There are two examples in The New York Times this week of just how dangerous “modern” farming techniques are to adults and children alike.
In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters is a frightening reminder that some fish farmers are using unfit for water to produce food we eat. That’s because the water is “contaminated by sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff that includes pesticides,” reports the Times. Equally dangerous is the intensive use of antibiotics – some of them banned – in overcrowded fish pens.
“There are heavy metals, mercury and flame retardants in fish samples we’ve tested,” Ming Hung Wong, a professor of biology at Hong Kong Baptist University, tells the Times. “We’ve got to stop the pollutants entering the food system.”
Sure, our government rejects a lot of those fish as the chart shows, but how many get into America undetected? Considering how many contaminated toys made it into the United States, I wouldn’t bet my kids health on Chinese eels, shrimp and tilapia.
Don’t think fish farms in America and Canada are all that wonderful, either. While not a direct threat to our health, pink salmon farms north of Vancouver Island in British Columbia are huge breeding grounds for parasites such as fish lice, reports The New York Times.
These parasites are killing off wild salmon. “If nothing changes, we are going to lose these fish,” Martin Krkosek, a fisheries ecologist at the University of Albert, tells the Times.
While this calls into question the entire concept of fish farming, declining wild stocks increase the value of farmed fish, where parasites are controlled with chemicals and antibiotics.
Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees that farmed fish are responsible for wild salmon infestations, so feel free to draw your own conclusions.
In our second example, Michael Pollen reveals in Our Decrepit Food Factories how America’s food industry is hurting our health in other ways. Antibiotics are again the culprit but in a different way: using them in pigs may be partly responsible for the outbreak of deadly MRSA, “the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria that is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS — 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association.”
Although I didn’t report on this story, Staphylococcus caused a major scare in Washington, D.C.-area public schools after a number of outbreaks were reported earlier this year. Here’s a story about a recent victim in The Washington Post.
One reason you have not heard about how pigs may be related to these deaths is the Food and Drug Administration is not yet studying it. The connection was discovered in other nations.
It is not uncommon for this country to effectively stop bad news from being reported about its own industries through a combination of lies, hiding the facts, humiliation of accusers and blocking relevant research:
As for independent public-health researchers, they say they can’t study the problem without the cooperation of the livestock industry, which, not surprisingly, has not been forthcoming. For what if these researchers should find proof that one of the hidden costs of cheap meat is an epidemic of drug-resistant infection among young people? There would be calls to revolutionize the way we produce meat in this country. This is not something that the meat and the pharmaceutical industries or their respective regulatory “watchdogs”— the Department of Agriculture and F.D.A. — are in any rush to see happen.
Meanwhile, food manufacturers of all stripes continue to industrialize; even organic food is falling prey.
This makes it exceedingly difficult for parents to determine what is safe for their children. Can we trust fish from China? Can I trust an organic stamp on Mexican melons? Grapes from Chile? Spinach from California?
When I used to go to the farmer’s market in the L.A. area, one grower used to have a sign up that said: “Organic.” When the federal government announced its organic program, the farmer put up a cardboard sign that said “No spray,” in sloppy handwriting. Why? “Because the rules favor the big guy,” he said in halting English.
Another farmer told me it was his plan to grow all his own food and eat nothing else.
“Why,” I asked.
“Because I can’t trust anyone,” he responded.
At the time, I thought he was paranoid. Now I’m not so sure.