Michael Pollan on CCD and CAFOs

In Our Decrepit Food Factories in today’s New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan ties together the problems of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from factory farms and Colony Collapse Disorder in bees. Here’s his bottomline:

From this perspective, the story of Colony Collapse Disorder and the story of drug-resistant staph are the same story. Both are parables about the precariousness of monocultures. Whenever we try to rearrange natural systems along the lines of a machine or a factory, whether by raising too many pigs in one place or too many almond trees, whatever we may gain in industrial efficiency, we sacrifice in biological resilience. The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word.

Bee on Colchicum autumnale ‘Alboplenum’
Bee on Colchicum autumnale ‘Alboplenum’

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4 thoughts on “Michael Pollan on CCD and CAFOs”

  1. I need to go and read the NYTimes mag article – I generally don’t think of antibiotic resistance in bacteria (such as Staph) as a ‘monoculture problem’, but perhaps that’s because I’m thinking like the microorganism instead of the drug…microbes love to share this resistance, they’re actually quite generous (but I suppose I am thinking about the kind of sharing that is not Genus or species-specific, so therefore quite diverse…or, it’s getting late and I’m thinking very clearly at all!). Diversity leads to stability…that’s all I know and regularly observe. Interestingly, we have a small side project examining antibiotic resistance in microbial communities – so trying not to examine it at the species or strain level but at the community level, and we’re finding that microbes associated with corals that are healthy also exhibit greater overall community resistance to antibiotics. We’re trying to link this to the overall chemical ecology of the site, which hasn’t been easy – but slowly we’re learning a few things. Another interesting aspect of this is that contaminated sites, especially those contaminated with metals, also increase antibiotic resistance because the genetic materials that ‘carry’ the antibiotic resistance genes also tend to travel with metal resistance genes. All-in-all, anyway you look at it, it’s a pretty serious problem.

  2. Pam: The monoculture that Pollan refers to is raising of large numbers of a single species of animal in close quarters, not the microbial populations that infect them. You raise some interesting points I hadn’t thought about. Interesting.

  3. That is not a parallel that I would have drawn myself, but it makes a whole lot of sense. And I’m glad to see that people are making these points in widely distributed periodicals.

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