aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Polyface Pigs (reprise)
Last summer we visited Polyface Farms. This is how pigs should live…
Sustainable’s not just another word for nothing left to lose
I know there are still skeptics - we’ve got plenty of them around here - but it seems we’ve reached something of a global consensus that global warming is a real and man-made phenomena.
So now I’m wondering, in a similar vein, how long is it going to take us to believe that pumping animals full of antibiotics is the way to grow super-killer-bugs?
Michael Pollan had a piece, Our Decrepit Food Factories, in the NYTimes Magazine Sunday. In it he tells two stories:
The first story is about MRSA, the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria that is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS - 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association. For years now, drug-resistant staph infections have been a problem in hospitals, where the heavy use of antibiotics can create resistant strains of bacteria. It’s Evolution 101: the drugs kill off all but the tiny handful of microbes that, by dint of a chance mutation, possess genes allowing them to withstand the onslaught; these hardy survivors then get to work building a drug-resistant superrace. The methicillin-resistant staph that first emerged in hospitals as early as the 1960s posed a threat mostly to elderly patients. But a new and even more virulent strain - called “community-acquired MRSA” - is now killing young and otherwise healthy people who have not set foot in a hospital. No one is yet sure how or where this strain evolved, but it is sufficiently different from the hospital-bred strains to have some researchers looking elsewhere for its origin, to another environment where the heavy use of antibiotics is selecting for the evolution of a lethal new microbe: the concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO.
The second story looks at Colony Collapse Disorder in 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.
I imagine Pollan’s AIDS reference in that first story to be purposeful. I was at ground zero for the AIDS epidemic and read Randy Shiltz’s 1987 book, And The Band Played On, in which he describes a so-called Patient Zero, a gay flight attendant who had sex with men around the globe and was, for a time, considered by some to be the original source of the HIV epidemic among gay men.
While that’s no longer a credible theory, they do still say that HIV came to the US ”probably via a single person.” Now one of the things I thought then, back when everyone around me was dying, was that if anything good was going to come of this it would be that we were going to see huge leaps forward in medical research and our scientific understanding.
What I’m seeing in the case of those bees is that, instead, we act as if we’ve learned nothing and have to start all over again from scratch!
Pollan starts his piece by noting that “sustainability” is the word of the moment, but he wonders if we haven’t succeeded in defining sustainability down:
To call a practice or system unsustainable is not just to lodge an objection based on aesthetics, say, or fairness or some ideal of environmental rectitude. What it means is that the practice or process can’t go on indefinitely because it is destroying the very conditions on which it depends. It means that, as the Marxists used to say, there are internal contradictions that sooner or later will lead to a breakdown. [...]
We’re asking a lot of our bees. We’re asking a lot of our pigs too. That seems to be a hallmark of industrial agriculture: to maximize production and keep food as cheap as possible, it pushes natural systems and organisms to their limit, asking them to function as efficiently as machines. When the inevitable problems crop up - when bees or pigs remind us they are not machines - the system can be ingenious in finding “solutions,” whether in the form of antibiotics to keep pigs healthy or foreign bees to help pollinate the almonds. But this year’s solutions have a way of becoming next year’s problems. That is to say, they aren’t “sustainable.”
From this perspective, the story of Colony Collapse Disorder and the story of drug-resistant staph are the same story. Both are parables about the precariousness of monocultures. Whenever we try to rearrange natural systems along the lines of a machine or a factory, whether by raising too many pigs in one place or too many almond trees, whatever we may gain in industrial efficiency, we sacrifice in biological resilience. The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word.
FCC scraps Media Ownership Rule
Bill Moyers knew they would. Here’s his update from late last week:
Mike Huckabee Extremism
Jon Perr of Perrspectives, produced the Top 10 Moments in Mike Huckabee’s Extremism last week:
[D]espite emerging stories from his checkered past such as the Wayne Dumond affair or his past AIDS bigotry, a true portrait of Mike Huckabee as a radical reactionary and dangerous extremist has yet to be painted.
Here then, are the Top 10 Moments in Mike Huckabee’s extremism:
This week he told Pam, “his outrages occur far more quickly than can be documented.”
Here, then, are 10 More Moments in Mike Huckabee’s Extremism: