Friday, October 23, 2015

Musings: Food Fears & Tech Terrors

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:

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.


Anonymous said...

"We need to stop painting agriculture and biotech with a good-bad broad brush and recognize that it's complex, nuanced and very diverse." Nice Joan. Now if you can insert the words "citizens concerned about preserving clean and just food systems" into this phrase then maybe we can all start having a civil conversation. "We need to stop painting citizens who are concerned about food justice with a good-bad broad brush and recognize that this movement is complex, nuanced and very diverse." Can?

Joan Conrow said...

Personally, I do recognize that, which is why my criticisms have been against specific groups and individuals, based on their statements and actions.

Anonymous said...

And then Joan gets criticized for "targeting." Luckily Joan has thick skin and rock solid convictions. Keep writing Joan. Your work is much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

All of this anti Ag nonsense is a rich persons disease.

Anonymous said...

What the heck does "food justice" mean? I guess just about anything one want's it to mean, like STFU and let me grow what I want as it's no business of yours what I grow on my land! Who the hell decided that farmers must grow only food crops to be consumed on Kauai? What an ignorant thought by do nothing whiners! Has anyone ever gone hungry here except by their own bad choices and personal circumstances? Nope! If you'd been here during Ewa and Iniki you'd know that food wasn't a problem and it was the plantations and farmers, not the County or State, that got their equipment out and cleared the highways of downed trees and storm debris.

Anonymous said...

It is Iwa you idiot. Google is your friend. Look up Food Justice. We are not talking about ornamental flowers justice, or biofuels justice, or even JTFU idiot justice. We are talking about the right to know what we are eating and to have our food grown in a way that is good for our health and good for the planet. You can eat what you want but some of us want a choice. The call it junk food for a reason, moron. Obviously it is your diet of choice.

Dawson said...

Less land for ag = more land for tourism development.


Anonymous said...

9:24 -- What are you talking about? You have SO MANY CHOICES ----- GMO-free, natural, gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free, organic, regular, local, imported. If you have half a brain you can know exactly what you're eating.

True food justice is making sure everybody gets something to eat. Period.

Anonymous said...

When you identify these bandwagon jumpers and call them out as doing the "it" thing to do to gain attention for themselves, obviously their response will be to try to defend their acts.

All if this only distracts the true pioneers trying to invoke change.

As most of you may recall the whole TVR battle that gain recognition on this blog but most don't know that it was fought in the trenches with some noble people fighting to identify a problem and create a change.

Anonymous said...

Just Food defines food justice as “communities exercising their right to grow, sell and eat healthy food.” The definition continues, “Healthy food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers and animals. People practicing food justice leads to a strong local food system, self-reliant communities and a healthy environment.”

9:24, if you are a true believer in food justice, are you exercising your right to GROW food locally? Are you eating ONLY locally grown food, and nothing imported? Are you eating only CULTURALLY appropriate food, e.g., taro, sweet potatoes, fish, banana and coconuts?

Anonymous said...

9:24 doesn't want to grow anything. 9:24 wants to define "food justice" and force all farmers to conform to 9:24's view of how things should be. Clearly, 9:24 is not behind a plow, pulling weeds, raising and harvesting a crop, packaging it, wholesaling it or selling it at retail. 9:24 wants to be the Big Cheese and tell everyone else how to cater to 9:24-like people. If you do not "know what you are eating", eat something you are intimately acquainted with- and that's not a lot, apparently. Don't hector the rest of us endlessly with your useless nattering. It is simply asking too much to treat people in a civil fashion who are so wound up in arrant pedantry and incapable of something so simple as feeding themselves in a grocery store. You have options; use them or starve quietly- please.

Anonymous said...

Sure, people have valid reasons for wanting to know, and be able to choose, what goes in their mouths. If they want to only eat local and organic, it's easily done now for those who aren't complete imbeciles. If it doesn't say "organic" and "locally grown", then don't eat it fools! Farms and food companies pay money to be certified organic and they target their market by prominently displaying that badge on their foods & packaging. If it doesn't say "organic" (or locally grown which may or may not be organic), then don't use it. If it doesn't say organic then it has some G.E. components. How much simpler can it get? Even a child can understand that. But I guess if you're stoned all the time, the truth is hard to grasp and life is more difficult.

Anonymous said...

Yes!! With recreational pot becoming legal in more and more states, we do need to make things easier to understand for the stoners. They're a growing part of the population and will be voting and receiving welfare that comes with one or two requirements like filing for it. So I recommend re-writing all of our laws so that the sentences aren't longer than say seven (7 for you stoners) words which must have less than eight (8)characters in them. But in the interests of Food Justice, I suggest that we color or mark all organic foods in plaid so that the less than brilliant can easily determine their nature. The only hurdle, albeit a low one, is that we'll have to change the containers for Scottish shortbread and band anything from Great Britain. Cheerio!

Anonymous said...

More stoned voters! OMG!! Bernie will be President for sure! But maybe not as stoners will have to remember to vote!

Anonymous said...

"We need to stop painting citizens who are concerned about food justice with a good-bad broad brush and recognize that this movement is complex, nuanced and very diverse." Can? I think cannot Joan. Not given the rhetoric of your commenters that you allow and encourage.

Anonymous said...

Joan, your blog never fails to amuse and educate! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Better safe than sorry!

Anonymous said...

Joan of Kauai. A lady who may have had a vision. A vision coupled with logic, writing skill and a love for an island embarked on a decades long journey thru the quagmire of politics, social justice and knowledge.
A loving provocateur who fought for shoreline setbacks, public access and political honesty. She was once the darling of the Da Fistees, elite newcomer and far left loons. Her acute scrutiny of politics had many elected nimrods on notice. Her environmental discourses were held in high regard. Heralded by many and feared by those in power and others that lie.
And then Joan of Kauai dared to look at Ag. And in this look she saw certain things. And she wrote of these things. And lo' how her friends cried and wailed. Oh no Ms Joan, say it ain't so. Don't say that Big Ag is good thing. Oh Joan, can't you see, Big Ag is bad for you and me.
But Joan, she wrote and she wrote. Her fickle friends have left her. Da Hoos and his Fistees are all in a pickle, how could Ms Joan do this and not even make a nickel.
Well Ms Joan, you have many new found friends. Thank you.

Joan Conrow said...

Thank you, and you're welcome, 7:33. Except none of those people were really my friends! Just acquaintances.

And 12:31, I'm sorry you're offended by the views of your fellow citizens and neighbors. But that's what we're dealing with here.

Anonymous said...

Aloha 9:06AM, life is very amazing, as one actually experiences a crisis and another to talk about it. Right after Iniki hit the islands, the County started clearing Kaumualii Highway of debris, powerlines and and powerpoles from Lele Road westward. The few County employees waited out the Hurricane in the Hanapepe Baseyard. The State had there equipment in Waimea. The objective for the County was to clear the Highway so emergency equipment could get to KVMH Hospital. Gay and Robinson cleared the roadway Pakala to Waimea. Kekaha Sugar Co. cleared from Waimea to Kekaha and beyond. One does not have to believe in the truth but this is what actually happened.(FYI- the ambulance was right behind us as we were clearing the roadway form Hanapepe to Waimea) It was an adrenaline rush for the men working along side the equipment knowing the ambulance is right behind you. After that the County started to go from Hanapepe till we reached the Kapaa Baseyard crew in the canefields behind Halfway Bridge at about 2:00am the next morning. Thanks to all the private companies and Government workers that cleared the roadway for traffic. The next day the County did Koloa Road and the Tree Tunnel. Just telling it like it happened.

Anonymous said...

Just because something is not organic does not mean it is GE. The majority of farmers use conventional farming methods on thousands of farms across the US. Remember, there are only a few GE crops approved. Most fruits and vegetables do not have a GE variety.