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Local Agriculture: Healthy on its Own Terms
Julia Levitt, 11 Mar 09

13animals.large2.jpgShannon Hayes, whose family operates a small farm, wrote an op-ed in yesterday's New York Times describing how the National Animal Identification System, the controversial practice of tagging livestock to help control the spread of disease will hurt local agriculture and reward factory farmers:

So who would gain if the identification system eventually becomes mandatory, as the Agriculture Department has hoped? It would help exporters by soothing the fears of foreign consumers who have shunned American beef. Other beneficiaries would include manufacturers of animal tracking systems that stand to garner hefty profits for tracking the hundreds of millions of this country’s farm animals. It would also give industrial agriculture a stamp of approval despite its use of antibiotics, confinement and unnatural feeding practices that increase the threat of disease.
At the same time, the system would hurt small pasture-based livestock farms like my family’s, even though our grazing practices and natural farming methods help thwart the spread of illnesses. And when small farms are full participants in a local food system, tracking a diseased animal doesn’t require an exorbitantly expensive national database.
Cheaper and more effective than an identification system would be a nationwide effort to train farmers and veterinarians about proper management, bio-security practices and disease recognition. But best of all would be prevention. To heighten our food security, we should limit industrial agriculture and stimulate the growth of small farms and backyard food production around the country.

This essay reminds me of a point made often and eloquently by Michael Pollan: that by continuously designing new fixes into a broken system, we just move it farther and farther away from operating the efficient way that nature intended.

Photo credit: Josh Anderson for the New York Times.

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It reminds me of the recent effort to make it safer to buy childrens toys (from China) and in the process making it nearly impossible for small local manufacturers to sell and make them. A little backwards.

Posted by: Sally Struever on 11 Mar 09

Julia, thanks for a great article. I was quite taken by the closing statement, whose sentiment you attribute to Michael Pollan. I wonder, can you recommend any of his works in particular in exploring this idea further? Thanks, K.

Posted by: Ken T on 11 Mar 09

Thanks, Ken. Michael Pollan -- who we've written about on Worldchanging here and here (among numerous mentions) -- is one of the best food writers out there. I definitely recommend checking out his work. The Omnivore's Dilemma is a favorite that I've given as a gift to many friends.

Posted by: Julia Levitt on 11 Mar 09

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