January 19, 2011
This article is a bit disconcerting – “Superbugs, Agricultural Antibiotics, and Farm-Worker Infections: A New Study Connects the Dots” (Twilley, January 14, 2011). http://www.good.is/post/superbugs-agricultural-antibiotics-and-farm-worker-infections-a-new-study-connects-the-dots/ This is by no means my area of expertise, the relationship between the use of antibiotics in agricultural practice and increased disease resistance in humans, and nor can I judge the credibility of the source or the writer (perhaps someone out there can?). Nevertheless, it brings to mind the notion of ‘risk’ and the farming vocation – and my family.
Grandpa Abraham & Grandma Barbara (circa ~1953)
My grandfather emigrated from Norway to Canada (through the US) in the late 1800s. He worked in New York for a time before crossing the border into what was then the Territories (now Saskatchewan). He settled there, raised a family and farmed the land. My grandfather died long before I was born. But I remember watching my uncles working in the yard. I distinctly recall Uncle Jacob dipping his bare arm into a 5 gallon pail of agricultural chemical, nonchalantly stirring it around, then deftly wiping the excess with a rag and carrying on. All of my uncles did this… All of my (farming) uncles have long since passed, and all of them due to neurological or brain related disease/cancer. Now, I am not certain if there is relationship between the manner of their deaths and these unusual (unsafe) practices – but it is highly suspect.
Despite this, I feel that agriculture has progressed leaps and bounds since that time. Safety is practiced far more diligently on-farm now more than ever. We know how to handle the chemicals and we are no longer ignorant to risk, so we know how to mitigate them.
According to the “Superbug” article, 3.7% of working farmers (in this study) were diagnosed with MRSA related infections. That rate seems alarming but if we put this all in historical context, would it not be safe to assume that the risks of farming are substantially lower now more than ever – no matter what the practice (conventional, organic or otherwise) or what inputs are used?