PSYC 123: The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food
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The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food
PSYC 123 - Lecture 11 - Sustainability II: The Impact of Modern Agriculture on Biodiversity, Genetic Modification and Animal Welfare
Chapter 1. 100 Years of Agricultural Changes [00:00:00]
Professor Kelly Brownell: All right, so I’ll start off this class like I did last one, apologizing for my voice, not quite up to it’s usual place, but we’ll do the best we can. In the last class in the lecture notes, you’ll see a slide that we posted announcing the times and the locations of the review sessions that the teaching fellows will have. If you’d like to take advantage of those review sessions in preparation for next Wednesday’s exam, please feel free to do so. Please remember as well that you will not need to turn in a concept sheet for next week, just as a little extra opportunity to prepare for the exam. Are there any questions about the exam that people would like to ask now? Yes?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Okay, describe the format. It’ll be brief answers, a few definition type things like define this, that, or the other thing, but mainly it’ll be brief essay type answers to questions. In one of the previous lectures, I gave an example of an exam question from the last time I taught the class, and that’s a good — and also the criteria that we would use — that we did use to score that particular question. That’ll give you a pretty good idea about how we ask questions, and the type of things we’re looking for in the answers. I don’t want anybody to get fooled by the nature of the exam, so hopefully we’ve done a good job describing that. Another question, okay go ahead.
Professor Kelly Brownell: The exam will be here, and it’ll take place during the regular class time. People always have enough time during the regular class time to answer the questions. Right now, it looks like there will be six questions that you’ll have answered. Some of them will have different parts to them. In fact, each of them will have different parts to them, but it’ll be comprised of six questions and you’ll get points for each question and it’ll add up to 100 points, 100 possible points.
Okay good, let’s get started. The last evening I received an email from a student in the class who said that I might be creating some misperceptions about farmers, and farming in general. I was grateful to get that email, because I’m always happy to hear from you folks about things that you think may be — things that I’m covering in class that may be biased, maybe leave out important information, or there are things you’d like to see included that I haven’t. Please let me know that because I really appreciate that feedback. In some cases there will be time during the class to repair the problem that you might identify; but at the very least, it’s helpful for the next class I teach, so please pass along that kind of feedback.
I wanted to address that question in particular, which I think is really very important. If you look at farming in balance, it’s sort of up and down sides: there’s a lot to say on each of the equation. One thing we cannot do is to create a stereotype of what the typical farmer is like, because a farmer can range from a person that has an acre or two of land and grows a lot of different crops, to somebody that has thousands of acres and may not even own the farm him or herself, but just lease the land from a larger enterprise, and have control over much more stuff and only raise one particular crop or one animal.
Within that wide array of farming practices there are farmers who care deeply about the land, there are others who care less and are just in it for the profit. There are some who care deeply about the animals they raise; there are others who care less about them. There’s caring, there’s callousness, there’s really all of this mixed into the picture.
We’re talking in the last class and in this class about sustainability, and in the context of that particular issue there are important concerns that have been raised about modern farming practices. By definition, in the last class and in this class, we’re talking about some of the downsides of modern agriculture. When we talked in the green revolution, we talked more about the upsides of modern agriculture. We’re going to come back later in a subsequent class and I’ll have some guest lecturers come in — the folks particularly who run the Yale Sustainable Food Program — and these are individuals who are farmers. Yale has a farm that they run, they are people who interact with farmers who bring in food to the Yale dining halls. These are a group of farmers who care very deeply about their farming practices and care deeply about the land, and about the animals and things like that, and so in that class you’ll get a more positive picture.
What I don’t want to do is leave the impression that farming is inherently dangerous, inherently bad, or inherently callous, because it’s not necessarily those things at all. There are those practices, and it’s true that there are a lot of pressures on modern farmers to be — I mean they have to survive in the marketplace and those pressures make them compete with what other farmers are doing in the marketplace. That means if their crops are yielding more because of things like pesticides and fertilizers and the like that we’ve talked about in class, or they’re using genetically modified crops, it puts a lot of pressure on the individual farmers to follow those kinds of practices. Some farmers yield to all of them, some to part of them, some to none of them; it really depends on who the farmer is. The picture is actually quite an interesting and complicated one, with a lot of different things going on.
I alluded to this last time, but if you look at how the American farm has changed over the last hundred years, you see that the number of farms has gone way down, so as you can imagine, the average size of the farm has gone way up. so there are some farms that are many multiples of the average here, but the number of people that own and run small farms has gone way down. The average number of crops, as you see, has gone way down as well, and so this monoculture has created some negative consequences but some upsides as well, so there are good and bad parts of everything. Then the number of people in the population, the percentage of the population that work on farms, has really changed dramatically. There are up and down sides of this, and we’ll talk about both in class, but again, I wanted to deal with that particular perception.
Chapter 2. Defining “Organic” and “Sustainable” [00:06:53]
As we talk about food and what issues around food people care about, there are a number of them. These terms have been used a lot in class and they’ll continue to get used. Each has definitions — some of which we talked about already — but it’s interesting that different people care about different parts of these, and at the end of the class I’ll come back to how there may be some common ground that unites all of these particular interests.
Today I’d like to talk just briefly about definitions of organic and sustainable and what they mean. The definition of organic is precise. It’s driven by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that in response to what farmers were asking for, was — set a uniform standard for it meant to be organic.
There are different parts of the whole food chain process that you see listed on the screen that have to be met if something is truly considered organic. It has to do with the seeds; it has to do with how the crops are grown, how the animals are raised, and how the food is processed. If a farm meets all these criteria then what the farm is producing can be considered organic. This is administered through something called The National Organic Program which is run by the USDA, and the symbol that you see on the right is granted to crops that meet those criteria and it covers those criteria that you see on the bottom of the page.
This had led to some real advances, because prior to establishing a national standard, people were using the word organic in many different ways, and consumers didn’t really know what it meant. Well, now you know what it means. So if you buy something organic in the United States and it has that USDA symbol it means it’s met those criteria on the previous slide.
Sustainability is different from organic, something can be raised sustainably but not be organic and vice versa; so sustainable really has to do less with the crop itself or the animal itself, than with the conditions under which they’re raised. The UK Sustainable Development Commission has what I think is a nice definition, so safe, healthy, and nutritious food can meet the needs of less well off people — so there’s a social conscience part of it that’s built into the definition — it provides a valuable livelihood for farmers, processors, and retailers whose employees enjoy a safe and hygienic working environment whether in the UK or overseas.
Now there are different pieces to that. There’s the livelihood for farmers so that in order for food to be sustainable, the farmer has to be sustainable, but it also talks about employees in the food system.
Respects biophysical and environmental limits in its production of processing while reducing energy consumption and improving the wider environment; it also respects the highest standards of animal health and welfare compatible with the production of affordable food for all sectors of society.
There’s a lot built into that well, affordable food, animal welfare, environmental friendliness, and then finally: supports rural economies and diversity of rural culture, in particular through an emphasis on local products that keep food miles to a minimum.
The whole idea about rural economies and rural cultures is very interesting. As you can imagine, rural culture has changed a lot with the number of farms going way down; the number of people employed on farms, rural communities have changed an awful lot; and the attractiveness of living in those communities, working in those communities has changed over time depending on the economic conditions and whether farms are thriving or not. A definition of sustainability can have a lot of different pieces to it, all affecting different parts of the food system.
Let’s talk about an example, and sustainable or not, modified or not, and what qualities food may have, depending on what you’re paying attention to. There was an article in New York Magazine in 2006 that I thought was quite interesting here. They gave examples of two different tomatoes. The one on the left is called the Striped German tomato, raised in New Jersey. It has a relatively short shelf life unless it’s refrigerated, but that harms the taste properties, and so it’s usually eaten locally or shipped into Manhattan let’s say. The cost is high because you can’t raise so many of them, the one on the right is a hybrid round red that’s grown in different parts of the country, but particularly in Florida costs a lot less.
Now, we’ve all had the tomato on the right. It’s in a lot of different foods we eat, and you can see from the consistency in the middle there, you can almost taste what that tomato tastes like without — just by looking at the picture. It’s one of those things that has relatively little taste, people are amazed when they grow tomatoes in their yard how wonderful they taste; or when they get locally grown things at a farmer’s market compared to the kind of things that are mass-produced and shipped long distances.
If you look at these two tomatoes, the Striped German is grown more sustainably then the other one. Heirloom seeds are used, so it’s not crossbred to create some modified version of the original tomato; it is the original tomato. The seeds are planted in a greenhouse, they’re then transplanted into the field, they’re harvested and trucked to the local market without much stuff going on them.
The Hybrid Red, which is bred not for taste necessarily, but for color and consistency because you — it would be great if you could have a tomato that had all the right properties but in this case, taste yields in the breeding process to color and long shelf life so they can be transported long distances. Here’s what happens. Here are all the things happen to that tomato by the time the seed goes in the ground and it gets to you, so I’ll just let you read that.
That’s a lot of stuff going on with that particular tomato. One can come to your own — you can come to your conclusions whether overall this is good or bad, because the upside is that we can get tomatoes any time of the year and any part of the country, the cost is relatively low, the shelf life is long which helps the supermarket, and there’s not so much waste and spoilage; but the cost is all those things and the impact all those things do to the environment, potentially to our health. There’s good, there’s bad as there is with any part of these sort of things, but it’s interesting to look at the two tomatoes as an example.
Now, one of the reasons that there’s a market for this kind of thing is that it goes in so many foods. Burger King needs slices of tomatoes that look good and uniform on — because they’re open all year long in all parts of the country. Taco Bell has the same thing for the tomatoes that go on, so the fact that there is a market for these foods creates a market for those tomatoes and that’s how — but — and the only way to meet that need and meet that demand is create tomatoes with certain properties, and that’s where you get the differences between an heirloom locally grown variety and the mass produced varieties from somewhere else.
Chapter 3. Genetically Modified Foods in the Context of Sustainability [00:14:36]
That leads us to the discussion of genetically modified foods. We talked about this a little bit before in the context of the green revolution, but there’s a lot more to say about the issue. As with anything else, there are going to be up and down sides. In the past lecture, especially pertaining to the green revolution, we talked about the genetic modification of foods, the great increases in yields, the development of foods with certain nutritional properties like the golden rice and things, where there’s clearly an upside of the genetic modification.
Now, we’re talking about genetic modification today in the context of sustainability. Do genetically modified foods lead to a more sustainable world or a less sustainable world? Certainly a more sustainable world if you can increase the amount of food available to the population, but there are concerns with it as well, and I’m going to talk about some of those today.
This is a graphic from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing the increase in the United States, or worldwide increase rather of genetically modified foods going through 1999. Now, it’s interesting where in the world these things are grown. These are the top ten countries that grow genetically modified food and I’m going to show the — not the first number one, but all the other nine. These are the countries and the number of acres, and if you add up these acres for all nine of these countries they make up most of the top ten, it’s 137 million acres.
Now as you may guess, number one on the list is the United States, and here’s the number of acres. The U.S. is the clear leader, it has almost — it has half — essentially half of the world’s total of planted acres of genetically modified foods. As I mentioned earlier in a class, there’s a social history to this. In the U.S. people don’t care very much about this. We don’t have to label genetically modified foods, most of us don’t ask whether the foods we’re eating are genetically modified, and the population doesn’t care.
In other parts of the world people care a lot about this, particularly in Europe. Some people have estimated that 40% to 60% of all the foods we eat in the United States have genetically modified constituents in them. If you go to a place like Europe it’s much, much different; much, much lower number because people in those countries care about it.
Now the people who have written about this, the people who are concerned about it, have said it’s mainly because of the muscle of the big agribusiness companies that have stifled debate in the United States and have basically went over legislators so that they don’t do anything to regulate against it. Whereas, in the European countries and this is true in general, business is a less powerful force in the political system and people do care about it; legislators have stepped in with regulation and things, and the situation is much different then it is in the U.S.
This slide slows where the genetically modified foods are around the world and what has increased in recent years. I’m going to pause over this too much, but if you care to go back and look at it you’ll see what’s happening around the world. Just a few facts about this: number of millions of acres of it, how many countries are involved, and then again the U.S. is half the world’s total of crops.
Here’s — when you talk about genetically modified foods we talked about golden rice before. Let’s talk about BT corn, because this is something that’s closer to home. BT corn is a very prominent and highly controversial genetically modified food. The BT corn has been — it was developed to resist this particular insect that devours the corn and poses a great threat to the corn farmer’s existence. The fact that this borer feasts on the corn so much, leaves a farmer with several possibilities. One is to apply pesticides, and now the alternative is to plant BT corn, which is corn that’s been developed to resist the insect itself without having to put on an external agent.
It works like this, so here’s a little graphic of the corn borer eating the corn; and then there’s this particular bacillus that is listed here; that’s where the BT comes from right there. I’m sorry it’s not a little more clear, but I’ll show you this in another slide. That gene, the particular gene from this, is inserted into the crop, and then the crop develops its own expression of that gene. Then that crop can be bred and that gene persists in the crop and when the corn borer eats that particular corn it dies. So the gene again from this bacillus which is toxic to the corn borer is inserted into the corn; the corn then expresses the gene and the corn borers consume the toxin, their stomachs rupture, and they die.
This, as you can imagine, depending on the cost, has some real advantages to the farmer and potentially to the environment, because you’re not spraying pesticides on to get rid of the corn borer. Now, there are environmental concerns about the impact of the genetically modified corn, but there are some upsides to with not having to spray the pesticides. You can see a farmer makes lots of judgment calls about how to approach this kind of issue. What’s the worse of the two evils? What’s better for my utility in the market, etc.?
Here’s an example to one of those judgment calls that has to be made. Here’s a slide from The University of Illinois that shows corn crops side by side, where on the left they’ve tried to deal with traditional insecticides to get rid of the corn borer and on the right they’ve used BT corn, and you can see a clear difference in how the corn is thriving, and of course different environmental concerns with these two things.
Here are a few facts about BT corn. Licensed for use in 1996, so it hasn’t been around all that long, it’s now 35% of the U.S. corn crop and growing. The concerns about it are that it travels long distances in the ecosystem. If that slide that I showed you before from The University of Illinois would be typical, the genetically modified corn is not — and it’s by products in the corn plant are not going to be confined to that particular field because they’ll be carried elsewhere, particularly through rainwater, flooding, and storms into other places. So to the extent that the genetically modified corn is having negative impacts, then it is not confined to the areas just where it’s being grown.
There’s also concern that this kills more then the corn borer. Potential allergic reactions when people consume the food, that’s a controversial and not very highly studied area. Then there are always concerns about unknown effects on human beings from consuming these genetically modified foods that we just haven’t discovered yet. Not enough science has been done, so that’s a big question mark at the moment.
Here would be an example of how this concern about the spread of the genetically modified organisms might be a problem. You have the BT corn over here through streams, and floods, and rainwater. The corn itself will spread downstream sometimes quite long distances and then there’s this particular insect here, the Caddis Fly which is not the target of the BT gene because the farmer’s aren’t concerned about this particular insect because it’s not eating the corn, whereas, the corn borer is. So it kills not only the thing it’s intended to kill but other things as well. This is a common food for fish and amphibians in these streams, and so you can see how the whole ecosystem can get affected by something like this. When one talks about the costs and the benefits of genetically modified foods, this is the sort of thing that has to be factored into the picture.
Now, there is a large concern about genetically modified foods and their transfer in contamination to different parts of the environment. Here would be a hypothetical example. Here are wheat crops. Let’s just say that this white line represents the property line between two farms and one Farmer A owns the property on the left and is growing wheat and Farmer B owns the property on the right and is growing wheat there, and let’s say on the right it’s organic wheat and on the left it’s GMO wheat. The question is: does the farmer on the right suffer potential negative consequences from the fact that he’s right next door to somebody using genetically modified wheat?
There have been lawsuits filed about this from farmers claiming contamination by nearby genetically modified crops. The concern here is that there’s contamination from one farm to the next, or transfer of genetic material from one to the next, and that it can happen through a lot of things wind, water, birds, animals and humans can transfer them. A truck that is full of the harvested wheat from the left going down that road and some of it blows out and the wind is blowing toward the organic wheat, you potentially have issues, birds will transfer things, etc.
Then the question is: is the livelihood of the farmer on the right affected by the one on the left? And would his crop then, when it’s crossbred through that sort of natural process of the transfer of these things, not have an organic crop any longer because it doesn’t meet the non-GMO criteria that’s part of the organic set of criteria for being considered organic? These become very interesting issues. So again GMOs may be good or bad, but to the extent that they have negative consequences, this is one of the concerns that people have raised.
There’s a book by a man named Jeffrey Smith called Seeds of Deception, and you can see from the title of the book how he feels about genetically modified foods. This is the third time I’ve taught this class, and in the first class I had him come and speak to the class. He’s a very interesting, colorful and passionate person on this topic, and he cares a lot about these sorts of things, and the book is very interesting.
It’s a combination of a review of the recent science on the issue, but also anecdotal things that are most interesting. For example, he would talk about corn fields or wheat fields, or flocks of birds migrating from the north to the south would stop every year, similar flocks with the same number of birds and things, feast on the fields. And then a farmer — then one farmer would plant genetically modified crops; the other one would keep the traditional crops. The birds would come and completely ignore or stay away from the genetically modified crops and continue to go to the traditional crops. What does that mean? Who knows, but there are all these anecdotal reports that are really very interesting and those are contained in this book by Smith.
Now whether you take his message and consider it alarming or alarmist depends on your point of view. If you think GMOs are a potentially bad thing and the concerns outweigh the benefits, his book is alarming and there’s a lot in there that would make you say, oh my God I can’t believe that’s true. Then — but if you believe that the genetically modified foods are good thing for the environment and for the economy, and for farming in general, then you look at this and say that he is being selective in the information he presents; these anecdotes don’t really prove anything; and he really ignores the upsides of it. So it depends on your perspective here.
The fact that genetically modified crops are being used in different parts of the world is made clear a lot of different ways. I heard not too long ago this interesting NPR clip on this, and I thought I would play this for you [video clip].
Okay, so this is a picture of the farmer that was interviewed here and they talked about him holding corn that has been protected by the BT gene and corn that has not. You can hear within this clip a lot of interesting things, but certainly the up and down sides, the concern, the fact that concern gets overridden by economic realities of the world, whether local farmers can afford to pay for the technology… a lot of things are in this picture that makes it pretty interesting and fascinating.
One of the other things that I’d just like to point about that particular clip — because this will come up a lot later in class — is when NPR was doing this they talked — they got the company perspective, they got Monsanto people to weigh in on this. You’ll see very often in the way press covers issues that they want to get all sides represented. That’s what they consider to be fair, and the industry is very often quoted in these sorts of things.
The question is, can you trust industry in this context? Is the industry perspective a useful one to have? Well, of course they’ve got a vested interest, they’re not going to say it’s dangerous or it has a downside so they’re going to have sort of a biased view, and so does it make sense to even talk to industry in this context? If you’re having a — let’s say you want to put together an expert panel on genetically modified foods and their future in the U.S. and whether there should be regulation restriction or whatever, do you invite industry to that meeting? Do they even become part of the picture? The outcome of discussions varies a lot on whether industry is there as a voice or as not there as a voice. We’ll come back to this when we talk about food marketing in particular, but this issue comes up in this context as well. Okay, I think I’ve been reminded about that enough. Let’s see what’s going on here — here we go.
Chapter 4. Animal Welfare, Activism and the Mass Production of Meat [00:35:01]
I’d like to turn our attention now to the issue of animal welfare. There are many people who are concerned about the modern food environment because of the effect it has on the animals that are part of that picture. Then this is another example where there are extremely strong feelings about this. You have groups like PETA that are way out at one end of this in terms of concern. Some people believe strongly enough to join a group like that, other people feel that they’re way out in the extreme, and not to be taken seriously, and there are lots of people in the middle who think about this animal welfare issue.
The fact is that the modern food conditions, given what people want to eat, and given what the industry is producing, makes the production of large amounts of animals and small amounts of space at the least possible cost, an imperative. If we’re going to have McDonald’s, and Burger King, and Wendy’s putting out vast amounts of hamburgers, if we’re going to have these people eating as much steak and hamburger as they are, if we’re going to have as much meat in the system, as much chicken in the system, etc., as we have now, then that necessitates certain conditions for raising the animals.
Now there is recently — there are changes, to some extent, that allows some people to eat meat from animals that are not raised in those circumstances. The whole idea of free range chickens is part of that philosophy. Grass-fed beef, range-raised beef, things like this are all parts of this, so if you’re a consumer and you want to eat meat but you don’t want to get it from the big industrial sources, there are places to go get it. But that’s still a very, very small fraction of the overall amount of meat that people are eating. The animal welfare folks worry a lot about this, and are saying that we have to pay attention to what’s going on with animals.
Back to the idea of farms. There are some farmers who raise chickens and sell eggs, and these are the kind of conditions that the animals can wander free, they can go in and out of the house, it’s not crowded conditions. This looks like the way you think chickens could be raised, and are kind of the childhood image that we get from storybooks about what a farm is like; but that’s only a small amount of the chicken that people eat.
Now a farmer in these circumstances, obviously cares about the welfare of the birds, and is providing these kind of conditions. But it’s more typical to see this kind of thing, and these are called factory farms and these cages are called battery cages where the chickens are confined, they’re typically not let out of the cages and they — it breeds a whole lot of interesting behavior in the chickens.
Now there are — the animal rights activists have made — have been very visible and important players in the scene in terms of our thinking about food. I’m going to provide some information from them and including a video interview that’s interesting on this. But the people who are opposed to the people who are opposed to the way animals are raised, that is the ones who say that this is alarmist, these people are all a bunch of nuts and we shouldn’t really listen to them, raised some of the following points in their opposition to the animal rights activists. First, they’ve said that there’s nothing with eating meats humans are made to eat meats. It’s been true all throughout human history, and so why would it be bad now? They say that it’s the natural order of things that big fish eat small fish, you know, tigers eat other animals and in their conditions, and the fact that humans eat meat is part of this natural food chain that occurs and there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s all natural.
They make the case, and it’s not all, but some of them make the case that humans have more rights then animals do here, and its part of the food chain thing that much good comes from using animals. That is, humans’ subsistence is a social good here and there are many people who make their livelihood from raising animals, and many people who are in the economic chain that supports that. They say the liberal views have gone way too far on this. Then they — there is — as usually what happens when one group is opposed to another, they tend to vilify the people. They can vilify the ideas and that’s all that, but then you can vilify the people as well. So the characterization of these people is out of control, hysterical crazy, is quite common from that point of view.
Now the people who are the activists on this have a number of things that are out there and available and there is one particular video clip that some — how many of you have seen The Meatrix thing? Okay, just a minority of you, but still a fair number. This was put out by an animal rights group, and so one has to factor that in as you see it but it’s a little — it’s a take off on something you’ll recognize [video clip].
Again, that is alarming or alarmist, depending on your point of view. It presents the point of view of the animal welfare and the vitality of family farms, but it ignores the potential upside about having more meat available to the population at lower cost. So everybody has their own calculus about how they weigh these sorts of things out, but that’s one point of view by the animal activists.
Another person who’s written about this a lot is a philosopher at Princeton named Peter Singer. Now he writes about this in a very interesting way, because he brings in history to it, he brings in philosophy, and he’s a very thoughtful scholar and he’s a professor, as I said, of bioethics at Princeton. He’s a well-respected scholar in the field, and published a book first in 1975, but subsequently in other editions, called Animal Liberation and you see the book here. He makes interesting arguments about this and I’d like to share some of the core of what he says.
First he says — and this is readily admitted by the people who believe that the animal activists have gone too far — that humans engage in strong and selective specism. So there are some species we feel that it’s okay to treat certain ways and other species that we don’t, but that equality across species is not a goal, and that this has a long history. It’s not peculiar to the United States, not even peculiar to modern times, but goes way back and has its roots in western civilization as far back as Greece with references in the Bible and things. This has helped form the mindset or the contextual set of conditions under which we operate in terms of the treatment of animals. As you might guess, he’s one of the people that favors more humane treatment of animals but his discussion of the history of this is really very interesting.
He and others have talked about how children learn early in life about a vision of the farm — and we made mention of this before — and the treatment of animals that is really quite distinct from the reality of it, but you see here this little nursery rhyme and what it means in terms of animals, and what it means in terms of animals. There are lots of other things like this that are built into childhood stories that give us some sense of how we treat things. At the same time, children are being trained to eat foods like this, and are being — the typical child in America is being raised on a diet that has a fair amount of meat in it. So they’re doing this, but at the same time they’re taught that this is where the meat comes from; and it’s the difference between the romantic view and the reality of the situation.
Now what is the reality of the situation? Well, there’s a great variety as I said before. There are farmers who raise animals in quite humane conditions and they care a lot about the animals. There are lots of very touching stories about people who have grown up on the farms and become very attached to the animals, and it’s all considered the cycle of life if you will. A closeness between the farmers, the animals, the land and it all fits together into this holistic picture, and some of those farmers at risk to their own livelihoods are raising animals under sustainable conditions and more humane conditions. So that does exist, but it’s a relatively small amount of the overall meat picture.
If we’re considering the big picture where most of the meat comes from then we have to take these things into account. Singer and others have talked about how the ignorance gets reinforced that we’re not taught to look behind the veneer of what goes on in farms. It gets reinforced through literature, religion, the media, and education, and so Singer says that we harm animals for trivial reasons; that we really don’t need to be doing this; and that if we cared about animals and weren’t engaging in this specism that we would eat less meat, argue for more humane treatment of animals, and really try to change the picture that’s occurring in some parts of the agriculture world.
Chapter 5. Painting a Picture of Mass Meat Production [00:49:04]
The internet, and books and things are filled — websites of the activism groups — are filled with pictures like this that give you a sense of the conditions under which some of the animals are raised. In this case you see a pig confined in very small quarters, as The Meatrix little video said, there’s a question about whether these animals ever actually see the light of day, or how often they leave the confines of these kind of conditions.
The battery cage, here’s a picture from Australia with a typical battery cage, in this case, it said there were seven hens in this cage, which measured eighteen inches by eighteen inches. This is from a book called Animal Factories and the heading on — and the caption there if you can’t read it says, after their confinement during pregnancy sows are often immobilized from the time they give birth, until the piglets are weaned.
This is a picture of a calf confined to a very small space — and you’ll see more about this in a video I’ll show in a moment — being raised for veal. It says this veal calf will spend its whole life constrained to this pen so that its anemic muscles will remain tender when butchered. In order to lie down such calves must hunch up to fit their legs into the twenty-two inch stall.
Here would be an example of a production line from a large chicken plant, and how many animals get processed in the context of this. Again, if you think about how many chickens the country is eating, and it shows up in the chicken nuggets, it shows up in KFC, but also in the whole chickens people buy and cook at home and things like that, it’s a really vast industry. A large chicken plant, like let’s say a Tyson chicken plant, that might — the largest chicken producer that might exist in Arkansas, can process an unbelievable amount of chickens in a relatively short period of time.
Some of this has been written about by this professor who I’ve heard speak several times, who is in the Department of Anthropology at The University of Arkansas, Steve Striffler. He’s a very interesting guy and he’s done his research, his field work by more or less going under cover and working in the plants. He wanted to write about the labor conditions in the banana plantations in South America. He speaks fluent Spanish, so he basically masqueraded as a worker, went down there and worked in the banana plantation, and wrote about the experience from the inside in a book called The Banana Wars.
Then he did the same thing by working in the chicken plant and he — in Arkansas and he noted that in this area, in this big — in Arkansas he raises vasts numbers of chicken and in the context of these communities, there are a lot of people who have come, some illegally and some not, from South American and Central American countries and so a lot of people who work in these plants don’t speak English, but only speak Spanish; as I said he speaks Spanish so he would get in there. I think one of the jobs he took on in one of these plants was a — he was the flour handler for breaded chicken parts or something, and his job was to carry big sacks of flour, opening them up, put them in the machine, and do the breading of the chicken parts and stuff. But he really understands the industry, so this particular book that’s just called Chicken is really very interesting.
I met him, by the way, at a conference that was put on by the Agrarian Studies Program here at Yale several years ago. The conference was called The Chicken, and I’ve never been to such a conference on something like The Chicken but it turned out to be very interesting and there are people like him there. Michael Pollan spoke at the conference. There were a lot of interesting things about the role chicken has played in literature and history, and in fact, if you think about a lot of the colloquiums and sayings that we have, a lot of them have to do with chickens, like, don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, why did the chicken cross the road, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, there are all these sort of things in modern language that have to do with a chicken that I wasn’t sort of aware of until I went to this conference. This book by Striffler is really pretty interesting.
Another person who has achieved some visibility in this whole debate is a name named John Robbins, and you see a picture of him there. He’s an interesting fellow, he was born in 1947 to Irma and Irv Robbins, and Irv Robbins, you may not recognize the name, but was the Baskin Robbins — the Robbins of the Baskin Robbins. John Robbins, instead of getting into the family fortune and business broke off because of his concerns about agriculture, food, nutrition, and animal conditions and things.
So he’s an interesting person. I’m going to show you a little video clip in which he’s featured, not so much because it’s the most prominent thing out there or not so much because he has a more credible voice than anybody else, but I do think it’s representative of the animal concerns thing. He’s also written a book that achieved some notoriety and a film that was based on that book, a book called Diet for a New America, so if you’d like to read more about him, you’ll see it there. Here’s this interview [video clip].
Now in that little video clip you saw the extremes. You saw the industry spokesperson saying that, well everything safe as far as we know, and we’re following government standards except for a few rogue people who use too much of the antibiotics. You have the physician saying we don’t really know what the consequences of this are; and then you have Robbins. The two most important extremes I think was around that case of veal where you have Robbins saying that my statement about the way I live my life doesn’t allow me to eat something that comes from an animal that’s been treated that way, and then you have the chef and this almost euphoric language talking about the rare, delicacy that the veal provides for us, and that the animal has been raised in a very special way — so you see really the differences of opinion on that kind of thing.
If we want to summarize what there is about animal welfare in this discussion, it touches many sensitive issues. People care a lot about this. The imagery that gets used in The Meatrix, and I could have shown you things that are a lot more disturbing then what I have here, and they’re readily available on the internet about animal treatment. It evokes very visceral reactions to people, it evokes emotional reactions, it has economic consequences, a lot of things are tied up in this discussion of animal welfare. Again, if you look at the way Singer has written about it, it goes back way in human history, it has philosophical, social, historical roots.
So it’s complicated ground. There’s no question about it. For many years, nobody wanted to tread the complicated ground or people weren’t even thinking about the fact that there was complicated ground, now at least people are focusing on it to some extent. Books like Fast Food Nation which talks about how animals are raised in order to fuel the fast food industry helped bring some attention to this. There’s still far to go and a lot of thinking to be done on this, but it’s a very interesting issue. When we talk about whether modern agriculture is sustainable one of the — we have to ask is it environmentally sustainable, is it culturally sustainable, but also is it morally sustainable; and that’s where issues like animal welfare come into being.
Chapter 6. Severe Impacts: Shrinking Biodiversity and Increasing Waste [01:03:50]
Let’s talk about shrinking biodiversity. This is a really interesting issue. Here are some examples of how the number of varieties of crops in the U.S. and around the world has really changed. You can see the numbers yourselves, but at one point, there were many, many varieties of foods in the environment. People grow different strains of things right near each other, and now that’s really been reduced a lot.
Here is a map showing the crop distribution around the country, and if you look at some of the Midwestern states, the yellow segments there represent parts of states that are soybean and corn growers. As you can see there is that big pocket through the Midwest where basically those are the two only two things grown, and then wheat would be true in other places like Kansas. Then as farmers shrink the number of varieties that they grow in order to select the varieties that have the most important market properties for them, the biodiversity shrinks as well.
Is this a concern? Well again, if we think about Iowa, 92% of the farm acres in Iowa are corn or soybeans, and so Iowa which is an incredibly fertile part of the country, you have to import a lot of the food that’s actually eaten in Iowa, because it’s basically the raw stuff that’s grown, the corn and the soybeans and shipped elsewhere.
Let’s talk about orange juice. There was a graduate student at Yale in The School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences named Melissa Hamilton who spoke to me as she was planning her dissertation, which she’s now completed, and will be published as a book by Yale Press in 2009 about orange juice. I was fascinated to meet with her, I mean I learned more from her then she learned from me, because she knew a lot of course about the orange industry.
In the context of her writing and research for the book, she came up with some interesting statistics. I actually have only seen parts of the book so far, but she was kind enough to share with me some of the early drafts of chapters on this. The orange juice giants, Minute Maid and Tropicana, control a fair amount of the market and are big players especially they themselves are owned by bigger companies: Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. This is our view of what orange juice is, but it actually has a pretty interesting history.
The first American planting of oranges happened by a fellow named Captain D.D. Dummitt in Merritt Island, Florida in 1830. Merritt Island is on the east coast of Florida. A little blow up of that section of the state looks like this, where Merritt Island is part of this national refuge and this area here that’s just north of The Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, and there’s a body of water that’s part of this called the Indian River, and that’s one of the primary names that gets supplied the brands.
There are landmarks in the development of orange juice. There was a time in the United States when orange juice wasn’t even a thing. It wasn’t a product, it wasn’t a food, people didn’t even think of using oranges for that purpose. You ate oranges but you didn’t squeeze them and get juice out of them.
Well, the Florida orange growers, because of advances in farming techniques, especially a particular way called budding or grafting that allowed them to have a shorter maturity life for the orange trees, were able to create a surplus of oranges. They were creating more then the country would buy, and so an important impetus for them was to create new ideas for products that could be derived from oranges, and somebody came up with the idea of orange juice.
Then think about the time when it wasn’t even a product to the point where now we think it’s — that it’s really the key part of breakfast and you drink it when you get a cold. So this idea that it has important medicinal properties and vitamin properties, and is to be eaten for breakfast is all part of the marketing of this, because that got started from scratch. There’s nothing inherently making it a breakfast product, but also there was the need in World War II for more Vitamin C to get to the soldiers and the concentrate process was patented in 1948.
That means because most of the Florida — the oranges are made for juice not for eating but for juice, these are the properties, the physical properties that have become important. You can breed oranges, they have these properties, and this has shrunk the number of strains of Florida oranges. Two particular varieties of oranges, the Hamlin Orange and the Valencia Orange, put together make up a large share of all the oranges grown in Florida. This is an example of shrinking biodiversity. Good for the marketplace, good because the farmers can get more out of the oranges than they might have otherwise, but perhaps not good for biodiversity reasons because the number has shrunk.
Another great example of the problem with shrinking biodiversity was the Irish Potato Famine that happened in the 1840s, a very famous case study that you probably heard about. There are many, many varieties of potatoes around the world. They came originally from the Andes. There have been more then 5,000 varieties identified, but only one was identified — was adopted in Ireland.
Wheat was grown in Ireland at the same time in the famine but it was exported to England. The staple diet in Ireland was milk and potatoes, but a fungus came about that this particular strain of potatoes was vulnerable to, and it wiped out almost the entire potato crop, leaving a vast — vast problems with famine. A million people died in Ireland while wheat was being exported to England because of economic conditions. If more varieties of corn-or rather potatoes, had been grown in Ireland at the time some would have been vulnerable to this fungus, others would not have, and it’s quite possible that a famine like this could have been averted.
There are many reasons for shrinking diversity and you see some of them listed here, but some of it has to do with the physical properties of the food. The green revolution has played a part in this, genetic modification has played a part, etc.
There is a move afoot to try to reverse this problem and some of the things that have been done here are ways that some activists groups have tried to counter the shrinking biodiversity. Then the example you may have heard of that has been most prominent recently, is called the Svalbard Global Sea Vault in a remote island in Norway. Some of you may have seen the pictures of this place, but it’s a vast underground protected environment that — where hundreds of seeds are kept of several million crop varieties, so these can then be saved and preserved for later on.
Agriculture and pollution is also a very interesting example. There are many types of pollution, some of these we have eluded too in earlier classes, but the idea that this is the way a farmer takes care of pests is less common then this sort of thing, and there’s a lot of concern about the chemicals that are used in these environments. Here’s a particular hog farm in Missouri where there are nine examples of this particular set of hog barns there with almost 9,000 hogs per site.
Something has to be done with all that waste, and there’s great concern about what that waste does to — for global warming as I mentioned earlier and for groundwater, etc. You generate huge amounts of waste when you have animals in these kinds of conditions. A single 50,000 acre hog farm, one hog farm, can produce more waste then the entire city of Los Angeles, so you see how this is contributing. Animal waste outnumbers human waste by a factor of 130. The amount of manure then that’s produced just by livestock in the U.S. per American citizen, so per you, every citizen here, there’s three tons of manure generated.
The impact on the environment is considerable, and a lot of concern about how the pathogens in these things move through air, and water, and movement of human beings. Here’s some statistics that show just how severe the pollution can be: 90% of U.S. rivers and streams test positive for these things. The average stream tests for positive for more then twenty pesticides and a lot of the animals are affected as well.
One study came out about a particular aquifer in Nebraska, and they found that there were many pesticides found in this aquifer at lifetime health advisory levels; and that atrazine — which is the most popular pesticide used — was found in 100% of the samples from this particular aquifer.
Okay, so we’re just about out of time and there were two more things I wanted to talk about but I’ll spill these things over into the beginning of the next lecture, and we will see you on Monday.
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