- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leaves us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy! - Robert Burns, 1785
This well-known poem came to mind when I read an article in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle. The story said Monterey County farmers are being forced to drain ponds and clear planted buffers that have provided habitat for beneficial insects and helped clean runoff water - all in the name of food safety.
Writer Carolyn Lockhead of the Chron's Washington bureau said farmers were resorting to "scorched-earth strategies" in the quest for an antiseptic field of greens.
"Vegetation harboring pollinators and filtering storm runoff is being cleared. Fences and poison baits line wildlife corridors. Birds, frogs, mice and deer - and anything that shelters them - are caught in a raging battle in the Salinas Valley against E. coli O157:H7, a lethal, food-borne bacteria," Lockhead wrote.
But the article draws from UC Davis expertise to point out that clearing away buffers may do more harm than good. UC Davis scientists found that vegetation buffers can remove as much as 98 percent of E. coli from surface water, according to the story. UC Davis advisers warn that some rodents prefer cleared areas.
"Sanitizing American agriculture, aside from being impossible, is foolhardy," the article quoted UC Berkeley food expert Michael Pollan. "You have to think about what's the logical end point of looking at food this way. It's food grown indoors hydroponically."
Shades of another literary classic, "Brave New World."