Archive for agribusiness

Ten Theses on Farming and Disease

Posted in Evolution, Influenza, Revolution, Sustainable farming, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2017 by rgwallace

costarica043Every once in a while, we have to take a stab at putting all the pieces together. In some ways these ten theses on farming and disease only touch on what I, and others, have been saying all along. But there’s a growing understanding of the functional relationships health, food justice, and the environment share. They’re not just ticks on a checklist of good things capitalism shits on. Falsifying Hume’s guillotine, embodying a niche construction at the core of our human identity, justice and the ecosystem appear to define each other at a deep level of cause and effect.

1. Contract farmers around the world are suffering cost-price squeezes. Producers are at one and the same time suffering increasing input costs and low or falling prices for their goods at the farm gate. The farmers are forced to chase an economic Red Queen. Individual farmers must increase production if only in an effort to cover for low prices that increases in production across farms helped depress to begin with.

2. The squeeze is a scam agribusiness is running on farmers. In enforcing high farm output, companies are seeking gluts that cheapen ingredients for their processed product lines. High output, producing food beyond global consumer demand, is also about making money off farmers contractually obligated to buy synthetic inputs they don’t need to grow us enough food.

3. The gap between cost and price, also a form of labor discipline, forces many farmers out, leading to plot consolidation as those smallholders and mid-level operations still left buy up abandoned land, banking on economies of scale, debt-financed mechanization, and appreciation in land equity to pull them through the artificial price squeeze.

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Business as Unusual

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2016 by rgwallace

Chicken in a business suit

John Huston told me he and [Orson] Welles were always trying to stick each other with the tab and once faked simultaneous heart attacks at a restaurant in Paris. –Jim Harrison (1988)

Some of you here in the Twin Cities may have noticed this past year the Star Tribune, the Minneapolis paper, has published almost its entire run of articles on the outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N2 in its business section.

The placement is telling. It reminds us the paper, owned by agribusinessman Glen Taylor, views the virus, killing 50 million poultry across 21 states, as a matter for food companies and investors. It seems the ecologies and epidemiologies in which we are all embedded are to be treated as mere externalities to the matter at hand–the trade in commodities.

An update last week, published–where else?–in the business section, reprinted unsupported declarations about the origins of the outbreak, claims the newspaper turned into facts by year-long repetition. The virus originated in Asia. Migratory waterfowl brought it here and spread it. Farmer error is to blame for the outbreak. Anything but the poultry sector itself.

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Whipsaw of Damocles

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza, Organic agriculture, Revolution, Sustainable farming with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2014 by rgwallace

Last week I gave a talk on climate change and pandemic influenza at the University of Washington. My presentation was a part of the Biological Futures in a Globalized World series held at the Simpson Center for the Humanities.

I was initially dubious about a connection between the crises until, as these things go, I investigated further. There appear a number of mechanistic relationships tying together the two catastrophes.

There may be a number of ways out of the jams as well, as millions of farmers around the world are advancing alternate futures right out from underneath agribusiness.

UPDATE. We should add another possible connection between climate change and influenza not in the presentation.

According to Shaman and Lipsitch (2012), the last four pandemics (1918, 1957, 1968 and 2009) were preceded by La Niña conditions that, changing patterns of waterfowl migration, may have rejuxtaposed serotypes and prompted new reassortants. As Mother Jones‘ Kiera Butler points out, reporting on this year’s H1N1 (2009) influenza, climate change affects the El Niño–Southern Oscillation.

Trojan Pig

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2013 by rgwallace

Chicken and pig exports 1961-2011To get a handle on the world’s traffic in livestock for a paper I’m co-authoring, I graphed FAOSTAT data on global live chicken and pig exports by head, 1961-2011.

The time series appear to track geographically lengthening production-demand discrepancies–areas of high production meeting demands elsewhere. Globalization exploded in chickens by 1990–not long preceding bird flu H5N1–and, after a starting wobble in the 1990s led by the United States and NAFTA, in pigs by 2000.

Indeed, even excluding illegal trade the stats don’t pick up, pig exports more than doubled by the end of the decade, when swine flu H1N1 (2009) appeared with genomic segments from influenzas circulating among pig populations in both Eurasia and North America. New agricultural ressortants appear to be accumulating at an accelerating pace since, including H1N1v, H1N2v, H3N2v, H7N9, and now a new series confirmed last week, H6N1.

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Posted in Evolution, Influenza, Organic agriculture with tags , , , , , , on August 21, 2013 by rgwallace

Princess KayState Fair today. Violet devours a corn dog but the chocolate banana’s too cold and she won’t try the deep fried Twinkie. Dad eats clean-up and enters a diabetic hallucination that careens toward Umwelt, then a baaaad trip, man, riding Daughter’s shotgun down the big slide. Celebrity sighting at the parade–Princess Kay of the Milky Way, with whom Violet conferred in a behind-barn-doors session earlier in the week (and who directs we take in her doppelgänger in butter). Tour kids’ agribusiness-sponsored fake farm–an illusion of an illusion truer than true–with toy chickens in battery cages to be fed plastic corn (and a Cub supermarket at the exit). We avoid the barns of flu but Violet’s pink blow-up unicorn fascinates the sweet and suddenly demonically curious goats, whose Revelations all just came fucking true. Third one bounces back from its parousiatic euphoria to take a nip at Our Returned Savior in Pink. End the day at O’Gara’s on the fairgrounds playing all-out barroom Jenga. I hear another rendition of ‘Hotel Minnesota.’ I stab the cover band with my steely sticks / but I just can’t kill the beast.

Broiler Explosion

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2013 by rgwallace

Broiler explosion8As early as the 1820s, high-pressure engines [on the Mississippi River] were technologically residual; they were dirtier and more dangerous than the low-pressure engines that were employed on steamboats elsewhere. They could, however, generate more power than low-pressure engines; they made it possible to run boats faster and harder–over sandbars, against the current, past the competition, and so on. They were also cheaper…That high-pressure engines were more likely to explode and faster boats more likely to sink when snagged were known risks, deliberately taken. Competition in the steamboat business spurred technological degradation rather than technological innovation. Danger was built into the boats. –Walter Johnson (2013)

A new influenza has spilled over from poultry in and around Shanghai. As of April 15, Chinese authorities have reported 60 human cases of H7N9 and 13 deaths. The most serious cases have suffered fulminant pneumonia, respiratory failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome, septic shock, multiorgan failure, rhabdomyolysis, and encephalopathy.

Virologist Richard Webby reports molecular adaptations suggesting the new variant is evolving toward human specificity. “This thing doesn’t any longer look like a poultry virus,” Webby said, “It really looks to me like it’s adapted in a mammalian host somewhere.”

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We Need a Structural One Health

Posted in Ecological resilience, Influenza, Revolution, Sustainable farming with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2012 by rgwallace

No one ever says to you, “Lie to me.” The enemy says, You will do and believe certain things. It is your decision to falsify, in the face of his coercion. I am not sure this is what the enemy wants, or anyway the usual enemy. Only a Greater Enemy, so to speak, would want that, one with greater objectives, and a clearer idea of what the ultimate purpose of all motion is. –Philip K. Dick (1974)

Perhaps unbeknownst even to themselves, many an epidemiologist, veterinarian and wildlife biologist confounds episodic and structural crises.

The good doctors gun from outbreak to outbreak, isolating samples, sequencing genetic markers, administering prophylaxes, and, for epizooses, culling the sickest and burying the dead. To be sure, that kind of firefighting is critical. We can’t have deadly pathogens running amok now, can we?

But the oft-difficult mechanics of an intervention do not lend credence they address the cause of the outbreak. Disease isn’t synonymous with its etiological agent or the map of its victims, whether or not either is placed within a One Health context that acknowledges the functional ecologies humans, livestock and wildlife share.

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