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Cattle: An Informal Social History

Cattle: An Informal Social History

By Laurie Winn Carlson
Published by Ivan R Dee, 2001

I came across this book quite by chance, and its totally uninspiring title should have put me off reading it. In fact, the first few chapters I found rather hard going, but then Carlson got into her stride and from then on I found it a riveting read, and very relevant to the history of wildlife and wildlands conservation.

It is a fully referenced academic study of the relationship of cows and humans, but presented in a way that really makes the reader really think. In particular, the way biotechnology is impacting not only the cattle, but also the whole environment. Was the recent outbreak of Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD) in the UK the result of bioterrorism? After all even though Iraq may not have the weapons of mass destruction claimed by the politicians, it certainly did have a FMD programme.

It was allegedly Mrs O’Leary’s cow that kicked over a lamp that set Chicago on fire in 1871 – and it was the invention of barbed wire (to enclose cattle) that led to the formation of the Texaco oil company. 1.6 million tons of livestock waste (chicken droppings, bone meal etc) are fed to cattle in the US every year, and returned to the public as prime beef. The book is full of interesting connections. There are interesting sections on the growth of vegetarianism, and while I will not revert to vegetarianism, it’s certainly only organic beef for me for the rest of my life, and that only in small quantities. Though I hope Carlson does not get sued, the way Oprah Winfrey was because she exposed the facts about the way cattle were fed, which allegedly led to a fall in hamburger consumption.
A good read.

Review by John A Burton

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