Last week’s James McWilliams article for the New York Times has prompted Michael Pollan’s farmer hero, Joel Salatin, to weigh in. Until now, I’ve never realized what a crank Salatin is. Salatin writes:
Wetlands emit some 95 percent of all methane in the world; herbivores are insignificant enough to not even merit consideration.
Hard to know if Salatin is really this clueless, or if he’s deliberately arguing in bad faith. He offers no citations to support this claim. But here’s what the United Nations concluded in 2006:
…the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.
Next, Salatin goes after McWilliams:
Notice that [McWilliams] does not reconcile this moral imperative with his love affair toward confinement hog factories.
Well, that’s a new one! It takes incredible chutzpah to claim that a guy who advocates veganism at every turn is having a “love affair” with factory farms. And there’s more: Salatin calls McWilliam’s opposition to ringing the noses of pigs, “a lone concession to compassion.” So what we have is a guy who makes his living raising and killing animals claiming a writer who steadfastly opposes animal slaughter lacks compassion.
But Salatin’s not done yet:
It’s fascinating that McWilliams wants to demonize pasture-based livestock for not closing all the nutrient loops, but has no problem, apparently, with the horrendous nutrient toxicity like dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey created by chemical fertilizer run off to grow grain so that the life of a beef could be shortened. Unbelievable.
No, what’s unbelievable is the liberties Salatin takes with McWilliams’ point of view. I don’t think it’s possible for McWilliams to make his opposition to all forms of animal agriculture any clearer. Pointing out the lapses of small-scale animal agriculture does not automatically make you a friend of large-scale factory farms.
Here’s the thing: if animal agribusiness is going to exist, I want there to be small-scale animal farmers who offer a less cruel and more environmentally responsible alternative to factory farms. While there will be certain irreconcilable differences between the world view of these farmers and that of animal advocates, a lot could be gained by having these two groups communicate. But when you’ve got the best-known small-scale animal farmer in America making such gross distortions of an opponent’s argument, any chance for productive dialog is eliminated.
Update: Adam Merberg tweeted to let me know that Salatin has called Glenn Beck “agendaless” and “truth-seeking.” Salatin has additionally called Lincoln America’s “worst president.” What a nutter.