How brown was my valley

amish_manure
Trouble may be lurking beneath traditional pastoral scenes.

Last fall, the Daily News and Earth to Philly were among the first outlets to tip everyone to Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, which wound up creating quite a mainstream-media stir over the winter.

Foer's key point was that 99% of the animal products Americans eat comes from factory farms, through processes none of us would condone, so if we want to act according to our own values we would either stop eating animals or carefully seek out smaller family farms to source our meat and dairy.

You gotta wonder what Foer, who not only accepted but actively championed more "traditional" farming of animals, would think of the latest news from our neck of the woods, courtesy of the New York Times: Lancaster County, the bastion of traditional Amish farming, is polluting the Chesapeake Bay with manure runoff far more than any other surrounding county - six times as much as the norm, in fact. The EPA visited 23 "plain-sect" farms and found that the vast majority were "managing their manure inadequately."

There are ways to improve manure-handling to mitigate the pollution, but Donald Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown College who studies the Amish, puts the basic problem succinctly in the Times piece: “We have too many animals here per square acre — too many cows for too few acres.”

And that large number of animals is going to be a problem, no matter how you, um, slice it. The massive amount of animal products Americans consume inevitably generates a huge amount of manure as well as many other problems for animals and people alike.

Lately "factory farms" have become a useful, trendy scapegoat, as if these institutions operations were uniquely evil and could be changed to an idyllic alternative. The pollution problem, though, is not on surface particulars but at the core: It's a matter of volume, and we need to turn it down. Way down.

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