The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 9, 2013

What is to fear in the American consumer?

By Alan Guebert, Farm and Food File
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Henry Ford heard the jeers for years before his horseless carriage remade culture forever. Orville and Wilbur Wright were called bird brains before their dreams carried them over a North Carolina sand dune and mankind to distant galaxies.

History proved these oddballs right and the know-it-alls and naysayers all wrong.

Are we in American agriculture the nay-saying same; are we maligning and castigating anyone who questions or challenges “the way we do things”?

We are, and we’re doing it so often that we don’t even question it anymore.

For example, a meatpacker-funded effort is now under way to outlaw county of origin labeling (COOL) of U.S. food in U.S. markets. The reason is simple: the Meat Gang’s pony boys are stoking fears that Mexico and Canada, important sources of cheap livestock for U.S. meatpackers, would retaliate if COOL stands.

The threat may be real, but do we as a nation believe more strongly in “free trade” than in our own farmers and ranchers’ birthrights and livelihoods?

We must because our commodity and farm groups unreservedly support free trade despite evidence — a collective $8 trillion U.S. trade deficit since the 1993 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement; the closing of 60,000 U.S. factories since 2000 — that few Americans actually gain anything from it.

Moreover, if anyone, a modern day Galileo, say, chooses to look at the world and our role in it any differently, American ag orthodoxy excommunicates him or her without pause or thought.

That dogmatic certainty needs to be questioned because, as one old-timer liked to say on the farm of my youth, “If everyone’s thinkin’ the same, then only one person’s doing the thinkin’.”

Big Ag, however, doesn’t tolerate independent thought. It has its own muscle to ensure single-mindedness confronts new ideas or methods.

The latest proof of this “we’ll-do-thinking” approach came in late-October when the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health issued a 122-page report that questioned Big Meat’s massive use of antibiotics in its industrial production systems.

Twenty-four hours before the Pew report was released Oct. 22, however, something called the Animal Agriculture Alliance, an Arlington, Va.-based lobbying group, issued a 24-page rebuttal to it without having seen the report.

What, antibiotic use in American agriculture not only improves animal health but makes Big Ag clairvoyant enough to compile a report denying a five-year study on antibiotics without waiting to see it?

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, the rich coalition of big farm groups and big corporate ag players, at least had the rural politeness to wait until Pew and Hopkins issued their report before it “mobilized its F.A.R.M. (Farmer And Rancher Mobilization) team” late Oct. 22.

The USFRA email to its “Rapid Responders,” however, did include a draft letter to the editor of any local newspaper that covered the Pew report so “responders” could address “popular misconceptions” about antibiotics.

What is it about American agriculture that inspires farm and ranch groups to not trust American consumers? What do we fear?

Golly, it’s not like we’re selling buggy whips or maps of the solar system that show the earth at its center, right?


© 2013 ag comm