On Pigs, Bees and Pollan
That’s Michael Pollan, not bee pollen.
In "Our Decrepit Food Factories," in The Times Magazine, Michael Pollan, who clearly still can’t shake the notion that animals are ours to use, takes on "sustainability," among other things, and almost gets me to like him.
Almost. But not quite.
- "Confucius advised that if we hoped to repair what was wrong in the world, we had best start with the ‘rectification of the names.’ The corruption of society begins with the failure to call things by their proper names, he maintained, and its renovation begins with the reattachment of words to real things and precise concepts." Animal rights, anyone?
- No, Pollan isn’t referring to the term animal rights meaning animal welfare. He’s referring to "sustainable" and "unsustainable." His point will be that what we’ve been doing to animals through factory farming ("concentrated animal feeding operations") and to honeybees not only isn’t sustainable, but may in some cases be lethal. To people, of course (it’s already lethal to the animals, by design, and to many bees during transportation, but that apparently isn’t a problem).
- Here’s a paragraph, the likes of which I say all the time at dinner parties once someone has made the mistake of asking me about veganism. I’m sure it’ll be familiar to you. But it’s in The Times Magazine, so people unlike you may actually read it, and I think that’s fabulous.
"The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that at least 70 percent of the antibiotics used in America are fed to animals living on factory farms. Raising vast numbers of pigs or chickens or cattle in close and filthy confinement simply would not be possible without the routine feeding of antibiotics to keep the animals from dying of infectious diseases. That the antibiotics speed up the animals’ growth also commends their use to industrial agriculture, but the crucial fact is that without these pharmaceuticals, meat production practiced on the scale and with the intensity we practice it could not be sustained for months, let alone decades."
The consequence of the pumping of massive amounts of antibiotics into the food supply is that we’re forcing bacteria to evolve that will be resistant to all those drugs (eg., MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus that currently kills more Americans annually than AIDS).
- Luckily, our trusty government is on the case and, oh, wait . . . it’s not.
"Scientists have not established that any of the strains of MRSA presently killing Americans originated on factory farms. But given the rising public alarm about MRSA and the widespread use on these farms of precisely the class of antibiotics to which these microbes have acquired resistance, you would think our public-health authorities would be all over it. Apparently not. When, in August, the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition asked the Food and Drug Administration what the agency was doing about the problem of MRSA in livestock, the agency had little to say."
- In March, I wrote on supervegan.com about Colony Collapse Disorder, which at the time was so new that it was thought to be some kind of colony collapse disorder. Now that it has been capitalized and studied for nine months, during which time several potential causes have been eliminated, we’re down to the obvious: the way we’re treating them is causing them catastrophic harm. Of course, we only notice the harm when we realize they’re not showing up to do their jobs.
- Pollan is interested in the welfare of pigs and honeybees, and the unsustainability of the systems we’ve created to alter their natures. This is in no way an argument for not using animals or honeybees.
- The stories of MRSA and the honeybees have a lot in common, not the least of which is that the systems that we’ve created that have resulted in antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the mass dying off of honeybees are not sustainable. "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."
Pollan writes: "We’re asking a lot of our bees. We’re asking a lot of our pigs too." Our bees. Our pigs. Well, we did breed them for our use, and according to the law, then, they are indeed our property. Nevertheless, I wonder what Confucius would say about the use of our.