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mad man disease
the next european farming catastrophe
by sigbjørn lund olsen

On the 14th of March at 16:00 (4:00 pm) the Norwegian government closed the borders for animal meat, live animals, and dairy products, following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom and, more recently, in the European Union. Looking at this recent ecological catastrophe and the string of others that have occured in European farming, one must begin to wonder, who the hell do we think we are when we challenge the way nature works?


Humanity, in general, has a tendency to look at itself as the pinnacle of evolution. Humanity, in general, likes to think that it is so firmly in control that nothing can go awry. Of course, Murphy has already proven us dead wrong, but then again, humanity, in general, seems to have a strong preference to a kind illusion, rather than a harsh truth.

During the pitiful few millennia that civilization has existed, we've developed ourselves at a pace that certainly is unprecedented in the history of our planet. At least, as far as we know. During the last century, we've seen the development of flight, of nuclear technology, of space travel, of computers and information technology. In a blink of a moment when compared against the monstrosity that is Time, we've changed from a hunter and gatherer species into a space-faring one.

Furthermore, our population has been growing exponentially ever since our favorite tea-drinkers found out that heated water had other uses than tea. (Right now, though, they are busy heating other items in their possession.) What the hell has humanity become?

Many Deities

A recent acquisition of our species is the ability to tinker with genes. Certainly, we've been tinkering with life since the stone age, when farmers selectively grew only the wheat that yielded the most flour, but at no earlier time have we been able to tinker directly with the language of life.

From the frontiers of biological research, we are now told that the human genome has finally been mapped. Celera Genomics and the Human Genome Project have both released their findings. Now, at least one of the two is clearly erring, because Celera found about 26000 genes, while HGP found about 31000, but that is another story. Also, I'm probably in the wrong, but I have the nagging feeling that half of the components that make up my body are patented. And somehow that makes me feel uneasy.

Multinational pharmaceutical firms are now going to court to change new legislation in South Africa that gives the country a chance to buy medicines at a reasonable price. But that's an understandable move. When we sell medicine at affordable prices so millions of lives can be saved, a few individuals in the West are running the risk of earning hills of money, as opposed to earning mountains of it, and that cannot possibly be right, can it?

And we're about to clone humans. I bet someone is going to make big bucks out of that, too. Everything today has to do with money. I suspect that the history books of the future will say that the democratic era of the world started approximately around 1925, and that it ended around 1975. I suspect that the history books of the future will say that the kleptocratic era started around 1975. I suspect that the history books of the future will feature full-page color ads. What the hell happened to demo?

Many Greedy Deities

The recent outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and mad cow disease in Europe and the epidemic nature of the diseases have us asking if industrial farming is good. Live animals are traded across long distances. Meat and dairy products are imported and exported in great volume. We're feeding meat to plant-eating animals to grow them bigger, faster. We inject hormones into them. We add synthetic chemicals everywhere because presentation sells and product doesn't. Even profitable ventures are closed because they aren't profitable enough. Globalization and greed cause epidemics of foot and mouth disease and mad cow disease. Globalization and greed.

Or, as I like to brand it - Mad Man Disease.

Some fear that the next European farming catastrophe will be one revisited. Every day, large ships march across the seas of the Earth, carrying cargo from port to port. Sometimes, however, there is no cargo, and to stabilize the ships they are pumped full of water. When these ships reach their destinations, they discharge the water. As a result, hundreds of species are introduced to a non-native environment, and the consequences of this can be quite far-reaching. Think about rabbits in Australia. Think about killer bees in America.

Let me be more specific. Some fear that the next European farming catastrophe will be a sea farming catastrophe, and for Norway, the largest seafood nation in Europe, this would be really bad. As a result this fear has been given a bit of coverage by the media - but not much. After all, the problem hasn't actually occured yet, so there's no reason to take it seriously, da?

Sea farming is no different from farming on land, only that we know less about it, because it is a rather new venture. Another difference is that there are no borders that are possible to block at sea. The king crabs that were introduced to the coast of Northwest Russia have blatantly disregarded the Russian-Norwegian border and made fishing with nets nigh impossible in Northern Norway.

The worst bugs, however, are the smallest ones - bacteria, viruses, and microparasites - the ones that not only disrupt the ecological balance of a region, but also are impossible to control and constrain, and which spread epidemically over large areas because of global trade. Bioinvasions like the American comb jelly fish, which has devastated the Black Sea and, more recently, the Caspian Sea, can be fought by introducing "surgical strike species" into the region - species that are natural enemies of the non-native species that have ruined the original ecological balance. However, these operations tend to have other effects than those intended (much like surgical strike bombings). Take Hawaii, where we introduced the mongoose to control rats, but instead managed to wipe out ground-dwelling birds.

I have to ask how we are supposed to fight viruses and bacteria? Our solution in the cases of foot and mouth disease and mad cow disease has been burning the infected animals. Well, for those who think that burning all infected fish (should a fish disease be introduced in a non-native environment) is even remotely feasible, I can only quote Han Solo: "Good luck. You're gonna need it."

Free trade of live animals has caused an epidemic of foot and mouth disease. With sea farming becoming more common, also for species other than salmon, transport of live fish will become equally more common in the near future. And while a few brave souls worry about the consequences of this, humanity, in general, does not seem to care, as humanity, in general, has a tendency to ignore a problem until the problem is knocking on the door.

We may be many deities, we humans, but we are juveniles among deities, and we are by no means in control of our knowledge. We are children playing at divinity, and as humans we see us as something that we are not - we see ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution, and we enjoy that kind illusion above the harsh truth. And the truth is that as long we do not understand the consequences of the games we play, we will always be juvenile devils as much as we are deities. And that is the most dangerous aspect about our nature as a quickly developing species.

Mad Cow Disease will never be a serious threat to us. Mad Man Disease already is.


Sigbjørn still maintains that he is going to be somebody ... carefully neglecting the fact that all the ninety-year olds still singing into their combs in front of their mirrors, they too knew that they were going to be somebody. It is slowly dawning on him that his shot at being a star kid actor may very well have passed, so as a backup plan, he's currently attending university in Trondheim, Norway, studying film.

more about sigbjørn lund olsen


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roberto stooks
4.21.01 @ 3:17p

sig You are so globally and ecologically oriented at such a young age. Use your gift wisely. Nature rules and all we can do is accept what ever nature shells out, like it or not that's the way it IS.

sigbjørn olsen
4.21.01 @ 5:02p

I think what we often neglect remembering is that we are a part of nature. For all it's worth, only two weeks after I wrote this a killer algae killed a couple hundred thousand fish in fishfarms off the southern coast of Norway, and apparently, it's there to stay :-o

roberto stooks
4.22.01 @ 7:52a


You got that right! we are all part of the wHOLE> I just looked up on the wORLD map and see that Nornway's southern most tip lies just east of england, ie NOT so great britain. A lot of feces there shit manURE cowshit madcow shit? whatEVER>>>>>>>>>

A more closer look at just below the 60th parallel, ahhhh,soooO000.. ABERDEEN Isn't there some kind of nuclear site there? rds

sigbjørn olsen
4.22.01 @ 7:31p

Heh, back in the fifties, people living where I live used to occasionally see flashes of light to the east - Atmospheric nuclear "tests" (aka power demonstrations) over Novaja Selmja.

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