Friday, 25 February 2011

Salmond's Leap Into The Dark

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was as ebullient as ever this week as he triumphantly announced a new trade deal with China in Scottish salmon. Eagerly ogling the huge Chinese market, Salmond effused that the Chinese Deputy PM had pointed out to him that if just 1% of Chinese eat a salmon, Scottish output will have to double to meet demand.

Alex Salmond - First Minister of Scotland
This, of course, raises the prospects of massive increases in fish farms, sited in Scottish lochs and rivers, their livestock crammed together, coated in layers of hormones to propagate ever faster growth and "swimming" in chemicals to sterilise their living environment. Needless to say, the frequency of chemical spills and leaks is high, poisoning the local ecology and damaging wild fish stocks. In 2010, a near disaster occurred when over a hundred thousand farmed salmon escaped though broken nets and, like a plague of locusts, devoured the natural fauna for miles around. It put the habitat of genuine wild salmon at risk and was one of many such incidents.

Yet this is just one of tens of thousands of examples of how the international food trade promotes the most ludicrous and damaging artificial farming of what most consumers associate in their minds as healthy food. Like the popular view of chicken and other types of fish as healthy, salmon is portrayed as a lean meat; salmon, wild and free, mysteriously tamed and brought bloodlessly to your table. But of course, unless you seek out increasingly rare and expensive wild fish from sustainable sources, it is essentially a lie. The meat may be lean - of nutrition - but packed with added extras, like the chemicals and growth hormones passed as fit for fish (and ultimately, human) consumption.

Fish farms - not a pretty sight
Britain flies apples to New Zealand and they return the favour by flying apples back to us. We catch prawns off the Scottish coast which are flown to Thailand to be shelled and packaged, before flying them back, and so on. These latter examples at least are either inanimate in origin or in such a state of being by the time their journey begins.

But worse still is the massive trade in live animal transport - we fly day old chicks in sealed containers from the UK to Japan; we transport cattle thousands of miles to slaughter them after they have been traumatised by the most awful conditions. And if you've ever been to Greece and wondered how lamb and mutton features so prominently in the local dishes but you only see goats rather than sheep - just go and wait for the next ferry and the truckload of live sheep driven thousands of miles packed into trucks all the way from Britain.

And even if they are not transported, the animals marketed by the likes of Bernard Matthews via pictures of happy animals roaming lovely green fields are more likely to have spent their short lives in artificial light, in cramped conditions and under permanent stress. Sometimes animals will be heavily drugged to counter diseases rife in such places; other times, they will be blatantly brutalised, as in the infamous "Turkey Baseball" games sadistically enjoyed by some staff in Bernard Matthews factory farms. Immoral? Certainly. Healthy? Absolutely not.

Even milk, pushed from cradle to the grave as a health drink, is frequently of dubious provenance. Dairy herds are biologically manipulated to keep producing milk when they are well past any state of natural lactation. Nearly all non-organic milk comes form herds where their udders have been pumped mechanically to and beyond the point where their body tissue has become infected with mastitis sores, resulting in sterilisation of the milk being as much to neutralise the large quantities of pustule in the bovine liquid as to counter diseases such as salmonella. Legally, in the EU, a litre of milk is allowed to contain as many as 400 million cells of pus - in the USA, the FDA permits a whopping 750 million.

Healthy? Well, one medical study found a direct correlation between human acne and dairy consumption and a glance at rosacea forums will show how many sufferers trace a link between milk consumption and their condition. It stands to reason what goes in must come out again somehow. We are poisoning our environment and our animals in order poison ourselves as much as feed ourselves.

Yet, as global warming and rising population squeeze food supply and drive prices up, rather than call for a food revolution via massive, small scale, organic and local production, Governments and the huge supermarket conglomerates are increasingly pushing genetically modified foods as the Great Answer. Manipulation is moving to frighteningly greate depths at the DNA level, esentially purely for commercial gain. For example, the American FDA has just approved the commercial farming and sale of GM fast-growing super-salmon. These poor creatures will grow to near double their natural size in a much shorter time - allowing rearing costs to be reduced and profit levels to be higher. The stock markets loved the idea, with share prices in American fish farms soaring.

And so Mr Salmond may grin as widely as ever, like a Cheshire cat contemplating a gloss white bowl of sterilised cow-pus. But if his artificial salmon ever leap, then it will not be a leap homewards, but rather into a dark unknown where we can only guess at the consequences, and pray we are wrong.

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