Friday, April 1, 2016

A Safer Food Future Envisioned in Consumer Reports

I recently read one of the more intriguing pieces of agricultural/food journalism probably since the 2009  article in Time magazine titled "Getting Real about the High Price of Cheap Food" (See Time for TIME to Get Real). It was a recent piece in Consumer Reports, "A Safer Food Future, Now."  I will admit, and to Consumer Reports credit, it is stated up front that this piece was meant to be a controversial piece, as part of a "series of provocative opinion essays by leading thinkers on urgent consumer issues." I just hope they feature a later piece with  some science based perspective to counterbalance this one.

Here are some short comments on a few of the the more provacative ideas you'll run across in the article:

One of the usual suspects, antibiotics is brought up with the irrelevant canard about "three-quarters of the anti­biotics sold in this country being routinely fed to healthy poultry and livestock at factory farms."

 Then there is this statement:

"The spread of GMO crops has greatly increased the sale of glyphosate, now the most widely used pesticide in America. Studies have found glyphosate in the raindrops, drinking water, and air of the Midwest. Last year the World Health Organization declared that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Not sure why this is necessarily a negative. We know that glyhphosate has encouraged less use of more toxic chemistries, as well as lead to less carbon emissions. And other traits completely replace toxic pesticides altogether. And the WHO's characterization....well maybe CR should get in touch with Andrew Kniss do discuss more on that.

They cite that more than 90 percent of Americans support GMO labeling -"so that consumers can choose whether to buy them." The ninety percent figure is widely cited, but we also know 80% support labels on food containing DNA as funny as that is. Regardless, we know that GMO labels are political speech wordsmith-ed by special interests, designed to reduce information and choice. Consumers may want one thing but get another.

Then there are comparisons of wages of migrant farm workers to hedge fund owners (I'm not sure how you could justify this comparison in terms of the marginal product of labor).

Government policies that subsidize junk foods? - Whatever.

The article does end on a postive note that I certainly could stand behind:

"I feel confident that a food system appropriate for the 21st century is gradually emerging. It will be regional, diverse, kinder to livestock, less dependent on pesticides, more respectful of the environment, and far more compassionate."

Yes. Its called Modern Sustainable Agriculture.

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