Lately I’ve been engaged in more of the public health aspects of this job. Some folks may not be aware of the many roles which the state vet plays in ensuring food and fiber are delivered from the livestock which are roaming Arizona ranges. Years ago the people of Arizona vested a huge amount of power in this position to secure and protect that food supply as well as to protect the livelihood of many.
An aspect of that power then is the obligation for me and the other folks in this office to frequently reinforce in the public space an awareness of the integrated nature of livestock ownership within food production and the constraints (or maybe more aptly put, the non-constrained elements like wind, water, fire) that livestock and agricultural production in general are subject to. (That sounds a little wordy to me too.)
Let’s look at it this way.
Most folks long ago lost touch with the whims of the natural world, other than perhaps during their daily commute or via televised media. But all food production happens “out there” in the wild and woolly natural world. Birds fly over the crops. (Have you checked your car for bombing runs lately?) Javelina, mice, coyotes, maybe even bears wander through the fields. (And we all know what bears do in the woods!) Various and sundry bugs lay their eggs on cattle which then eat their way through those animals if treatments aren’t applied.
This may not be polite conversation. But it is my picture of some of the challenges of protecting the food supply in the real world becoming clearer? These risks, to both the animals and the crops as well as the humans they will provide food for, must be mitigated. Please note I did not say “removed”. This mitigation requires all parties to participate, including especially consumers, because any carelessness along the way can undo all the invested good by all other parties involved.
Let me focus this topic a little more intently. Last week I spoke at the 5th Annual Food Safety Conference hosted by The University of Arizona. Here’s a sampling of talks given:
and here are some samples from the grad students posters (which btw were of very good quality across the board)…
- Canal Maintenance Effects on Irrigation Water Quality
- Testing Bacterial Contamination of Bulk Soap in Food Service Settings
- Pathogen Transmission to Crops from Animals
The intricacy and inherent nature of biological systems (aka plants, animals, people) bring a whole host of challenges to providing food. That system isn’t inside an artificial bubble (at least to any significant extent and those that are still have inherent risks.) Which means at its most basic, food sources are exposed to most all of the waste products of various biological systems. You could also look at that as organic fertilization.
But don’t run screaming into the streets or sink into despair just yet. All these same players (including humans) are also built to deal with the environment and its challenges. Most species have been around a few bazillion years. Some talk of a “fragile” Mother Nature. Life on this planet has taken some pretty serious whacks and it keeps coming back. I’d call that awfully resilient and very impressive.
Before I go wandering too far, let me bring this back to the Food Safety Conference for one other point. The aging work force in the food production business.
How many of you recognize a pencil as technology? I’ll bet no one nodded his/her head to that one. But it is. It is an invisible technology. That’s what has happened to agriculture in our society, with the possible exception of when an occasional fear-mongering event jolts folks into talking about food production. But rarely have I seen that lead to more people actually educating themselves on the facts of the processes involved. Which is a shame as that does generate an opportunity. And as I told my kids when they were growing up, “Life isn’t fair but it presents you with opportunities. You decide what to do with them.” But because agriculture and food production is invisible very few people consider pursuing careers in this very important field. That’s a situation we need to change.
Time for me to wrap this one up. Next up will be some info on the hot topic of Ebola. In the meantime, y’all enjoy the ride.