I hate to do it, but occasionally I feel compelled to click on a story on my web browser’s home page that has something to do with agriculture or food. It never ceases to amaze me how pervasive these articles are and how often the experts quoted are part of what I call the “anti” movement. These are folks who are anti-modern agriculture, anti-technology, and usually anti-livestock.
What got my attention this time was a headline that blared: “14 foods you should never eat.” It was subtitled by “See which products food experts won’t touch.” Well, I just had to know what the experts didn’t like.
The listed foods weren’t that surprising – they included things like non-organic strawberries, corn, hamburger, canned tomatoes, bean sprouts and the like. What really fascinated me were the “experts” providing this advice.
A few of them seemed to have some real credentials – one was from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and there were also a few other physicians and a couple of professors. They all provided sound, balanced advice about potential problems with certain foods. In my book, these folks qualify as experts.
The remaining contributors, however, weren’t experts, but activists – folks clearly in the “anti” movement. One was Robert Kenner, director of Food Inc. and founder of fixfood.org. Another was Joel Salatin, a sustainable farmer and author of “This Ain't Normal, Folks.” And, of course, there was our industry’s good friend, Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and other books.
I’d like to share with you the first couple lines of Pollan’s rationale for avoiding “industrially produced” hamburger – “Cattle raised in filthy conditions, pumped full of growth hormones, and fed diets composed mostly of genetically modified corn are three major reasons.”
Of course, it didn’t stop there. Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, was presented as an expert as well. And the article also quoted Maryam Henein and George Langworthy, directors of the documentary “Vanishing of the Bees,” who advocate that people avoid corn. Why? Because “Today's corn plants are more like little pesticide factories with roots. Most of the nation's corn supply is genetically engineered to either produce its own pesticide supply within the plant or withstand heavy sprayings of chemicals, which wind up inside of the food. That's problematic not just for bees, but for people, too. …And let's not be fooled – the sub-lethal effects of these pesticides also slowly impair our health."
Upon finishing the article, I found it amazing that its author would dilute the piece’s integrity and message by including these latter “experts.”
We all care about what we eat, and we’re all increasingly concerned about our health and the effects of our diet as well. With consumers increasingly removed from first-hand knowledge and experience with production agriculture, they’re very vulnerable to agenda-driven smears and misinformation presented as fact. It’s important that our consumers receive accurate information on a regular basis, and it’s one of our industry’s biggest challenges to figure out how to do that job effectively.