Monday, February 12, 2007

Monday Rant

Bird flu has been found in a turkey flock in Britain, and may have gotten into the food supply. This touches on two hot-button issues for me. The first is food safety. Food safety (particularly meat safety) has become a problem in this country because of the way we produce meat. Meat animals are raised in tight quarters without adequate waste disposal, and fed a diet that they would never have eaten in the past. The un-natural diet promotes problems; for example, E.coli O157:H7 (the one that makes you sick) grows in the acidic stomachs of corn-fed cattle, but not in grass fed cattle. The crowding increases stress on the animals, lowering their immune responses and increasing their exposure to bacteria. The lack of sanitation guarantees that filthy animals enter the food stream, requiring later steps to clean off the bacteria. All of this drives safety issues like the bird-flu turkeys in Britain. And it's all a product of industrial agriculture--every case of bird-to-human transmission of bird flu has come to people who work closely with confined flocks. If we just let the animals be animals, living animal lives, lots of these problems would go away on their own.

The second issue, that comes from efforts to solve these contamination issues, is animal identification. Specifically, it's the National Animal Identification System that is in the works with the USDA. The original goal was to register every single animal on every single farm in the entire country. The system was, of course, mandatory--penalties were proposed for farmers who didn't comply. Fortunately, they have backed off of this a little, and will be allowing people to opt out. It is infuriating, though, that the proposal for dealing with the problems of concentrated industrial agriculture was a system that would have raised the costs of traditional farmers so high that only the factory farms would remain.

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