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Is It Vegan? Is it Sterile?

June 6, 2012

As many know, I’m active on Twitter #agchat on Tuesday nights (Twitter @SlowMoneyFarm ) and interested in most of the topics that come forth. It’s a chance to talk to those from various points around agriculture that we don’t often come across as well as sometimes a chance to talk to those interested in how food is produced that ‘wander in’ and provide more discussion.

The chat, if you haven’t joined us Tuesday evenings, includes a wide array of farmers, from organic to “conventional” from livestock to crops. Topics may range from cover crops to social media to, like last night, open topic questions that are submitted in advance. There was a question about wildlife and many came forth with talk of buffer strips, working with wildlife, enjoying the songbirds that share our world. We have a nest of cardinals out by the rabbits – mama cardinal entrusted us with her babies just feet from where one of our cages are. They don’t bother anything, and she sometimes stands by and watches while we feed in the evenings. Occasionally we get a glimpse of the male darting through the bushes as well. It’s not the first time this has happened…we’ve actually had cardinals ‘established’ here for several years, seeing a couple generations raised in the bushes that provide a buffer strip on the back side of the sheds.

We also have some large owls in the trees around the property and nearby, ready and willing to take advantage of a loose bird or rabbit. In six years they’ve grabbed one bird (plus one possibility) – and encourage overhead protection as well as fences.

So last night during the exchange three farmers spoke up about food safety issues. One vegetable farmer with 40 acres of carrots, of course, has a different view of wildlife being welcome on the property, brought about by the quest for clean food.

After the chat I thought about how we’d miss the songbirds if they weren’t there. Growing up there were deer in the back field – we’d leave a salt block out for them, and they had the creek nearby for water, and fields to eat from. It wasn’t uncommon on a summer evening to see a half dozen of them at the edge of the hay field or in the corn field. So I began looking at the food safety issue and was dismayed to see some advocating for eliminating wildlife. I think, too, of vegan and vegetarians in the forums who blame “factory farming” for the contamination of vegetables, even though there’s no feedlots for miles around the field.

From Chipotle to the Iowa Farm Bureau there are many public comments. The author of the first condemns Chipotle for using any animals – “For those of us who recognize there is no moral justification for slaughtering an animal, by supporting measures to improve animal welfare, we help companies like Chipotle advertise to the public they can feel ethical about consuming these animals.” It seems while feeling better about not slaughtering animals, it’s ok to eliminate wildlife animals (ethically of course) in order to feed vegans. The latter adds ” In 2006, a nationwide outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 was traced to baby spinach grown on a single ranch in California, where a large population of feral pigs shared pasture with a grass-fed beef cattle herd; feces from cattle and feral pigs tested positive for the spinach outbreak strain. ” Now many don’t want to eliminate feral pigs, and claim grass fed beef doesn’t have that strain of e.coli.

Illinois family farm Harvestore

Michelle Jay-Russell opens a food safety article with “Last month’s announcement by the Oregon Health Authority confirmed that deer droppings were the source of E. coli O157:H7 contamination in strawberry fields linked to 15 human illnesses, including one death.  These findings are not unprecedented because undercooked venison is a recognized vehicle of transmission for E. coli O157:H7.  Indeed, the first outbreak of deer meat-associated E. coli O157:H7 was described in 1995 among Oregon residents.” Additionally “The crop is destroyed if it becomes contaminated with fecal material. ” In other words, if a deer poops in the field, the crop is destroyed. That means, then, elimination of wildlife.

Another article highlights a farmer quote “”The farmers increasingly were being told, ‘This is a potential risk to your operation,’ ” he recalls. “And one by one, the producers came in, sprayed it with herbicide, and returned the ditch to its bare dirt condition.”

Some vegans are undecided – citing “Producing protein from wheat means ploughing pasture land and planting it with seed. Anyone who has sat on a ploughing tractor knows the predatory birds that follow you all day are not there because they have nothing better to do. Ploughing and harvesting kill small mammals, snakes, lizards and other animals in vast numbers. In addition, millions of mice are poisoned in grain storage facilities every year.”

People deserve safe food, yet there is risk. There is no sterile food, yet striving for that eliminates not only livestock but deer, owls, hawks, songbirds and any other creature that might get (or does get) near a field.

And that’s removing the very soul of the country.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2012 4:26 PM

    I was a vegetarian for five years and although I truly believed I was doing the right thing at the time, I realize now how many factors are at play regarding food production. Since I started eating meat again two years ago, I’ve learned so much more about the price we pay for ALL food, whether it’s meat or plants. Although I certainly don’t want the coyotes, raccoons and possums killing my chickens, I’m certainly not going to try to eliminate them all. I think we just have to strike the best balance we can, since going to extremes is rarely the answer.

    • June 6, 2012 5:39 PM

      Agree! Where it comes to food safety issues it is saddening to think the wildlife pay such a price because of contamination. How many people a generation ago worried about a deer walking through the field? Or the songbirds near the garden? Part of that balance, for us, is having those creatures in our world too. If we eliminate wildlife then eliminating meat is for nothing.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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