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March 16, 2009

A Farm Boy Expands

Nicholas Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, is as powerful and compelling a moral voice in journalism that we have in our day, casting a spotlight on human trafficking for the sex trade, genocide in Darfur, and other urgent life-and-death issues throughout the world. He’s also an advocate of animal protection. His July 2008 column on California’s Proposition 2—the landmark measure approved by voters in November that bans veal and gestation crates and battery cages—was a turning point in our campaign to eliminate these practices. On agriculture issues, it’s not only his vivid and logical and compelling prose that makes his work so influential, but also his biography—he grew up on a mixed agriculture family farm in rural Oregon, so he knows of what he speaks.

Now, he’s highlighting the rampant misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture in columns that ran last Thursday, “Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health,” and on Sunday with a piece titled “Pathogens in Our Pork,” Kristof has taken a hard look at the public health threats of modern animal agriculture, including the possible tie-in between industrial hog farming and the deadly “superbug” MRSA. He points out 70 percent of antibiotics used in America are given to animals for non-therapeutic reasons—in short, to allow industrial farms to crowd enormous numbers of pigs and other creatures on animal factories.

In Sunday’s column, Kristof opens with this lede: “We don’t add antibiotics to baby food and Cocoa Puffs so that children get fewer ear infections. That’s because we understand that the overuse of antibiotics is already creating ‘superbugs’ resistant to medication.”

Take a few minutes to read both of his columns, which were for a time the most e-mailed stories during the past several days on the Times’ web site. It’s just more compelling information on how our industrial system of mass animal production has skidded off the tracks in terms of public health, animal welfare, environmental quality, and protection of the rural lifestyle.

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