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Issue #1903      February 17, 2020

Will We Be Culled? A Re-Visited (and Shorten) Book Review

Rob Wallace’s Big Farms Make Big Flu obtusely and quite unwittingly suggested we in Australia needed ecological socialism to be a threatening third party (or faction) in our one-party state as it is a servant of capitalism, and antithetical to the people. Four years on and writing about the coronavirus he makes a plea for eco-socialism now. And as per a previous book review it is not an unreasonable boast of the book cover that here is an author of “wit and brilliance ... [that brings alive] dispatches on infectious disease, agribusiness, and the nature of science”.

Robert Wallace holds a chat at Drake University.

Many of us regularly ponder the egg/chicken dilemma as we visit the amassed displays of multiple brands, standards (free range, non-caged, etc), size/weight and types of eggs and/or chook available, with little thought of the impact increasingly monopolised monoculture production systems (or factory farming) have on our food chain.

The so-called economy-of-scale does what the British textile industry of the early nineteenth century did to cottage/village industry and, as with the epidemics spurned by new city slums, factory-farming can easily be seen as the incubators of life-threatening viruses.

In part this is Wallace’s warning, as he traces avian influenza outbreaks and how agro-business, especially large corporations, leaves the consumer, governments, and the environment to pay for nearly all mistakes/problems.

Essentially Big Farms Make Big Flu’s layout is thematic and the reader’s willingness to learn and decode the information, observations, and arguments presented by Wallace are certainly rewarding. And whilst the general reader is presented with some very useful information, albeit a little repetitive, its value is in helping us be active users of information; thus, Wallace successfully makes uniquely studied material available to all of us. It also gives the reader a good appreciation of what Wallace is arguing and therefore a framework for understanding the content of the book.

Deciphering what we should know about food, viruses, and the like in order to be educated citizens able to act in our individual and collective interest is not helped according to Wallace by flawed scientific methods by some of his fellow scientist that hinder developmental understanding of influenza (and its management) and because of the use of jargon which disconnects unique/specific sets of information needed to make up a series of knowledge. Wallace wants open collaboration amongst all the disciplines involved with viral and bacterial infection/life, as well as those considering the impact upon people and the general environment.

Here, he even talks of the philosopher, the intellectual, and the scientist being responsible. Wallace also reminds us that with all disciplines, names do matter, as there are useful descriptors and deceptive ones which not only affect the science and its study, but also how the science is understood and used by society, be it society’s institutions and/or citizens. Aware citizens are one of the conditions for democracy and the safe-guarding of our environment.

Living within the host and being able to re-assort, even to a new host, the virus must be the planets immortals and here Wallace, as with much that he writes, gives the reader valuable trivia. For example “in 2011, a Bingham University team discovered bacteria and algae still living inside 150,000 year old salt halite [...] [and] four years later Lee Kerkhof’s group showed a betaproteobacterium [...] reducing uranium into a electron acceptor for respiration [...] the species ‘picked up a genetic element that’s allowing it to detoxify uranium, to actually grow on uranium said Kerkhof.’ ”

Academics and scientists alike will nod (some secretly) at the ruling class’ hegemonic impact on the knowledge we all need in the face of knowing what we eat, along with our collective and individual responsibility in what is produced as food. Factory-farming and monopoly capitalism make it possible forever re-assorting pathogens that are capable of transcending time and space.

Next article – Letter

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