The environment is important to agriculture

19 December 2012 - 16:13 By Bruce Gorton
Cow. File picture.
Cow. File picture.
Image: MLONDOLOZI MBOLO © Daily Dispatch.

Yesterday one of the small issues coming out of Mangaung involved Ebrehim Patel talking about agriculture.

He was arguing that agriculture could help create the sheer volume of jobs our country needed, and that the ANC should speak to farmers about how best to get them hiring.

The story that the media picked up just before that was about cattle.

You see, the cattle of Wonderfontein Spruit have a problem; sometimes they eat the grass that grows by the local river.

This grass is fed by contaminated water, and as a consequence, the cattle have cadmium and uranium in their organs. This was due to pollution by the local mines.

I looked up what the effects of cadmium and uranium poisoning are, and from what I can gather the cadmium is the real scary stuff.

Uranium has been shown to reduce cognitive ability, chronic fatigue, rashes, eye infections, hair loss and weight loss, most of this may be due to combined chemical exposure. According to the CDC, despite all of this bad stuff it hasn’t been shown to cause cancer in humans, and according to the Health Physics Society it doesn’t stick around in the body that long as it is relatively poorly absorbed by the gut. It mostly just washes out.

Cadmium on the other hand is much scarier – which is why in June MacDonald’s recalled its Shrek Forever glasses after they were found to contain the stuff. Ingesting cadmium can lead to immediate harm to your liver and kidneys, can weaken your bones to the point that they break if you put on weight, can cause uric acid crystals to form in your joints (i.e. gout) and it is a known carcinogen.

The liver damage caused by cadmium is irreversible.

The beef from those cows is apparently safe to eat provided you limit yourself to 0.13 kilograms a day, but it cannot be good for the cows themselves to have this stuff building up in their bodies.

One of the odd things about a lot of government regarding the environment is that environmental concerns are assigned lower priority than economic concerns, yet damage to the environment damages our options when it comes to building the economy.

We are entering an era where it is becoming increasingly important for us to consider what the cost of environmental neglect is going to really be, and the era we are entering it from is one in which the environment was considered an impractical 'hippie' concern.

I am not a big fan of an agriculture based economy. Farm workers are amongst the worst paid people in South Africa, and I think most of us aspire for something more than the recent demand for R150 a day.

But if we are going to go for that kind of economy, it cannot be done without boosting our enforcement of environmental standards.

Even if we choose not to focus on agriculture as a creator of jobs, we need better enforcement of environmental standards, because that stuff is still getting into us, and it isn’t going to turn us into super-heroes.

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