The Connection between Chickens and Puget SoundBy eptak | March 20th, 2009 | Category: Blog, News |
By Puget Sound News reporter Emilia Ptak
So, you may be thinking, “what the heck do chickens have to do with Puget Sound?” And I will simply respond: “Everything.”
An interesting bill will be up for public hearing today that concerns the preservation of livestock and poultry diversity. Senate Bill 5002 is sponsored by Democrat Senator Ken Jacobsen and Republican Senator Dan Swecker and seeks to create the Washington heritage livestock and poultry breed recognition program. The bill is in response to the decline and even extinction of breeds due to the favored use of specialized breeds in modern agricultural production. It has been identified that preserving the heritage and diversity of food sources is an issue of strengthening food security, along will maintaining ecosystem viability. The bill hopes to provide an incentive for farmers and breeders to preserve livestock and poultry heritage by providing recognition of their contribution and to boost public awareness as well.
The link between protecting biodiversity and environmental health can be fuzzy, due to the complexity of repercussions that occur within an interdependent bio-regulatory system. Consider the following facts:
- The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report attributes modern farming methods as one of the main contributors to the significant loss of biodiversity:
-Today cultivated land occupies ¼ of the surface of the planet
-Water consumption has doubled since 1960, and 70% of it is used in agriculture
These facts reveal a disturbing reality: Modern methods of agricultural production are unsustainable and contributing to environmental degradation. In Washington State we are grappling with the dilemma of the declining health of Puget Sound, attributed to a series of factors that include habitat loss, agricultural and storm water runoff, pollution, and climate change. The question becomes: how are humans able to produce food in harmony with the surrounding environment? Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, states: “In order to grow crops and raise livestock, we must manipulate the environment gently, with due respect to local biodiversity, traditional culture, and the rhythms of nature.”
Reforming our food system is part of the solution to restore the health of Puget Sound. A chicken adapted to the environmental conditions of the Pacific Northwest is ecologically more viable in contributing to the overall diversity of the region. Senate Bill 5002 seeks to give animal owners of rare, diminished breeds the recognition for their contribution to preserving the ecological heritage of Puget Sound.
Senate Bill 5002 delegates the responsibility of forming the recognition program to the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. To receive distinction, an animal owner will have to apply and provide the following information: the history of the animal breed and its origins, photos of the animals, and distinguishing characteristics.
While the bill has good intentions, its potential for success is shaky. The nonregulatory incentive-based program runs the risk of being unsuccessful because recognition may not be a strong enough incentive. Incorporating financial compensation into the bill would likely generate greater participation.
Overall, the bill has important ramifications and reflects acting with foresight. Preserving biodiversity is about maintaining a rooted sense of our collective identity that connects us to a place. Preserving the diverse heritage of livestock and poultry contributes to the rich identity of Puget Sound. This may sound silly, considering that food is generally viewed in the United States as a commodity to be consumed, rather than being honored for the nourishment it provides. This mindset reflects a disconnect of humans from nature in not caring where one’s food comes from.
A chicken of the Puget Sound will not (or at least shouldn’t) taste the same as a chicken of a farm along the Mississippi River. Taste is a mélange of elements: the air, water, soil and feed all contribute. A healthy chicken will taste good, and evoke the distingishing characteristics of a particular place. By eating a chicken of the Puget Sound you can internalize the goodness of the region and have an immediate connection to home because both you and the chicken come from the same place. Puget Sound is both a place of dwelling and of nourishment.
Food is part of a region’s natural and cultural resources. Here in the Puget Sound, we are well aware of this fact and a particular species comes to mind: salmon. What would the Puget Sound be without the salmon? The lively fish markets at Pike Place that draw people from all corners of the world, and the Native American Tribes, whose very being is inseparable from salmon, contribute to the rich culture that makes Puget Sound such a beautiful place that we are lucky to call home. Recognizing that caring to preserve the biodiversity of a region includes preserving the diverse heritage of livestock and poultry of the region, the next step can be taken to cultivate a unique food system that reflects the local identity of Puget Sound. Senate Bill 5002 makes that critical first step by creating a program that gives due recognition and encourages public support.
If you are curious to know more and track the progress of the bill, the following information may be helpful:
March 20th SB 5002 is scheduled for public hearing in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources at 1:30 PM.
March 26th: scheduled for executive session in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources at 8AM.
To read the bill in its entirety go to: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?year=2009&bill=5002#documents
Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food should be Good, Clean, and Fair -By Carlo Petrini