Agribusiness has known for decades that packing thousands of birds or livestock together results in a monoculture that selects for such disease. But market economics doesn’t punish the companies for growing Big Flu – it punishes animals, the environment, consumers, and contract farmers. Alongside growing profits, diseases are permitted to emerge, evolve, and spread with little check. “That is,” writes evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace, “it pays to produce a pathogen that could kill a billion people.”
In Big Farms Make Big Flu, a collection of dispatches by turns harrowing and thought-provoking, Wallace tracks the ways influenza and other pathogens emerge from an agriculture controlled by multinational corporations. Wallace details, with a precise and radical wit, the latest in the science of agricultural epidemiology, while at the same time juxtaposing ghastly phenomena such as attempts at producing featherless chickens, microbial time travel, and neoliberal Ebola. Wallace also offers sensible alternatives to lethal agribusiness. Some, such as farming cooperatives, integrated pathogen management, and mixed crop-livestock systems, are already in practice off the agribusiness grid.
While many books cover facets of food or outbreaks, Wallace’s collection appears the first to explore infectious disease, agriculture, economics and the nature of science together. Big Farms Make Big Flu integrates the political economies of disease and science to derive a new understanding of the evolution of infections. Highly capitalized agriculture may be farming pathogens as much as chickens or corn.