The first known death in the U.S. from the current round of infulenza has been reported. This swine flu bruhaha adds ammunition to arguments of those who favor more humane farming methods. The poor pigs may be getting a bad rap on "swine flu." There's no evidence so far of any direct connection between any pig, living or killed, and any human that is infected with any pernicious strain of influenza. But not since the movie "Babe" have the humane farm folks been so energized. And this issue isn't going to stop at the U.S. border any more than the flu virus.
From Michael Pollan and Bill McKibben to Alice Waters and the slow food movement you can sense a lot of folks talking and speaking about our industrial food production. And the obesity and other health problems that result. Overall the the humane farming advocates are NOT vegan or anti-meat, but raise questions about how animals are treated, mistreated, fed, killed and their meat dealt with before we get it out of some plastic and styrofoam container at the local store.
The environmental costs and burden associated with huge factory farms have long been obvious. Here's a Public Health Association report that's already six years old. Almost a decade ago it was clear Midwest factory farms were destroying life in a portion of the Gulf of Mexico. Factory farm runoff is still one big manure pile the Obama Admin has yet stepped into. But it's unavoidable.
The current currents don't mean the American food business will change much. The one thing going for petro-powered, fertilizer-enhanced, hormone-laced, concentration camp raised food: it's efficient to grow and properly preserved it has a helluva shelf life. Profits follow. Large-scale agriculture and food production is closely tied to every major environmental issue of our time: forest cutting in the tropics, water use, energy use, pesticides, over-fishing, soil loss, climate change, population growth. That means any change will be rebuffed as too costly, meddling with business innovation, etc. In the U.S, our petroleum/fertilizer/agribusiness axis is powerful, rich and dominant in a bunch of U.S. states with tiny populations but two Senators each. You think biodiesel or corn ethanol is overly subsidized? Try taking on the corn, beef, soybean, or pork industry. Consumers are far more likely to be effective here than any government agency or do-gooder lawsuits. The field and pasture are wide open for greentech investment and innovation. There's been some work done on turning manure into methane, but little on recapture of fertilizer in runoff or improving the archaic hydroponic farms or protein production that does not require hundreds of bushels of corn or soybeans. You want a comprehensive look at allthw areas of U.S. "industrial farming" that need changing, check out the Pew Foundation report. You don't imagine any change will come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, do you? Their main job is subsidizing the existing agribusiness structure. You waiting for subsidies to organic tomato growers? Forget it. [poll id="124"]