American farmers are joining the push-back against food fear-mongering.
Chipolte was the first to get cracks for making PR hay out of its GMO-free menu. Now Subway is getting dinged for vowing to serve antibiotic-free beef and pork by 2025, upping the ante after McDonald's and Chick-fil-A promised not to serve poultry with antibiotics.
The Subway shift was driven largely by bullying from the Natural Resources Defense Council and self-proclaimed, self-promoting “Food Babe” Vani Hari, who is getting yet another take-down in a new book entitled “The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari's Glass House.”
But farmers are crying foul. They contend most livestock producers are using antibiotics responsibly, and under a veterinarian's direction. And since federal regulations require a “withdrawal time” to ensure that drugs pass through an animal's system prior to slaughter, they say all American meat is antibiotic free.
The Peterson Farm Bros. — Kansas grain and cattle farmers who have seen their "agvocate" parody videos go viral — disputed the contention that farmers “pump their animals full of antibiotics:”
That is simply not true. A typical dose of antibiotics for one animal is 5-10 ml. This 500 ml bottle of Draxxin (one of the antibiotics we sometimes use) costs almost $2,000. It would never make sense for any farmer (even so-called "factory farmers") to overuse antibiotics, they are too expensive!
There are never antibiotics in your meat! So, when restaurants like Subway promote that they are going to have "antibiotic free meat" it is very misleading.
The Bros. also linked to a blog post on Agriculture Proud about how antibiotics and hormones are used in feedlots that was quite informative, perhaps because it was written by a real cattleman.
As Midwest farmer Megan Dwyer told TV station WQAD:
To me this is a marketing ploy to drum up business and feed on consumers fears and misconceptions. It wasn`t based off of science or safety or concern for the consumer.
She says Subway should instead be promoting farmer's hard work and reassuring their customers their food is okay.
There's the belief, fanned by advocacy groups, that farmers are largely unregulated, and thus pumping people, plants and animals full of toxins. In reality, all aspects of American food production are highly regulated, which is why it's some of the safest in the world.
Sure, there are some unscrupulous bad apples, and yes, antibiotic resistance is a valid health concern. But instead of blaming farmers for everything, people need also to look at their own misguided drug practices, such as demanding antibiotics every time they get a cold or their kid gets an earache.
While we're on the topic of misinformation, I wanted to address erroneous claims made by Michael Coon in a recent letter to the editor of The Garden Island. He wrote:
GM supporters also like to mention how the technology will create drought tolerance. Note that this claim is for an unlikely future benefit. GM technology has little if anything to offer in terms of creating organisms than can better tolerate drought, simply because drought resistance involves a number of genes on different chromosomes — and existing procedures simply cannot deal with such complexity.
Meanwhile, in the real world, Monsanto is conducting field trials:
DroughtGard™ Hybrids is the world’s first and only drought-tolerant biotechnology trait for corn. It is designed to help corn plants resist drought stress and minimize the risk of failure in drought conditions.
Public sector researchers in India and South Africa are also moving ahead with drought-tolerant varieties of rice and maize (corn).
Coon also claims:
Coon also claims:
The “gene gun” used to insert foreign genes into existing cells is more akin to a sawed-off shotgun than a laser beam.
Again, Coon really needs to update his info. Like any technology, biotech is advancing rapidly. The gene gun is becoming passe as new, more precise techniques emerge. Among them are genome-editing platforms like Crispr, which can remove, replace or silence genes without adding any new DNA. As a result, modifications achieved with these techniques may be able to skip the regulatory process altogether.
Speaking of regulatory processes, the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is currently reviewing the existing U.S. Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology. It's a big deal, and a chance for scientists to be heard.
It's ironic that anti-GMO activism, which is often driven by a fear of corporate control over seeds and food, has made it almost impossible for anyone but the hated big corporations to pursue biotechnology. When it can cost $100 million to take a new GM product to commercialization, scientists at public sector universities and small companies are effectively sidelined.
And as I outline in a story I wrote about South African researcher Jennifer Thomson, this sounds the death knell for projects that could help smallholder farmers, but promise no big economic returns for corporations.
We need to stop painting agriculture and biotech with a good-bad broad brush and recognize that it's complex, nuanced and very diverse.
To end on a slightly lighter, and somewhat related note, check out this collection of photographs that illustrates just how addicted we've become to another technology.