It isn’t possible to fix complicated problems with simple solutions.
Are you worried about too much carbon dioxide in the air? Me too. But here’s something strange. Right now, a shortage of carbon dioxide threatens agriculture in the UK, as one consequence of a rise in the price of natural gas, up 70% in August alone in the UK. That ought to be a good thing if it slows the burning of fossil fuels, but. A different consequence threatens agriculture from a different direction, removing one of the crutches intensive agriculture leans on.
There’ve been various reports in various places, but this article in The Guardian sums things up.
What’s a person to think? Or do?
Oh, and am I weird to wonder why The Guardian chose to illustrate this article on the agro-industrial complex with a bucolic picture of a sow and her piglets in a nice open field?
I’ve known Susan MacMillan for a long time and admire her communications work for the International Livestock Research Institute. Her latest newsletter – Taking Stock: The case for not making a case for, or against, livestock – shares heartfelt introspection about how she thinks about livestock, introspection she embarked on because “the debates now roiling livestock issues on every side have eroded my assuredness”. Susan concludes:
“I’m trying to embrace ambiguity as well as diversity in livestock communications”.
That’s understandable, and laudable, even though my own view (see above) is probably less nuanced. See, I’ve always believed that it is entirely possible and rational to be both for and against livestock depending on context. Susan MacMillan acknowledges as much, although I can quite see that her work might make that difficult.
For the record, in my view animal-sourced foods are a vitally important part of a nutritious diet for billions of poor people around the world. They are also a source of medical problems for billions of people, rich and poor. Abuses of animal welfare are not restricted to any particular system, although they may be more common where the animal itself is devalued as a living thing. Similarly, livestock’s impact on the environment depends on the details of how the animals are raised and, ultimately, consumed.
There are no simple answers.
Some people, in some places, should eat less meat etc. Other people, in other places, should eat more meat etc. Almost everywhere, animals can probably be managed to have less environmental impact.
I recognise that’s not a cry people can rally behind, but it happens to be true.
(Full disclosure: I freelance for ILRI from time to time.)
My friend Luigi pointed me to a fascinating article by A.J. West, who writes as Medieval Indonesia. In it, they take issue with the translation of an 8th century Chinese poet. I won’t spoil the fun, which hinges on a highly probable mistranslation of the Chinese 丁香. Do read the article and, if you’re as interested in foods, words and etymology as I am, some of the other articles on cloves that you’ll find linked at the end. They demonstrate clearly that the mistranslation goes far beyond China and into the relatively recent past.
Cloves feature but once in a delightful piece on the history of sugar and spices in Edinburgh; John Riddoch, a wealthy Edinburgh merchant, possessed 3lb of cloves, worth £20, when he died in 1632. There’s plenty more of interest in the piece, which doesn’t shirk from the importance of slavery to Scottish fortunes and the goods those fortunes were spent on.
Lindsay Middleton’s article is the last in a series she wrote for the National Trust for Scotland to celebrate the re-opening of one of its jewels, Gladstone’s Land on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. All of them are well worth your time.
Truly, I do not know what to make of this article from the University of California at Davis’ blog. Some people attending the Transgenic Animal Research Conference were invited to an “all-GMO dinner” before the conference in Davis. The question is, why?
Presumably people who work on transgenic animals need no persuading that GMOs are safe and healthy. The conference itself seems to have been online only, and it was only “a small group of invited colleagues and friends” who partook of the salmon, corn, potatoes, papaya and pineapple that formed the feast. Even the frying oil had been engineered, though, and the beer was made with an engineered yeast. The whole thing was probably quite tasty.
That’ll do for now. Have a good week.
Pigs by Pork Checkoff on Flickr, so representative of the pork industry, at least in the US.