.

5 «Les personnes obèses sont plus fragilisées par le virus», Le Monde, April 8,2020.

6 «Aux États-Unis, le lourd tribut des Afro-Américains», Le Monde, April 10 ,2020, p. 6.

7 France Info, August 28, 2019.

8 Fred Vargas, op. cit., p. 138-140.