Of Cynicism, Sows, and CCD

For anyone who has followed the food industry for even the shortest amount of time, Michael Pollan’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine regarding unsustainable practices in the food industry covers little new ground. But what it does is put a fair amount of the facts together and paints a disturbing picture of what the food industry has wrought.

First, he covers the pork industry -

Recent studies in Europe and Canada found that confinement pig operations have become reservoirs of MRSA. A European study found that 60 percent of pig farms that routinely used antibiotics had MRSA-positive pigs (compared with 5 percent of farms that did not feed pigs antibiotics). This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study showing that a strain of “MRSA from an animal reservoir has recently entered the human population and is now responsible for [more than] 20 percent of all MRSA in the Netherlands.” Is this strictly a European problem? Evidently not. According to a study in Veterinary Microbiology, MRSA was found on 45 percent of the 20 pig farms sampled in Ontario, and in 20 percent of the pig farmers. (People can harbor the bacteria without being infected by it.) Thanks to Nafta, pigs move freely between Canada and the United States. So MRSA may be present on American pig farms; we just haven’t looked yet.

Secondly, he touches upon the colony collapse disorder from the bees.

In 2005 the demand for honeybees in California had so far outstripped supply that the U.S.D.A. approved the importation of bees from Australia. These bees get off a 747 at SFO and travel by truck to the Central Valley, where they get to work pollinating almond flowers — and mingling with bees arriving from every corner of America. As one beekeeper put it to Singeli Agnew in The San Francisco Chronicle, California’s almond orchards have become “one big brothel” — a place where each February bees swap microbes and parasites from all over the country and the world before returning home bearing whatever pathogens they may have picked up. Add to this their routine exposure to agricultural pesticides and you have a bee population ripe for an epidemic national in scope.

To get the full scope of his take on these events, you should read the article in its entirety. I highlighted these two sections to demonstrate the severity of the issues that he touched upon.

As I read his article, a wave of cynicism washed over myself. This feeling isn’t a new one. In fact, it is one in which I have had a fair amount of late. Because so much is riding on these two issues, there are people out there who will no doubt wish to bury the significance of them – partly due to fear of culpability, but mostly because of fear of short term financial losses that will have to be incurred in order to fix the damn problems.

This burying will be done in two parts. The first part is easy enough: through inaction of the USDA, who has yet to show any level of seriousness in pursuing an adequate level of governance that would require financial sacrifices on the part of corporate-owned farms.

The second part will be a smear campaign against anyone who brings these items to the attention of the public. This would be pretty much anything from press releases from the Center for Consumer Freedom (whose name is amusingly ironic, as they rarely have little to do with the actual consumers) to co-ordinated PR efforts from various relevant companies who will try to paint themselves “green”, and use this as evidence of the messengers lack of credibility surrounding these findings.

Perhaps I’m overly cynical in regards to this, and perhaps a little paranoid, but I cannot deny that this is how I feel. I wish that someone who has some level of accountability would just own up and fix these issues.

Perhaps this is simply too much to ask. At this point, I’d be better off buying a lottery ticket and waiting for my winnings to come in.

(thanks to Jack from Fork & Bottle)