Michael Pollan: Get animals back on farms
Michael Pollan was the keynote speaker at the Georgia Organics Conference March 21, 2009. The event was held at Agnes Scott College. He addressed the audience after they enjoyed a farmers feast (made from local food) about his thoughts on the "state of the movement." The address is available for viewing in its entirety or in separate parts.
Michael: We need also to solarize our farming and to get animals back on farms -- [applause] -- and out of confinement. Why? Well, we need to close the nutrient cycles. We need to, you know, we need to turn their waste back into the blessing of fertility. Right now, it is a pollutant. You know, the great Wendell Barry quote, you know, he said, “When we put animals on feedlots, we took a solution, which was animals fertilizing the soil and dealing with crop waste, we took that brilliant solution and neatly divided it into two problems: a fertility shortage on the farm and a pollution problem on the feedlot.” Well, we have to go back to the solution that predated those problems. And how do you do that? Well, you have to remove the government’s artificial support of feedlot agriculture. Feedlot agriculture -- [applause] -- feedlot agriculture is not efficient. Feedlot agriculture only survives because it stands on a tripod, three legs that are essentially provided by our government. One, of course, is subsidized grain, which gives them such a competitive advantage over farmers that it’s cheaper for a feedlot to feed, to finish cattle, than it is for a farmer to grow feed if he’s feeding grains. The other -- the second leg is antibiotics. We allow these feedlots to squander important human antibiotics and they could not go on if those antibiotics were forbidden. So, that is an enormous public cost that’s formed by feedlots. And the third is, we don't regulate them. You know, we have these clean water and clean air acts, but we do not enforce them on feedlots. The laws are on the books. We need only to persuade our government to start enforcing them, to basically regulate these factories as the factories they are and stop pretending that they are farms.
So, those are the three legs you need to remove. And then the economics of putting animals back on farms, closing that nutrient cycle, taking better advantage of the sun feeding the grass, and the grass feeding the animals, and the animals feeding the grass and feeding us, all becomes possible again.