Microbial Migrations

Do you know where your food comes from? And I don’t mean the
grocery store or your refrigerator, but where in the world
it comes from? If you’re unsure, you’re not alone. According to
Washington Post columnist Joel Achenbach: ‘We have no idea
where our food is from. We don’t know how it was handled, what it
was sprayed with, how it was genetically engineered.’ Considering
the recent outbreaks of Mad Cow and foot-and-mouth diseases
worldwide, this lack of knowledge should worry us — a lot.

As Hilary French and Brian Halweil report in ‘Microbial
Migrations’ in Orion online, ‘some 650 million tons of
food are shipped around the planet each year’ — that’s roughly 13
percent of the total tonnage of goods sent across the world’s
waterways. French and Halweil examine the international migration
of diseases in a globalized, suddenly borderless world. Advances in
transportation, trade, and travel have made physical barriers and
isolators of natural ecosystems — including mountains, deserts,
and ocean currents — permeable. And the world’s vast agricultural
trade is creating unprecedented challenges in storing and shipping.
French and Halweil quote Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at
Thames Valley University in the UK: ‘Modern food systems are open,
just as older ones were more closed. Whereas in the past, meat was
reared on homegrown feed, killed and consumed relatively locally,
today the farmer is but a link in a global food economy.’

Mad Cow and foot-and-mouth are two of the biggest health-related
concerns in international trade, but the borderless world has also
furthered the spread of SARS, the West Nile virus, and even
HIX/AIDS, French and Halweil note. But they also point out that
cooperation among nations to combat these problems is on the rise.
They suggest a reform of the current standard-setting bodies, which
are dominated by the industries they are supposed to regulate. What
the world needs, they claim, are ‘new forums where citizens,
farmers, companies, and governments can collaborate across
political borders to reshape current agriculture and industrial
practices so that they protect the health of the planet’s people
and natural systems.’
Kyle Cohen

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