Back to basics

Old tricks for new problems

January 7, 2013

We’ve known for more than a decade that not only are the animals we eat given prophylactic antibiotics on a regular basis, but those antibiotics are causing the rise of superbugs, or antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Some farmers, however, are trying to replace conventional antibiotics with the latest cure-all: oregano oil. As the New York Times reported over Christmas, feeding chickens a diet laced with oregano oil seems to keep the birds perfectly healthy.

Hey presto! But the farmers emphasized that the oil isn’t an elixir: “Using oregano oil to control bacterial infection also requires maintaining high standards of sanitation in barns where animals are sheltered, as well as good ventilation and light, and a good nutrition program.”

Sure, it’s work, but it’s also appealingly simple in concept. It’s not so different from agroforestry, which, as Grist recently noted, combines intensive management of habitats with, well, benign neglect. Here’s another term you probably haven’t heard: silvopasture, or “the intentional combination of livestock, forage, and trees on grass.” The idea is a truly sustainable ecosystem in which agricultural products (chestnuts, hazelnuts, fruit) and livestock nurture each other. No chemicals required.

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