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Free Range Pigs Won’t Kill Ya

Apr. 13, 2009

I’ll subtitle this post "How to look underneath a news story." When I read the op-ed in the Times last week claiming that a new study has revealed that free range pigs are more likely than industrially raised pigs to carry dangerous bacteria, I was confused, maybe a little suspicious. Everything I have ever read--including the brand new Righteous Porkchop--has clearly and scientifically laid out how industrial hog farming is some of the dirtiest stuff around. I read through the piece, trying to keep an open mind and trying to make it jibe with what I already know. I struggled.

When I got to the end of the piece, I read the author’s bio, including the title of his upcoming book, "Just Food: How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly.” Locavores endangering the future of food? This I gotta see.

First question: who funded this study?

Second question: What does Marion Nestle have to say? I trust her implicitly on questions of food-borne illness; she is a scientist first and foremost, and I look to her to get to the scientific heart of the matter. From Dr. Nestle I learned that the author isn’t quite interpreting the study--funded by the National Pork Board--correctly. She concludes: "My point, as always, is that sponsored studies are invariably designed in ways that produce results favorable to the sponsor. In this case, the sponsor represents industrial pork producers."

Third step: I checked out the excellent piece over at CivilEats.com, where Paula Crossfield asks “The question is, then, how do we reclaim the media, and disseminate real information to consumers?” and states the importance of our movement gaining strength and articulation from these conversations with our detractors.

If you’d like, you can write to the public editor at the Times, Clark Hoyt, about this op-ed. His address is public@nytimes.com.

[Late addition: Keep peeling away the layers, and let things be complicated. The Atlantic Monthly Food Channel invited McWilliams to explain and retort. Also, check out Kurt Friese’s post on Grist, and the Slow Food Columbus Blog]



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