Friday, April 10, 2009

New York Times Editorial: Free-Range Trichinosis

The New York Times has an interesting editorial about free-range pork, from James E. McWilliams, a history professor at Texas State University at San Marcos. He's reportedly the author of the forthcoming “Just Food: How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly.”

Agriculture is full of tradeoffs. A lot of people would like to think that what's "natural" is best in all ways, but it isn't the case. E.g. free-range pigs have more contact with pathogens. Likewise, sows that farrow outdoors wean fewer pigs, because piglets die from exposure.

Although an intensive farrowing until looks more sterile, it saves lives. That's analogous to a hospital, a greenhouse or a fish hatchery: they look bad and unnatural, but they prevent unnecessary mortality.


Unknown said...

I encourage you to do some more research before you buy into this op-ed piece. That study was funded by the pork industry. Also, they didn't find the trichinosis pathogen in the free range animals tested, they found antibodies. The author has a history of not being favorable to sustainable agriculture.

Unknown said...

sydken is correct.

Its just so easy to jump on a bias piece like this when you are searching for ways to justify your own actions.

Heath Putnam said...

Sydken - Whether or not the humans writing about the research, or those doing the research have biases, it undeniable that extensively-raised pigs have more contact with pathogens than ones raised in more controlled environments.

When humans control the environments, they can make things more or less parasite and pathogen hostile (or friendly). They can likewise make the environment more or less friendly to baby pigs.

Agriculture is a fundamentally unnatural activity. Among other things, it isn't natural for us to share food with pigs, keep them disease free, etc.

When I'm not eating my own Mangalitsa, what I really love to eat is wild boar. Of course, they are full of pathogens and parasites - but I still insist on eating them.

rps said...

What kinds of problems would this really cause if you're not eating raw pork?

Heath Putnam said...

rps - Cooked properly, I don't think there's a problem.

That's why I eat wild boar.

organicgal said...

For another point of view on this article:

Heath Putnam said...

organicgal: none of that changes the fact that if people want to avoid pathogens, choosing the pigs raised in pathogen-free environments is the way to go.