FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Food Poisoning as Background Noise

by RICHARD MANNING

A friend of mine was uncharacteristically cheery during the holidays, an anomaly he finally explained: “I made a bunch of money shorting Wendy’s.”

He’s a day trader. Translated, his explanation means he cashed in by betting the panic from mad cow disease would turn fast-food company stocks into downer animals. The message here is that our culture has become so predictably frenzied that people can make money betting on stampedes.

Orange alerts, airport barricades and frothing at the mouth about a vanishingly obscure disease of cattle — these are the trappings of what some label a “culture of fear.” I wish we were, but I think there is a subtle and important line to be drawn here between fear and panic. The latter implies bug-eyed, bovine, bellowing hysteria, and mad cow disease illustrates the point. We are not a culture of fear. We are a culture of panic.

The short selling of fast-food stocks, killing of calves and regulatory umbrage are all panic reactions. No American has contracted mad cow disease in this country, let alone died. By comparison, three common food-borne bacteria — salmonella, listeria and toxoplasm — kill 1,500 Americans a year, yet food poisoning is background noise not worthy of a headline. Panic is a short-term, irrational response, and there simply is nothing to panic about in our beef supply. There is, however, something to fear, something to identify as a real and long-term threat that requires a rational response. The madness is not in our cattle, but in our method of raising them.

The disease is a concern because almost 80 percent of the nation’s beef comes through feedlots, which collectively form a remarkably inefficient protein factory. Mostly, this system’s raw material is grain and soybeans. But it gets amped up with protein supplements, which these days could mean anything from rendered household pets to sardines, blood or slaughterhouse waste.

Legally, rendered cattle parts aren’t supposed to be fed to cattle. That’s the practice that can indeed infect cattle with mad cow disease. But as is the case with any large, elaborate and diffuse system with an end goal of profit, regulations slip. Even the federal government admits the ban is too frequently breached.

This feedlot system developed as part of our Rube Goldbergian industrial farm economy that has everything to do with disposing of surplus grain and almost nothing to do with the health of consumers, the well-being of farmers and the health of the land.

We could finish our beef on grass, as some niche marketers are doing in this country. (Given the current panic about mad cow, that would be a pretty niche to occupy. Even my short-selling friend could be bullish on this business.) Grass can’t spread mad cow disease.

But mad cow is not the point; it’s a symptom of a deeper ill. The feedlot system is cruel, wasteful and dangerous. It entails a litany of abuses, but its inefficiencies can be summed in energy use. It takes about 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to make a calorie of feedlot beef. Grass-fed cattle require less than a third as much.

This theme plays throughout our food system. Cornell University’s David Pimentel estimates that if the world’s known oil reserves were used only for agriculture and the whole world produced food in the high-energy way we do in the United States, those reserves would be gone in about seven years.

Anyone who does not see the peril to human life in that number hasn’t considered how far we will go to secure oil. I fear that our adventure in Iraq is only the beginning.

RICHARD MANNING’s most recent book, “Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization,” will be published in February. Manning lives in Missoula, Mont. He is a member of the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 22, 2017
Diana Johnstone
All Power to the Banks! The Winners-Take-All Regime of Emmanuel Macron
Robert Fisk
Hypocrisy and Condescension: Trump’s Speech to the Middle East
John Grant
Jeff Sessions, Jesus Christ and the Return of Reefer Madness
Nozomi Hayase
Trump and the Resurgence of Colonial Racism
Rev. William Alberts
The Normalizing of Authoritarianism in America
Frank Stricker
Getting Full Employment: the Fake Way and the Right Way 
Jamie Davidson
Red Terror: Anti-Corbynism and Double Standards
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Sweden, and Continuing Battles
Robert Jensen
Beyond Liberal Pieties: the Radical Challenge for Journalism
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home
Angie Beeman
Gig Economy or Odd Jobs: What May Seem Trendy to Privileged City Dwellers and Suburbanites is as Old as Poverty
Colin Todhunter
The Public Or The Agrochemical Industry: Who Does The European Chemicals Agency Serve?
Jerrod A. Laber
Somalia’s Worsening Drought: Blowback From US Policy
Michael J. Sainato
Police Claimed Black Man Who Died in Custody Was Faking It
Clancy Sigal
I’m a Trump Guy, So What?
Gerry Condon
In Defense of Tulsi Gabbard
Weekend Edition
May 19, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Getting Assange: the Untold Story
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Secret Sharer
Charles Pierson
Trump’s First Hundred Days of War Crimes
Paul Street
How Russia Became “Our Adversary” Again
Andrew Levine
Legitimation Crises
Mike Whitney
Seth Rich, Craig Murray and the Sinister Stewards of the National Security State 
Robert Hunziker
Early-Stage Antarctica Death Rattle Sparks NY Times Journalists Trip
Ken Levy
Why – How – Do They Still Love Trump?
Bruce E. Levine
“Hegemony How-To”: Rethinking Activism and Embracing Power
Robert Fisk
The Real Aim of Trump’s Trip to Saudi Arabia
Christiane Saliba
Slavery Now: Migrant Labor in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia
Chris Gilbert
The Chávez Hypothesis: Vicissitudes of a Strategic Project
Howard Lisnoff
Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain
Brian Cloughley
Propaganda Feeds Fear and Loathing
Stephen Cooper
Is Alabama Hiding Evidence It Tortured Two of Its Citizens?
Sheldon Richman
The Real Danger From Trump is Ignored
Jay Moore
Learning from History: Resistance in the 1850s and Today
Matthew Stevenson
Down and Out in London and Paris With Macron, May, Trump and Gatsby
David Jaffee
Rolling Back Democracy
Fred Gardner
Irrefutable Proof: Russian Election Meddling Documented!
Jess Guh
Neurology Study Reveals What We Already Know: People of Color Get Worse Healthcare
Joseph Natoli
A Culture of Narcissism, a Politics of Personality
David Rosen
Politics and the Agent of Social Change
Ian Almond
The Secret Joke of Our Democracy: Britain’s Elephant in the Boardroom
Andre Vltchek
Revolution Vs Passivity
Erik Rydberg
Stop the Jordan Cove LNG Project #NoLNG
Vijay Prashad
When Israeli Fighter Jets Almost Killed Nehru
Christopher Brauchli
The Certified Trump
Chuck Collins
Congress Wants to Cut Your Health Care — And Billionaires’ Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail