Monday, February 18, 2008

Your Fun Corporate Welfare News

The government is unfortunately charged with both protecting agriculture and regulating it, two missions that often conflict. Lately I've been researching the new proposed Leafy Greens legislation, a response to all the food poisoning outbreaks tied to leafy greens. I'm not really a fan of e. coli, but the Western Growers Association guidelines that will probably be the foundation for any new regulations are awfully focused on blaming wildlife.

Yes, Bambi and friends do carry E. coli O157:H7, but it's very unlikely it originated in their populations. From what I've read, 1% of wildlife carry strains of e.coli that are pathogenic to humans, but the prevalence in cattle ranges from 2.6% to 55%(!!). In wildlife, E.coli is most common in deer that live near...cattle ranches. Futhermore, cattle are more likely to shed the disease in feces, spreading it into the environment. Studies have shown that it's much worse in cattle fed corn (I.E. feedlot cattle), rather then grass, which is what ruminants evolved to eat.

But no, we wouldn't want to have to blame CAFOs. Instead, the regulations encourage tearing up vegetation that harbors wildlife, including vegetated buffers, which are known to filter out pathogens quite effectively. My prediction? Sterile fields aren't going to prevent outbreaks. In fact, sterile soil makes it easier for pathogenic bacteria to move in. If these proposed guidelines become mandatory they will hurt small producers, who are not the source of these outbreaks. I'm more than a little bothered that the industry that is to blame is the one writing the rules.

Personally, no more bagged greens from giant California industrial farms for me. I'm just glad that local growers (who oppose these guidelines and benefited greatly from the public's skepticism of bagged greens after the 2006 outbreak) are going to be selling spinach again soon as the weather gets warmer.

Also fun Spraying a questionable pesticide all over the San Franciso urban area . Why? To protect California agriculture from an invasive moth (thanks globalism!). It's probable that this pesticide, like most pesticides, is low-risk, but that doesn't mean no-risk. In an urban area "rare" side effects are going to manifest themselves because there are so many people in the spray area. Maybe this spraying is a reasonable response to the threat, but the state's response to concerns has been insensitive at best.

Finally, more Yellowstone buffalo sent to slaughter for OMG not obeying park boundaries. I guess bison can't read maps? Maybe they should build flashing signs? Why kill them for leaving? The very rare chance that they might spread a cattle disease called brucellosis, a disease that originated in domesticated livestock. Thankfully the state helps out their friends, the wealthy ranchers, with a program to kill the trespassing buffalo off. Opponents include animal rights activists and Native Americans, who oppose the slaughter for religious reasons.

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