02 May 2009

Swine flu

So, as The Guardian and The New York Times each report, the White House has planted a new organic garden, to be tended, not by the President, but by his wife - well, actually, by the White House staff. The Times report claims the garden is fraught with "political and environmental symbolism." And The Guardian report likewise insists that food activists see this move as a "victory" in the campaign to get people to see local or home-based food production as important and feasible. All that sounds good to me, I supposes. But what I wonder is if the President will make the connection between pathologies in our industrialized food production system and the flu epidemic we are witnessing and obsessing about? Consider this essay from The Guardian that links the current outbreak to the evolution of flu viruses facilitated by massive pig farms. It has become distinctly non-PC to refer to the current outbreak as "swine flu" because the multi-national food industry doesn't like it. In some sense the word-smiths are correct - the culprits are not the pigs, the culprits are the companies who raise them in industrialized farms. That said, this is swine flu and everyone knows it. Changing the name won't change the underlying causes. We don't need symbolism here. We need agricultural policies that do not subsidize massive production processes at the expense of decentralized alternatives.* As the President has repeatedly indicated - apparently at some political risk - washing your hands is an important measure to control spread of disease. What is more important, though, is that he move beyond dispensing advice on personal hygiene and address the sources of disease. How about that for a pragmatist response to the flu?
* Coincidentally, I just came across this segment of a series Antonin Kratochvil is doing on "The New Jobless" - Norlin Gutz and his family and their farm are among the victims - and that is the correct word - of industrialized food production.

Norlin Gutz, 55, a pig farmer for 36 years, with his wife, Becky, and son Ryan, went from a net worth of $1.3 million to bankruptcy in just 18 months, seen on their farm in Storm Lake, Iowa. "I grew up in this business," says Gutz, "I don't have anything else I can do. You feel like you've let your wife down, your family, you parents, you know?" For 36 years Gutz raised 50,000 piglets annually on a farm first settled in the 19th century by his great-grandfather. But on Jan. 11 2009, Gutz, one of the few remaining independent pig farmers, loaded his last 1,500 pigs onto a truck. Photograph © Antonin Kratchvil/VII.

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Blogger sean said...

Also in the Guardian earlier in the week (as well as appearing elsewhere on the web) was a good piece on the topic by Mike Davis. It can found here:

02 May, 2009 13:04  
Blogger Ben said...

perhaps because you cannot catch swine flu by eating pork, it is creating an opportunity (scapegoat) to avoid talking about the critical issue of industrialized pig farming in this (and every) country. current pig production is a disgrace to the animal, the farmer, and ultimately the consumer, and similar parallels can be drawn in all large-scale livestock and crop farming. we have knowingly created a tremendously dangerous and volatile food system. not seizing these opportunities to educate the mass public is extremely unfortunate.

06 May, 2009 18:12  

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