A Fox in the Henhouse By
Before you get all excited, this is not a blog about backyard chickens. Look, they’re quieter than the neighbor’s Chihuahua, less toxic than a litterbox, and you get fresh, healthy eggs that you can share with your friends. You can own a 12-foot long snake or be a crazy cat lady, but you can’t have a chicken? Wake up, Richmond.
What we wanted to rant about this week was the influence that big corporations have in determining our food policy. We’ve got a thing about honey, and as such like to keep up with the buzz about the industry. Saw an article about a group of beekeepers that sent a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency asking it to ban a certain type of pesticide. Clothianidin is absorbed into a plant and then released through pollen and nectar, thereby killing pesky pests. It’s very popular with big farms that like to grow corn, and marketed by Bayer Crop Sciences. Bayer, who sold almost $3 million worth of the stuff in 2009, thinks that it would be a great tool to use on other crops. The beekeepers pointed out that corn produces more pollen than many other crops, bees like pollen, and corn is the #1 crop grown in America. “Since our hives are dying off at an alarming rate and this chemical is designed to kill insects LIKE OUR BEES, do you think that you could pull this product until we can rule it 100% safe?”
The EPA said that the evidence on any connection between this clothian-whatever stuff and little honeybees was inconclusive, so spray away! The science that the EPA used to back up its ruling was a study that was conducted by…wait for it…wait for it…BAYER CROP SCIENCE!
It all makes sense, doesn’t it? Much of the research being done in the food world starts out at a pretty grass roots level, and then the big guys get involved. We told you a while back about Beeologics. They do research into colony collapse and the impact that gmo crops and pesticides have on honeybees. In 2011, Beeologics became the property of Monsanto, a company that has a pretty big toe in the gmo and pesticide pool.
Look at sports drinks. In 1970, people got crazy about running. Fitness became a huge national initiative, and an entire economy grew around it. Up until then, if you got thirsty you had a glass of water. But no! You weren’t replacing valuable minerals and electrolytes! Being thirsty (while a remarkable barometer for millions of years) was no indication of whether or not you were properly hydrated. This was backed up by careful research conducted by companies like Pepsi, Coca Cola, and the makers of the newest must-have fitness product, Gatorade. Never mind that mankind had survived on basal instinct since the time of the wooly mammoth, or that most of these drinks contain more than a tablespoon of sugar…we needed it to survive!
One of our favorite things is touting the praises of organic foods. In 1990 Congress, that perennial dispenser of logic, passed the Organic Foods Production Act. It would protect consumers from fraud and set the bar for what would qualify as “organic” food. They asked for an independent advisory board, the National Organic Standards Board, that would have authority to give a thumbs up or down to a grower’s claims. The Board would comprise: Four members who own or operate an organic farm, two who own or operate an organic handling operation, one who has an organic retail store, three with expertise in environmental protection and conservation, one who is an expert in toxicology, ecology or biochemistry, three who represent public interest, and one who is a “certifying agent.”
Some of the members of this Board would be questionable choices. An “environmentalist” was a general council for PurePak (big ag), two of the “farmers” did not own farms, but worked for big ag, a “public interest” slot was filled by a nutritionist for the livestock industry, a “farmer” was the president of a subsidiary of Dean Foods, and another “public interest” slot went to a marketer for General Mills.
Whose interests do you think that they were looking out for? When you go to the grocery and start reading labels, you want to feel good about what you’re buying. But the truth of the matter is that companies like General Mills, Pepsi, and ConAgra already own the “healthy & organic” label that you’re justifying. Asking these groups to conduct research and produce policy is like asking the makers of cigarettes to conduct cancer research…
Oh, we already did that.
We try here at The Urban Farmhouse, we really do. We truly drank the Kool-Aid on the whole organic/sustainable thing (although, by way of disclosure, they’re owned by Kraft Foods). But if you really want to trust your food, go visit a farm. Buy a great big pot and plant a darned tomato. And for goodness sake! Buy yourself a chicken!