March Against Monsanto: My “AHA!” Moment

Genetically Modified (GM) stuff doesn’t bother me at all.  I love medical technology and more efficient ag production and prettier flowers.  Trillions of meals have been consumed without any adverse health effects since GM crops went commercial in the late 1990s.  I am an admirer of Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution.

In response to “just label it” initiatives, I have recommended that big food companies like Kraft and Nestle do just that!  As they’ve done with peanut allergy concerns, I say just slap a label on everything they produce which says, “This product contains or may contain traces of crops produced with GMO technology,” or the like!

Today, though, in perusing several good blog posts (I love OregonGreen!) on this weekend’s global “March Against Monsanto,” I had my eyes opened when I read this comment:

I agree not- all bio-tech is bad ,most of the foods that we eat are GMO’s but we would like them to be labeled as such and to have the ability to sue if Monsanto and their competitors harm us through the GMO’s Or our children.

It dawned on me that this whole labeling movement is a Trojan Horse…  just one more way of getting a toe in the door in an incremental effort at tearing down all things industrial.  It matters not whether one “proves” (or fails to prove, as the case may be!) damage from GM products.  What matters is increased ability to name names in a law suit that defendants must spend lots of money to defend, regardless of facts.  It enhances the capacity to inflict “death by 1,000 cuts.”

Photo courtesy of OregonGreen.

Irony: Monsanto’s Roundup and Roundup-Ready products have helped to improve profitability, which is the only thing that “saves farms.” Photo courtesy of OregonGreen.

While we’re here, I might as well discuss some other thoughts (which seem to agitate both sides of this issue!) with you.  🙂

I criticize Monsanto.  When they defend their products on the basis of climate change alarmism…when they imply that the use of chemicals in agricultural production must decrease…when they claim they are defenders of the environment rather proudly embracing the profit motive…when they advance more regulation and Government involvement so that they can boast that they are in compliance with rigorous regulatory standards… they damage true capitalism and endanger all of the wonderful benefits that a free market system delivers.

This paragraph from Fancy Beans, for example, could have come straight from Monsanto:

We have big problems. We need to drastically reduce our carbon [sic] emissions and agriculture is a big source of them — a farmer who can reduce their use of gasoline and produce the same amount of food should be rewarded, even if she uses “Monsanto GMO seeds”. We need farms that support living wages for all their workers — if that means food production is more expensive, how will we make sure poor kids still eat nutritious and balanced diets? We need better regulations of fertilizer and pesticide runoffs — and farmers need a way to make more money when they do better than a competitor at reducing those impacts. We need more research on how to achieve all these goals sustainably and fairly and we don’t achieve that by demonizing scientists at agriculture universities because (unsurprisingly) they are funded occasionally by Monsanto.

It is precicely these types of arguments based on flawed logic and shaky science that take us away from improving productivity and efficiency — which is good for profitability and therefore good for society, the environment and “sustainability.”

We need to drastically reduce our carbon [sic] emissions…

Carbon dioxide emissions are not bad for the environment.  In fact, carbon dioxide is plant food.  We are now at 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere.  Historically, that is very low.  Below 150 ppm, most plants cease to live.  Greenhouse operators add CO2 for enhanced plant growth.  Worrying about CO2 at 400 ppm is like being concerned that your gas tank is going to overflow when you’ve filled it up to 1/8 of its capacity.

We need better regulations of fertilizer and pesticide runoffs — and farmers need a way to make more money when they do better than a competitor at reducing those impacts.

No, we do not need more corruptible government regulations.  This is self-regulating!  Farmers already make more money when they do better than a competitor at reducing runoff!  Thanks to the profit motive, farmers are very good at making sure that their plants are the users of these high-dollar products as opposed to them being wasted by running off.  This problem is really only a problem in green-lawn-dense cities when fertilizer and pesticides are applied at very high rates without significant marginal monetary concern (i.e., profitability does not come into the decision-making process).  In any case, reports of water pollution from fertilizer and pesticides are grossly exaggerated.

We need more research on how to achieve all these goals sustainably and fairly…

The use of the word “we” has become increasingly alarming to me.  Free markets only work on the “I” level.  Individuals make many purchasing decisions daily.  The aggregate of these individual decisions gives us demand.  Farmers, in supplying products that people want, respond to this demand.  Both supply and demand change constantly.  “We” cannot determine what is fair and sustainable.  Every centralized authority who has ever tried has failed miserably.  There is no brilliant individual or committee who beats the market in such wisdom.

Monsanto became successful because they created good products that farmers voluntarily chose and choose to purchase — products that improve the bottom line for farmers.  With freedom, Monsanto and other companies will continue to innovate and invent and farmers will continue to adapt to ever-changing conditions by adopting a variety of products and technology.

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I love ag.  I love the personal responsibilty and decision-making that necessarily comes with more freedom.

When we increase the size of government, we make it easier…not harder!…for big established companies like Monsanto to eviscerate their competition. And competition is a very good thing.

In order to continue to feed the world, consumers, retailers, processors, farmers, and ranchers need more freedom, not more laws and regulations.

Tyson Confirms Fears: Fox IS in Henhouse

In “Tyson Foods Announces A Win For Wayne Pacelle” and “Dancing With The Devil” I warned about Tyson Foods’ futile attempt to placate animal rights activists.

Tyson finally announced the 13-person advisory panel that will develop standards for their Farm Check audit program.

Members of the panel include:

  • Ryan Best, 2011-2012 president, Future Farmers of America
  • Anne Burkholder, cattle feedlot owner
  • Ed Cooney, executive director of the Congressional Hunger Center
  • Gail Golab, Ph.D., DVM, director of American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Division
  • Temple Grandin, Ph.D., professor of animal science, Colorado State University
  • Karl Guggenmos, dean of culinary education, Johnson & Wales University
  • Tim Loula, DVM, co-founder and co-owner of Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minnesota
  • Miyun Park, executive director, Global Animal Partnership
  • Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, National Chicken Council
  • Richard Raymond, M.D., former U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Food Safety
  • Janeen Salak-Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor in Animal Sciences, University of Illinois
  • Janice Swanson, Ph.D., chair and professor, Animal Behavior and Welfare, Michigan State University
  • Bruce Webster, Ph.D., professor of poultry science, University of Georgia

The fact that animal rights and vegan activist and former HSUS Vice President Miyun Park is on the panel should give every producer heart palpitations.

Miyun Park

Miyun Park

I recommend a thorough Internet search on this woman, but this article about sums it up.  She is fundamentally opposed to the intensive animal agriculture upon which Tyson wholly depends.  In The Globalization of Animal Welfare, co-authored with Peter Singer, Park says,

Given the sheer magnitude of intensive confinement agriculture — in terms of the number of individual animals involved and in terms of the impact on animal welfare, human health, and the planet’s limited resources — the sense of urgency cannot be overstated. … It is time for a global commitment to reduce animal suffering and to mitigate the many unintended and undesirable consequences of raising animals for food.

But it’s not only Park who is problematic.  Check out each member of the panel.  Peruse the website of The Congressional Hunger Center, for example.  The “industry” people on the panel (like Best and Burkholder) are soft targets for groups like WWF and HSUS who cleverly convince honest producers that working with them is the reasonable thing to do.  Temple Grandin has been viewed by many farmers and ranchers as problematic since she began making herself central to several animal welfare accreditation schemes back in the 1990’s.  Grandin has increasingly become the darling of the Animal Rights movement since Hollywood got ‘hold of her.  Richard Raymond has said himself that animal welfare has nothing to do with food safety.

The fact that Tyson has nothing on its website about the Farm Audit program makes me laugh.  If it’s all about “consumers demanding to know where their food comes from,” then surely Tyson would want to boast about their expensive new program to consumers who go to Tyson.com.

Fact is, this entire debacle is not consumer driven at all.  Tyson will be gravely disappointed when animal rights activists reject their program, just as they rejected Beef Quality Assurance (BQA).

I guess we all have to learn for ourselves that, with people who hate our existence, it’s not about better animal welfare.  It’s about putting us out of the animal ag business.

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I love agriculture and I love farmers and ranchers!  This misguided attempt to appease the extortionists of HSUS and WWF, among others, is a slap in the face to the men and women who produce beef, pork and chicken for Tyson’s factories.

Gifting Weapons To Enemies

“Hannah,” a local High School junior, graced me with a private recitation of her wonderful FFA Area Competition speech recently.  I’m proud of her hard work and effort.  She is truly an “agvocate.”

In helping her to prepare, though, I discovered another example of how enemies of animal agriculture use our own goodness to defeat us.  We gift additional weapons to our foes without realizing we are doing it.  They smile at our naiveté.

Hannah introduced her topic by raving about the flavor and sizzle of beef, and about how nutrient-dense and safe beef is.

That led into the “meat” of her talk:  what producers, processors and retailers/consumers can do to minimize E. coli contamination.

There are various strains of E. coli, which occurs naturally in most animals' stomachs.

There are various strains of E. coli, which occurs naturally in most animals’ stomachs.

When I asked her in the Q&A session if she thought other pathogens should be tested for at the packing plant, her immediate answer was, “Sure, if it makes our consumers safer, we should do everything we can!”

But at what cost?  What additional protection do consumers really get, and what is the additional cost of that marginal protection?  What if, in attempting to ensure that there is never again an illness from eating beef, we make beef so expensive that people cannot afford it?  What if we enthusiastically “agree” ourselves out of business?

Present-day beef safety is a fantastic success story!  A perusal of the U.S.’s Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s E. coli homepage reveals that organic spinach, raw clover sprouts, romaine lettuce, frozen food products, German raw sprouts, Lebanon Bologna and in-shell hazelnuts have been the sources of every E.coli outbreak for the last three-plus years.  Beef doesn’t even get a mention!

That doesn’t mean that recalls of meat have not been issued.  They have — at great cost to the packing plant or retailer issuing the recall.  Processors and retailers have significant financial incentive to figure out cost-effective ways of ensuring product safety before that product goes out the door.

Those honest and honorable efforts, however, get hampered by top-down intervention.   Processors are diverted from pursuing technologies and methodologies that truly improve food safety when “industry” or bureaucrats insist that we spend time and money on faux monsters, potential pathogens, and zero tolerance.  Respected food safety leaders speak of introducing testing and controls for pathogens that could cause problems for beef.  Industry leaders, in attempting to show how reasonable and forward-thinking they are, jump at committing the entire industry to the additional costs.  We seem to be insisting upon pricing ourselves out of the marketplace entirely.

Companies do not thrive by sickening or killing their consumers.  Individual companies should compete on the food safety front.  Brands can choose to pay for additional testing and claim the premium in the marketplace.  But additional bureaucratic imposts upon production hamper consumer choice, producer inventiveness…and food safety.

There is no such thing as “zero” in nature, and there is no such thing as “zero risk” in life.  Everything we do every day involves risk, but each risk should be put into perspective.  How does this risk compare to other risks (like traveling on roads!) that I happily take each day?  What are the costs and benefits of eliminating or minimizing the risk?  Who pays for marginal decreases in risk?

The only way to achieve zero food-borne illnesses from beef consumption is to stop eating beef.  Of course, denying yourself the essential nutrients in beef has its own set of challenges.  The only way to achieve zero food-borne illnesses in general is to stop eating in general.  Of course, denying your body of any food has its own set of challenges.

I personally will happily take the almost non-existent risk of severe illness and choose to eat delicious, nutritious beef.  But I will not pay any price for that meat.  In my own self interest, I hope and pray that the “industry solution” cure for food-borne pathogens isn’t worse than the media-sensationalized disease.