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.

 

May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail