The Good Food Movement Needs Science, Too
By Jill Richardson
Big Ag is hurting animals and the environment.
Perhaps you’ve heard some organic food advocates say, “We should just roll back the clock and farm the way we used to” -- before modern science gave us factory farms and genetically modified ingredients.
Others disagree, saying that we’d all starve if we didn’t use science and technology in farming.
It’s a big debate. But maybe the turning of a clock isn’t the right metaphor.
Instead, I thought recently of an old Chinese saying: “Draw snake, add legs.” It refers to when someone gets so carried away in doing something that they carry it too far, ruining it by adding extra, useless things.
A study of how our food system developed over the last century appears to be a clear case of drawing a snake and adding legs.
My master’s thesis is on chickens. I’ve dug into historical documents going back to the late 1800s to learn how Americans raised chickens over time. It’s not a pretty picture.
At the start of the 20th century, breeders bred chickens for aesthetic qualities that would win chicken shows. They took no notice of whether their chickens were any good at laying eggs or valuable for meat.
That might be nice if awards from chicken shows put food on the table, but I think eggs and meat taste better than blue ribbons.
It wasn’t a great deal for the chickens, either.
A 1918 study found some American city dwellers keeping up to 200 chickens in their backyards as for-profit ventures. The researchers reported that each person interviewed claimed to take good care of their chickens. Yet examinations found the birds covered in lice.
In one instance, a woman had 60 more chickens in her yard than could fit in her coop. In another case, some of the chickens died and the owner left them to rot in the yard. A few times, the researcher noted the smell was so bad he could barely tolerate staying long enough to conduct the interview.
As late as the 1950s, scientists still didn’t know everything there was to know about chicken nutrition. Chickens survived because they foraged outside to meet their nutritional needs. Diseases that are now rare were common. Early incubators served to spread germs, so that one infected chick spread disease to all of the others as they hatched.
Have science and technology improved these conditions? Absolutely.
Did we take it too far? Did we draw legs on a snake? I would say so.
Once scientists figured out how to cope with disease and provide for all of a chicken’s nutritional needs in a manufactured feed, they found they could keep them in confinement. The cooped-up birds went from having four to five square feet each in the early 20th century to just half a square foot apiece by 1966.
Stressed by confinement, chickens began pecking one another -- sometimes to death. A solution, devised in 1942, was de-beaking. Breeders found that if they removed the tip of each bird’s beak, this kind of stress-induced pecking became less lethal.
The answer to science that leads to animal cruelty and environmental degradation, however, isn't less science. It’s better science. There’s no need to turn back the clock on progress, or to erase the snake and start over.
Today’s science tells us that eggs are more healthful when hens are allowed to forage on bugs and grass. And odds are, if you want to keep backyard chickens, you’ll be grateful for a century of work eradicating parasites and disease. So will your neighbors.
If we use our judgment, we can find a way to move forward sustainably, healthfully, humanely -- and scientifically.
- Number of Bitcoin ATMs by Country
- AT&T Unveils New TV Streaming Service
- Alcohol & Sport: A Match Made In Heaven
- Plenty of Dough in Online Food Delivery
- Most Holiday Shopping Happens In December
- How Holiday Shoppers Decide Where to Buy
- E-Commerce Spending in Perspective
- Taxi Driver Earnings Compared To Uber
- Apple's First Annual Sales Decline in 15 Years
- How Apple's New Products Measure Up
- Bigger AT&T Is the Last Thing We Need
- Wells Fargo is Rotting from the Top Down
- The Stumpf Banking System
- Female CEOs Earn Much Less Than Their Male Counterparts
- The Highest-Paid CEOs
- The Most Valuable Public Company in Every State
- Is Tim Cook's Apple Past Its Peak?
- Companies That Might Disappear in 2017
- More Chobani Capitalism, Please
- Better Labels, Better Food
- The Big Banks Can Be Beaten
- Putting Free Speech Out to Pasture
- The 50 Best Investments
- China Closes the Innovation Gap
- Companies Stockpiling the Most Profit Overseas
- Oil's Downfall Aided by Rise of Fracking
- The Richest Banks
- Crime Can Pay if It's Big Enough
- The Good Food Movement Needs Science, Too
- How Buffett Became a Billionaire
- The Most Successful Companies Founded Since 1944
- Big Pharma Killed Medicine
- Corporate Power Doesn't Always Win
- Wall Street Should Pay a Sales Tax, Too
- Pay Fair or Pay Up
- An Awfully Bitter Brew
- Has Mike's Hard Lemonade Gone Soft?
- Starbucks: Most Popular First Date Spot, According To Dating App
- Starbucks to Pay for All Its Employees to Go to College
- Introducing the Martha Stewart Café
- Your Next Guinness Will Come With a Nutrition Label
- Vodka Market Souring?
- Japan's Suntory Aims to Break into Vodka
- An 'Experimental' Vodka Distillery
- Diageo CEO on How We Drink
- Lawsuit Alleges Cheap California Wine Has High Levels of Arsenic
- Spain Overtakes France as Top Wine Exporter
- Maple Moon Sweetens the Nation as America's First Maple Winery
- Zip Codes Affect Booze Prices
Business: "The Good Food Movement Needs Science, Too"