de groene revolutie
10 mei 1999
I would love to know that I've wandered into my nation's heartland by the sweet smell of grain and not the forbidding smell of excrement. I can no longer fathom what there is to be afraid of except the status quo. While writing my book I returned to Montana. At the largest commercial supermarket in Great Falls, I could hardly believe my eyes. Soy milk and rice milk on the shelves. Soy hot dogs, veggie burgers, tofu, seitan. It's not hard anymore to be a vegetarian in America. If it can be done in Great Falls, it can be done anywhere. - Howard Lyman
Zijn grootvader had een boerderij. Zijn vader had een boerderij. "I knew from the time I was knee-high to a grasshopper that someday that farm would belong to me and my brother."
Op vijfjarige leeftijd hielp Howard de kalveren te voeden en de koeien te melken. Zwaar werk. Huilen was zinloos zei z'n vader: "You might as well grit your teeth, because cryin's only going to slow you down, and we're not quittin' till we're finished." Een les 'burned into my heart'. Tijdens de oogst werd er tot lang na het donker doorgewerkt. Howard leerde de tractor bedienen, met paarden om te gaan en kalveren te castreren. Hij werkte elke dag van het jaar, behalve op 4 juli en op eerste Kerstdag. Zijn oudere broer Dick kreeg een dodelijke ziekte en mocht van zijn ouders doen en laten wat hij wilde. Maar Howard moest daarom dubbel zo hard werken. Zijn schoolprestaties waren zeer matig. Maar later besloot hij vastberaden te gaan studeren. Hij werkte hard en haalde zijn landbouwdiploma aan de Montana State University.
The late Fifties and early Sixties was an exciting time to be launching into agricultural studies. We learned to spurn the old-fashioned, inefficient methods of farming the organic methods of my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. There was not one course offered in organic agriculture. In its place, a bold new age of chemically enhanced agriculture was dawning. We learned the most up-to-date methods of using pesticides and herbicides, hormones and antibiotics. My professors, all chemists and academicians, were so good at what they did, I figured, they didn't even have to get their hands dirty. I bought it all, hook, line, and sinker.
Het ging slecht met de boerderij. De Lymans waren arm. Howard studeerde in de 'farm's books' en besloot de boerderij van zijn vader over te nemen en te hervormen naar de nieuwste inzichten: "I was going to deficit-finance, expand, and employ all the brand-new chemical farming techniques I'd learned about in college". Zijn vader waarschuwde hem voor de nieuwerwetse technieken, maar Howard luisterde daar niet naar.
Crop rotation was the first principle of the old-fashioned organic method of dairy farming employed by my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. A field that was used to grow alfalfa one year got planted with, say, wheat the next, and corn the following year. Farmers paid particular attention to nitrogen-fixing crops, like beans or clover or alfalfa, which pulled nitrogen out of the air and put it into the soil, thus naturally fertilizing it. The second principle was leaving fields fallow, usually at least once every few years. Doing so restored moisture in the soil, made weeding simple, and let the micro-organisms and earthworms in the soil go to work regenerating it. The third principle was best expressed in the old farmer's saying: "When you raise an animal on grass, take half and leave half." In other words, don't let cattle overgraze. By leaving roughly half the grass alive in the grazing field, the grass would come back each year and its roots would hold the soil and protect it from erosion.
Aanvankelijk beloofden de nieuwe technieken grotere opbrengsten. Lyman nam steekproeven om het nitraat-, fosfor- en kaliumgehalte van zijn grond te bepalen. Daarna Vervolgens werd de akkergrond verreikt met de juiste hoeveelheden van de ontbrekende stoffen, "like a time-released medicine". Onkruid werd bestreden met chemicaliën, 'something called 2-4 D'. Het werd over de gehele boerderij gesproeid. "If a little was good, more was better." Lyman ging op zoek naar nieuwe, sterkere samenstellingen. "I began using an excellent variety of herbicide called 2-4-5 T. In Vietnam they called it Agent Orange." Het was een droom. De grond bracht nu het dubbele op. Maar tegelijkertijd daalden de prijzen op de markt. Wat te doen met al de extra opbrengsten? Het leek een goed idee om het goedkope graan als veevoeder in te zetten. En dus kocht Lyman extra koeien. Weldra bezat hij meer koeien dan er op zijn grond konden grazen:
I simply put them in confinement and converted a grazing operation into a feedlot. I corralled the animals in roofless pens, 100 or 200 in each, with a trough for feed on one side of the pen. And I embraced the fundamental challenge of the feedlot operator: to make the cattle grow as big and fat as possible, as quickly as possible. I learned how to alter my cattle's natural dietary habits. Whereas my father and grandfather raised cattle almost completely on grass and roughage, I now cut out their grazing rights and fed them only roughage, grain, and protein concentrates. Gradually I increased the percentage of grain until they were 90% grain-fed. This made their meat extremely fatty and gave it the nice white flecks you see in the better cuts of beef in your grocery stores.
Als gevolg van hun nieuwe graandieet ontwikkelden zijn dieren ziekten en gebreken: "organs that belonged on the inside of the cow fell out. It was too expensive to call a vet every time this happened, so I spent countless hours stuffing twenty-five pounds of cow back inside the animal and then sewing the woundvaginal and rectal prolapses". Lyman kocht steeds meer vee op de veilig, soms honderden stuks tegelijk. De koeien waren afkomstig uit verschillende plaatsen. Met zoveel verschillende dieren dicht op elkaar werd het besmettingsrisico steeds groter. Opnieuw werden veel dieren ziek.
Unfortunately, cattle in confinement develop more diseases than you can vaccinate against. In an enclosed space such as a cattle pen, even those afflicted cattle that successfully respond to a vaccination can pass the germ to other cattle in the process of shedding the disease. So, like most feedlot operators, I learned to put antibiotics in the cattle's feed. It would have been too time-consuming to try to target only the sick cattle with the antibiotic-enhanced feed; it was much easier and more logical to simply put the antibiotics in the feed of all the cattle.
Het resultaat: de ziekteverwekkende bacterieën werden immuum. Lyman liet maandelijks nieuwe antibiotica aanrukken met steeds minder resultaat. Toen men ontdekte hoe gevaarlijk sommige van deze antibiotica zijn, werden ze door de regering verboden. Maar controle stelde niets voor, de pakkans was miniem. Net als de andere bio-boeren ging Lyman door tot hij door zijn voorraden heen was.
Zijn koeien kregen longontsteking als gevolg van de vliegen die op de mest afkwamen. De boeren besproeiden deze ruimten met insecticiden. Het gif kwam ook in de voederbakken terecht. Ook werden de koeienruggen ingesmeerd met insecticiden om larveneieren te doden. "Naturally, I had neither the time nor the inclination to think about the possibility of this deadly chemical passing through the hide into the tissues that would become somebody's dinner; nor did I for a moment consider my own hide."
Verder kregen de koeien groeihormen toegediend zoals de verboden steroïden. Tot laat in de jaren zeventig gebruikte Lyman diethylstilbestrol, beter bekend als DES. toen DES eind jaren zeventig werd verboden, kochten de boeren nog vlug een voorraad in en ze bleven het spul nog enkele jaren gebruiken.
When my DES ran out, about two years after the ban went into effect, I continued to use a whole bunch of new and improved growth hormones. In those days, I never met a chemical I didn't like ... I didn't lose too much sleep over breaking the rules. I had bigger worries ... it was getting harder and harder to make ends meet. The chemicals themselves were expensive, and every year I had to use more chemical fertilizer and more antibiotics to get the same result as the year before ... I was working 18-hour days, and feeling less and less secure financially. I had dug myself into a chemical pit so deep I didn't have time to do anything except keep digging. Only my wife, Willow Jeane, would occasionally comment to me: "Are you sure we're going in the right direction?" She would note that the trees were starting to die, and that in spite of the herbicides, the weed problem seemed to be getting worse. And she wasn't at all pleased the day I came in with so much herbicide on my clothing that my mere presence killed off the houseplants.
De groene revolutie had de opbrengsten doen stijgen, de winsten doen dalen. De Lymans waren nog steeds arm. Op een dag ontdekten artsten kanker in de ruggemerg van Howard Lyman. De doktoren gaven hem een kans van 1 op miljoen op een succesvolle operatie. Misschien zou hij verlamd blijven. De nacht voor de operatie gierde een sneeuwstorm rond het huis. Howard lag te na denken. Waren de 10.000 hectaren land in zijn bezit belangrijk? Waren de 7000 stuks vee belangrijk, het vrachtwagenpark en de tractoren? Nee. "My family counted, and the land counted."
For some reason, I kept thinking about the soil--the magnetic feel of cool, dark, loamy, worm-laden soil in my hands. I'd grown up with my hands in that soil, and I'd always liked the feeling so much, I rarely troubled to wash them. I thought about how rich the soil had looked when I was a kid. It didn't look like that anymore. Now it crumbled in my hands. It was thin as sand. There were no more worms in it. After all the tons of herbicides and pesticides and chemical fertilizer I'd poured into it, the soil looked more like asbestos. The trees on and around the farm were dying. The birds were gone. The farm was no longer a living, breathing thing; it was an increasingly precarious chemical equation. I made up my mind then and there that no matter what the outcome of my operation, I'd dedicate the rest of my life to restoring the land to what it had been when I'd had the good fortune to be born to it.
De operatie slaagde en Lyman genas. Hij hield zich aan zijn belofte aan het land en ging zich opnieuw verdiepen in de landbouw. Maar dit keer was hij kritisch. Hij schreef zijn relaas op in een boek, getiteld Mad Cowboy: The Cattle Rancher Who Won't Eat Meat (1998). Hieruit werd het bovenstaande geciteerd en samengevat. Een laatste citaat:
I'd read, too, that livestock outnumber humans on the planet by five to one. I'd learned that about 50% of our water usage in this country is dedicated to livestock production, and that our natural aquifers were being depleted at an alarming rate. I'd learned that we were losing topsoil at a rate of one inch every sixteen years, and that much of that loss of topsoil was related to cattle grazing and to the chemically intensive methods that factory farmers were using (and that I had once used). I'd seen rivers polluted from the waste of cattle and pigs and chickens, and seen birds disappear from the skies over fields sprayed with herbicides that were meant to facilitate the growth of crops used to feed those animals. I'd put many thousands of head of cattle into confinement and seen how they suffered from unnatural conditions. I knew that while a billion people went to sleep hungry, the overfed part of the world was busy feeding sixteen pounds of grain to cattle in order to make one pound of beef. I'd seen countless friends suffer from heart disease. I'd seen the cancer rate in America increase dramatically. My own health was hardly exemplary: I weighed 350 pounds, my cholesterol topped 300, my blood pressure was off the charts, and I was getting nosebleeds. Suddenly the circle came together for me. We were, as a civilization, making one big mistake. This mistake was killing us as individuals just as it was destroying our land and our forests and our rivers. We were eating animals, and it wasn't working. If those animals had set out to take their revenge on us, they couldn't have done a better job.And I became, right then and there, something I never dreamed I'd become: a vegetarian.