Everyone knows the “bottom line” (it’s profit). Fewer people know the “double bottom line”, which measures the company’s or endeavor’s profit and the positive social impact. There is even an inspiring venture capital firm, DBL Partners, dedicated to investing in companies that make money and benefit society. But I had not heard of the “triple bottom line” until I read Gary Kleppel’s book The Emergent Agriculture.
The triple bottom line is about profit, positive social impact (for Kleppel this is maintaining the natural farm ecosystem), and “treat[ing] my livestock ethically and with respect” (2014, 30). Why is the ethical treatment of animals so important in maintaining the ecosystem? Kleppel explains that there are “three fundamental elements of durable societies. They are: environmental stewardship, economic viability, and ethical behavior” (2014, 29). The triple bottom line: sustainability.
Sustainability means that the techniques used to farm meet our needs, but do not hurt the ability of future farmers to meet future consumers’ needs. Sustainable farming is not only organic, but is also ethical and profitable (to a small degree at least – you don’t go into local farming for the money). It fits the bill of the triple bottom line.
Unfortunately, the current farming system favors industrial farms that are not sustainable – that in fact do hurt our ability to provide enough food for future generations. Industrial farms with chemical fertilizers and genetically-modified crops reduce farms’ biodiversity by wearing out the soil (killing all the bacteria, fungi, etc… that make up the ecosystem) and decreasing a crop’s genetic code to one that is susceptible to diseases instead of diverse. If a disease comes to a farm with diverse genes, it will harm some, but some will live. However, if a disease comes to a farm with plants with one genetic code, it will destroy that plant entirely. “Biodiversity is a buffer against… disaster…. diversity creates stability” (Kleppel, 2014, 24).
Specifically regarding meat sustainability, when animals are not properly cared for they become stressed. Stress makes them susceptible to diseases. They are then given antibiotics. Typically all of the animals on the farm are given the antibiotics to stop the spread of any disease. So the bacteria develop a resistance to the antibiotic and infect the animals again. Eventually you can see how a drug-resistant strain of bacteria could take down an animal farm.
This does not even take into account the safety of the humans who eat the meat that has been mistreated!
[T]hanks to our industrial production system (which helps to make [meat] abundant and cheap) much of the meat that Americans consume is not safe. For starters, meat produced from animals that spend the last four to six months of their lives in feedlots, where they are fattened on corn, are high in potentially artery-clogging, low density lipids (LDLs) and depleted of the more favorable high density lipids.
Kleppel, 2014, 36
According to the World Health Organization,
Biodiversity plays a crucial role in human nutrition through its influence on world food production, as it ensures the sustainable productivity of soils and provides the genetic resources for all crops, livestock, and marine species harvested for food.
…Intensified and enhanced food production through… use of fertilizer, plant protection (pesticides) or the introduction of crop varieties… affect biodiversity, and thus impact global nutritional status and human health. Habitat simplification, species loss and species succession often enhance communities vulnerabilities as a function of environmental receptivity to ill health.
Basically, biodiversity affects crops, livestock, and us. If biodiversity decreases, the health of our plants, animals, and ourselves declines. We need to focus on the triple bottom line – on sustainability. Sustainable farms yield greater crops than industrial farms do. They are more stable. And they are healthier for us.