The morning found Koko and me at the beach, watching the sun struggle up through gray clouds stacked upon a gray sea. Next thing I knew, she was gone, off on her second unauthorized walk-about in the last three days.
I knew she was tracking chickens, and so I was soon tracking Koko through haole koa and stubbly grass, my feet slipping in muddy slippers, until finally I spotted her on a hill, panting, tongue-lolling, that crazed chicken-chasing look on her face.
Koko is usually a very well-behaved dog, but when it comes to chickens, she loses all self-control. So even as I secured the leash to her collar and told her, as we walked to the car, that she had lost all-off leash privileges at the beach for a while, I knew it was just a stop-gap measure. I'm not sure there's a cure for her chicken-chasing obsession.
The current obsession over “food safety” is now having some bizarre consequences for America’s farms, where nature and all its dirtiness and germs is being exterminated in the interest of sterility. As SF Gate reports:
Invisible to a public that sees only the headlines of the latest food-safety scare - spinach, peppers and now cookie dough - ponds are being poisoned and bulldozed. Vegetation harboring pollinators and filtering storm runoff is being cleared. Fences and poison baits line wildlife corridors. Birds, frogs, mice and deer - and anything that shelters them - are caught in a raging battle in the Salinas Valley against E. coli O157:H7, a lethal, food-borne bacteria.
In pending legislation and in proposed federal regulations, the push for food safety butts up against the movement toward biologically diverse farming methods, while evidence suggests that industrial agriculture may be the bigger culprit.
Of course, a lot of what’s driving this is profit and litigation. As the article notes, the food industry “has paid more than $100 million in court settlements and verdicts in spinach and lettuce lawsuits, a fraction of the lost sales involved.”
The rest of it stems from media-hyped hysteria:
"It's all based on panic and fear, and the science is not there," said Dr. Andy Gordus, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game.
Food-born pathogens have killed only 14 people in the past three years, which is pretty manini when you consider all the food that is produced and consumed in this country. Compare that to the 37,248 who died in automobile crashes in 2007 alone. Yet what gets all the press?
What I found especially interesting were the comments by Seattle attorney Bill Marler:
”In 16 years of handling nearly every major food-borne illness outbreak in America, I can tell you I've never had a case where it's been linked to a farmers' market," Marler said.
"Could it happen? Absolutely. But the big problem has been the mass-produced product. What you're seeing is this rub between trying to make it as clean as possible so they don't poison anybody, but still not wanting to come to the reality that it may be the industrialized process that's making it all so risky."
So that gives us another good reason to buy local. Reading the article made me think of comments left on the post about the worker housing bill that described island agricultural independence as an “absurd fetish.” As I see it, we’re not self-sufficient only because we currently have the luxury not to be. But what price, really, are we willing to pay for our bagged salad greens from Safeway and Cosco?
Strangely, even as we’re destroying nature in our quest for safe food, we’re copying it in our obsession for a safe world — or at least, one under our control. DARPA is in the process of developing nano air vehicles, tiny new spy craft modeled after hummingbirds. According to the DARPA website:
The program will explore novel, bio-inspired, conventional and unconventional configurations to provide the warfighter with unprecedented capability for urban mission operations.
Hmmm. Why don't I feel reassured?
Meanwhile, our obsession with convenient disposables has plastic poised to take over the world. As the Honolulu Weekly reports, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is only the tip of the iceberg. Micro-plastics — what we get when plastic junk breaks down — is a newly emerging threat, according to B.E.A.C.H. co-founder Suzanne Frazer:
“Once you’ve got micro-plastics just a few millimeters big, that’s the right size for many of the bottom-of-the-food-chain type of marine organisms to eat and ingest. Plankton has been shown to ingest plastic pieces and this is the most troubling of all because fish are being opened up and they find they are just filled with plastic.
"When you’re talking about plastic dust, microscopic plastic in our ocean, when 71 percent of our earth is ocean, how do we clean it all up? We don’t have the technology or the equipment or the know-how to do it and it’s out there and we can’t get rid of it.
Is this going to be part of evolution and change species?” Frazer asked. “Is it going to destroy species? Who knows? Who knows where this is going to lead.”
All of a sudden Koko's chicken-chasing obsession is looking pretty innocuous.