They used to grow apples in Iowa; now the apple juice comes from China and it's just corn and soy as far as the eye can see.
When I was a child, my parents used to pile me and my siblings into my dad’s Oldsmobile Bravada every Sunday night and drive us to my grandparents’ house, just outside of town. In my home state of Iowa, the food economy is painted into the background, and we passed by a number of farms on the way. But at that time, you didn’t just see corn. We drove by a series of apple orchards and fields full of cows out to pasture.
Iowa once had a diversified farm economy. A 1935 guide commissioned by the Federal Writers’ Project described the variety of produce grown within the state, and the regional specialties that flourished. The area around Davenport, near the border with Illinois, was known for its onions, while Northern Iowa specialized in sugar beets. Grapes grew out west near Council Bluffs and Omaha. Peaches were concentrated in the south along the Missouri border. Muscatine, in the southeastern corner of the state, was famous for its melons.
Today, the apple orchards near my grandparents’ house have been replaced by endless rows of corn and soy. In fact, my county lost 88 percent of its apple orchards between 1992 and 2017. Farmers are growing more and more of a few heavily subsidized crops in place of pretty much everything else. The peaches and onions and other crops that used to be grown within the state are now sourced from well beyond its borders.
The transformation in Iowa of a diverse agricultural economy into one narrowly focused on a pair of commodity crops is the product of a bigger trend that is taking place throughout our country. A new set of incentives imposed on farmers has mixed with an embrace of unrestricted free trade with countries like China and Mexico to create a dangerous situation: the outsourcing of the American food system.
This trend has its roots in the latter half of the 20th century, when allies of Wall Street and agribusiness corporations like Ezra Taft Benson and Earl Butz used their positions as secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reward their benefactors. Instead of promoting balance in the food system, they attacked family farmers and admonished them to “get big, or get out.” Butz, in particular, encouraged farmers to plant commodity crops “from fencerow to fencerow.”
They were one-upped by President Bill Clinton, who was able to do what Benson and Butz could not: pass the Farm Bill that multinational agribusiness corporations wanted. The Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996—or the Wall Street Farm Bill, as I like to call it—pays farmers to overproduce certain commodities like corn and soy, putting downward pressure on their prices.
Cheap corn means cheap feed for slaughterhouses, which is why companies like Smithfield saw record profits in the years following passage of the law. It also means lower input costs for food processors like PepsiCo that transform commodity crops into high fructose corn syrup and other byproducts that are used to make everything from ketchup to pop to potato chips to dog food. The relative cost of commodity-derived products fell sharply between 1982 and 2008: 10 percent for fats and oils, 15 percent for sugars and sweets, and 34 percent for carbonated beverages. Over the same period, the price of fresh fruits and vegetablesincreased by 50 percent.
But as American agriculture has turned to growing more and more commodities for processing, fruits and vegetables are increasingly imported from other countries. Around the time he passed the Wall Street Farm Bill, Clinton also signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which encouraged the outsourcing of food items that require more than a minimal amount of labor. Instead of paying Americans a fair wage, companies can import food from countries with minimal environmental and labor protections.
Farmworkers in Mexico, just over the border, earn in a day what their counterparts in California earn in an hour. The model mirrors how clothing companies such as Nike benefit from the unethical practices of overseas subcontractors. Recent investigations have even uncovered the use of child workers in the production of tomatoes in Mexico bound for America. More than half of all tomatoes sold in America are now brought in from Mexico.
Taken together, these laws explain why the apple orchards near my hometown disappeared. Nearly 60 percent of the apple juice sold in the United States comes from China, even though most of America has a climate conducive to apple production. The problem is so bad that salmon caught in the United States is shipped to China for processing and then shipped back to the United States for consumption.
The design of this framework benefits only the largest farmers who have the resources to produce these commodities at scale. For family farmers, the impact has been devastating. The share of each dollar spent on food that winds up in the hands of farmers has fallen from 53 cents in 1946 to 14 cents today, the lowest level ever recorded. Diversified family farms raising a variety of crops and livestock have been replaced by large industrial operations exclusively growing commodities like corn and soy at scale.
This grimness has caused countless family farms to throw in the towel. Since 1980, America has lost 50 percent of its cattle farms, 80 percent of its dairies, and 90 percent of its hog farms. As Benson and Butz threatened, farmers were forced to choose between getting big or getting out. The average size of a farm nearly doubled from 650 acres in 1987 to 1,201 acres in 2012. Many people are familiar with the infamous farm crisis of the 1980s, which pushed thousands of farmers into bankruptcy. But the reality is that America’s Heartland has been in a perpetual state of crisis for the past few decades.
As farms consolidate, more and more of the wealth leaves rural communities. Most land in Iowa is not even farmed by the owner any more. The loss has choked the vibrant local economies that developed around agriculture. Towns hollow out and desperation seeps in. This system has also exacerbated climate change. The further that food travels to get to your plate, the more carbon is put into the atmosphere via a fossil fuel intensive transportation system.
We have an opportunity to turn the corner and to build a better economy that puts family farmers, local businesses, and communities at its center. We can start by ending the outsourcing of the American food system. Apple juice served in Iowa schools should come from Iowa farmers, not from a country on the other side of the globe. This isn’t a utopian vision, nor does it require radical change. In fact, what we have now—where the largest owner of pigs in America is a Chinese state-linked company and where drug cartels are involved in farming the avocados we eat—is what’s truly radical.
By Steve Eder • New York Times
ALTAMONT, N.Y. — For eight weeks every fall, Indian Ladder Farms, a fifth generation
family operation near Albany, kicks into peak season.
The farm sells homemade apple pies, fresh cider and warm doughnuts. Schoolchildren arrive by the busload to learn about growing apples. And as customers pick fruit from trees, workers fill bins with apples, destined for the farm’s shop and grocery stores.
This fall, amid the rush of commerce — the apple harvest season accounts for about half of Indian Ladder’s annual revenue — federal investigators showed up. They wanted to check the farm’s compliance with migrant labor rules and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets pay and other requirements for workers.
Suddenly, the small office staff turned its focus away from making money to
placating a government regulator.
The investigators arrived on a Friday in late September and interviewed the
farm’s management and a group of laborers from Jamaica, who have special work
visas. The investigators hand delivered a notice and said they would be back the
following week, when they asked to have 22 types of records available. The
request included vehicle registrations, insurance documents and time sheets —
reams of paper in all.
by Peter Roff • Townhall
Despite what many people think the left-liberal coalition’s decision to base so much of its effort on keeping the government out of our bedrooms is, long term, a losing strategy. Conservatives have a slight advantage where these issues are the only ones considered by people when deciding how to vote. If they could redirect their efforts to keeping government out of the kitchen they might have something.
Uncle Sam has decided what we eat and drink is somehow his business. The government says it wants to bend the healthcare cost curve downward but really this is just another version of the ”we know what is best for you” argument that has so many people up in arms. Continue reading
What we eat is seen as more important than ever. And everywhere we are urged to go organic: we are told it is more nutritious, it improves animal welfare and helps the environment. In reality, that is mostly marketing hype.
In 2012 Stanford University’s Centre for Health Policy did the biggest comparison of organic and conventional foods and found no robust evidence for organics being more nutritious. A brand-new review has just repeated its finding: “Scientific studies do not show that organic products are more nutritious and safer than conventional foods.”
Likewise, animals on organic farms are not generally healthier. A five year US study showed that organic “health outcomes are similar to conventional dairies”. The Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety found “no difference in objective disease occurrence.” Organic pigs and poultry may enjoy better access to open areas, but this increases their load of parasites, pathogens and predators. Meanwhile the organic regulation against feeding bee colonies with pollen supplements in low-pollen periods along with regulation against proper disinfection leads to sharply lower bee welfare.
Organic farming is sold as good for the environment. This is correct for a single farm field: organic farming uses less energy, emits less greenhouse gasses, nitrous oxide and ammonia and causes less nitrogen leeching than a conventional field. But each organic field yields much, much less. So, to grow the same amount of wheat, spinach or strawberries, you need much more land. That means that average organic produce results in the emission of about as many greenhouse gasses as conventional produce; and about 10 per cent more nitrous oxide, ammonia and acidification. Worse, to produce equivalent quantities, organic farms need to occupy 84 per cent more land – land which can’t be used for forests and genuine nature reserves. For example, to produce the amount of food America does today, but organically, would require increasing its farmland by the size of almost two United Kingdoms. That is the equivalent of eradicating all parklands and wild lands in the lower 48 states.
But surely organics avoid pesticides? No. Organic farming can use any pesticide that is “natural”. This includes copper sulphate, which has resulted in liver disease in vineyard sprayers in France. Pyrethrin is another organic pesticide; one study shows a 3.7-fold increase in leukaemia among farmers who handled pyrethrins compared to those who had not.
Conventional food, it’s true, has higher pesticide contamination. Although it is still very low, this is a definite benefit of organics. However, using a rough upper estimate by the head of the US Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Toxicology, all conventional pesticide residues may cause an extra 20 cancer deaths per year in America.
This pales in comparison to the impact of organics. If all of the United States were to go organic, the cost would likely be around $200 billion annually from lower productivity. This is money we can’t spend on hospitals, pensioner care, schools, or infrastructure.
Such economic impacts also have life and death consequences. Research shows that when a nation becomes $15 million poorer, it costs one “statistical” life, because people are able to spend less on health care and good food. This means that going organic in the US will kill more than 13,000 people each year. Scaling these findings to the UK would indicate that while extra pesticides in conventional cause perhaps four deaths each year, the UK going completely organic would cost £22 billion per year, resulting in more than 2,000 extra deaths each year.
Organics is a rich world phenomenon, with 90 per cent of sales in North America and Europe. Despite a fivefold increase in sales over the past 15 years just 1 per cent of global cropland is organic. That’s because almost half of humanity depends on food grown with synthetic fertilisers, excluded by organic rules. Norman Borlaug, who got the Nobel Prize for starting the Green Revolution, liked to point out that organic farming on a global scale would leave billions without food. “I don’t see two billion volunteers to disappear,” he said.
Essentially, organic food is rich people spending their extra cash to feel good. While that is just as valid as spending it on holidays, we should resist any implied moral superiority. Organics are not healthier or better for animals. To expand to any great scale would cost tens of billions of pounds while killing thousands. Indeed, a widespread organics revolution will increase environmental damage, and cut global forests.
When the designer Vivienne Westwood famously exclaimed that people who can’t afford organic food should “eat less” she may have had the best intentions. But she was also incredibly out of touch. The rest of the world needs more and cheaper food. That isn’t going to be organic.
How scary are your jack-o’-lanterns? Scarier than you think, according to the Energy Department, which claims the holiday squash is responsible for unleashing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Most of the 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkins produced in the U.S. end up in the trash, says the Energy Department’s website, becoming part of the “more than 254 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) produced in the United States every year.”
Municipal solid waste decomposes into methane, “a harmful greenhouse gas that plays a part in climate change, with more than 20 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide,” Energy says. Continue reading
By Town Hall•
This year is the 10th anniversary of a book called “The Republican War on Science.” I could just as easily write a book called “The Democratic War on Science.”
The conflict conservatives have with science is mostly caused by religion. Some religious conservatives reject evolution, and some oppose stem cell research.
By contrast, the left’s bad ideas about science do more harm.
Many on the left — including a few of my fellow libertarians — are paranoid about genetically modified organisms. These are crops that have DNA altered to make them grow faster or be more pest-resistant. The left calls that “playing with nature” and worries that eating GMO food will cause infertility, premature aging and a host of other problems.
The fear makes little scientific sense. There is no reason to think that precise changes in a plant’s genes are more dangerous than, say, the cross-breeding of corn done by American Indians centuries ago or a new type of tomato arising in someone’s organic garden. Nature makes wilder and more unpredictable changes in plant DNA all the time.
Yet the left’s fear of GMOs led activists to destroy fields of experimental crops in Europe and, most tragically, bans on GMO foods that might help prevent hunger and malnutrition in African and Asian nations.
Leftists often claim to be defenders of progress, but they sound more like religious conservatives when they oppose “tampering with nature.”
The new movie “Jurassic World,” in which scientists tamper with DNA to create a super-dinosaur that gets out of control, doesn’t just recycle ideas from the original “Jurassic Park.” It recycles the same fears that inspired the novel “Frankenstein” 200 years ago — the idea that if humans alter nature’s perfect design, we’ll pay a terrible price.
But it’s nature that is terrible. We should alter it. “Living with nature” means fighting for food, freezing in the cold and dying young.
The left’s anti-science fears also prevent us from building new nuclear reactors, especially after Fukushima and Chernobyl. But those reactor designs were already considered obsolete. Future reactors could be far safer and would reduce our dependence on carbon-producing fuels.
Humans thrive by improving technology, not abandoning it.
Lately, some people think they’re “erring on the safe side” by avoiding vaccinations. The result is outbreaks of diseases like mumps and measles that we thought were all but eliminated. In Nigeria, conspiracy theories frightened people away from getting polio vaccinations just as we were on the verge of eradicating that crippling disease.
The left also objects to science that contradicts their egalitarian beliefs. A few years ago, I interviewed scientists who had discovered ways in which male and female brains differ from birth. The scientists told me that they wanted to continue such research, but political pressure against it was too intense. Men and women clearly have different aptitudes, but today leftists demand that government punish any company that treats genders differently.
Few scientists today would even study relative IQs of different ethnic groups. They know they’d be de-funded if they discovered the “wrong” facts.
I say, follow the truth wherever science leads. “Science Wars” is the subject of my next TV show.
Last week, I reported how SeaWorld had been smeared by animal rights activists. The activists responded with more smears.
They claimed my producers and I wouldn’t talk to animal trainers seen in the film “Blackfish.” But I tried interviewing them — they refused to talk. The activists also claim we based our report on views of Bridget M. Davis and Mark Simmons, but I don’t even know who they are. Then they claimed we got all our information from SeaWorld, but that, too, is a lie; of course, we consulted independent sources.
As often happens, activists put politics before reality.
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by Kate Bachelder • Wall Street Journal
A hallmark of progressive politics is the ability to hold fervent beliefs, in defiance of evidence, that explain how the world works—and why liberal solutions must be adopted. Such political superstitions take on a new prominence during campaign seasons as Democratic candidates trot out applause lines to rally their progressive base and as the electorate considers their voting records. Here’s a Top 10 list of liberal superstitions on prominent display during the midterm election campaign:
1. Spending more money improves education. The U.S. spent $12,608 per student in 2010—more than double the figure, in inflation-adjusted dollars, spent in 1970—and spending on public elementary and secondary schools has surpassed $600 billion. How’s that working out? Adjusted state SAT scores have declined on average 3% since the 1970s, as the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson found in a March report.
No better news in the international rankings: The Program for International Student Assessment reports that in 2012 American 15-year-olds placed in the middle of the pack, alongside peers from Slovakia—which shells out half as much money as the U.S. per student.
Someone might mention this to North Carolina Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who is knocking State House Speaker Thom Tillis for cutting $500 million from schools. Per-pupil K-12 spending has increased every year since Mr. Tillis became speaker in 2011, and most of what Ms. Hagan is selling as “cuts” came from community colleges and universities, not the local middle school. Mr. Coulson’s Cato study notes that North Carolina has about doubled per-pupil education spending since 1972, which has done precisely nothing for the state’s adjusted SAT scores. Continue reading
by Liz Thatcher • RealClearPolicy
These days, it seems not a week goes by without a new hidden cost in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, coming to light. This time it’s Section 4205, a provision that imposes a costly, one-size-fits-all regulation on restaurants and grocery stores: Any food-service establishment with 20 or more locations must display calorie counts on its menus.
If implemented in its current form, this provision would be ineffective in fighting obesity. Many restaurants already publish calorie counts for customers who might want them. Domino’s, for example, offers an online Cal-o-meter that helps customers calculate the calories in their pizza. Continue reading
The government should incentivize healthy choices rather than prohibit unhealthy ones.
by Peter Roff • US News
That lesson seems to be lost on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is spending an inordinate amount of time trying to protect people from things that are supposedly not good for them. First it was cigarettes. Then it was trans-fat. Now it’s large sodas. Where will it end?
Actually, that’s an important question. We live in a country where Congress and the president can collude to produce a law forcing everyone to purchase health insurance or pay fines and penalties. Does that mean, as more than one person has asked, they can likewise enact laws intended to force people to eat broccoli? Continue reading
by George Landrith
America feeds the world.
During the past half-century, improvements in productivity, land management and agricultural sciences have made this nation the world’s storehouse. It’s a good thing, because with more than 7 billion people living on Planet Earth, no other country is up for the challenge.
One discovery that is positively changing food production is Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In the agricultural sector, GMOs use genetic manipulation to produce crops that are more disease-resistant, can thrive in harsher condition, or in some other way permit the farmers who use them to produce higher yields.
To some, GMOs are controversial — be it for health or safety concerns, or even religious beliefs. Rather than looking at the benefits of GMOs, such as the fact that they add considerable gross tonnage to the food pyramid, anti-GMO activists are trying to hamper these benefits by demanding a new regulatory regime to label GMOs. Continue reading
by Jayson Lusk and Henry I. Miller • The New York Times
THREE crops — corn, soybeans and wheat — account for a vast majority of the value of America’s agricultural crop output. But wheat is different in one important respect. While more than 90 percent of the nation’s corn and soybean acres are now planted with seeds genetically engineered to resist insects, herbicides or both, there is not a single acre of genetically engineered wheat being grown commercially in the United States.
Wheat farmers have suffered as a result, as have consumers of bread and pasta, who have been paying higher prices than they might have because fewer and fewer acres are planted in wheat. Continue reading
by Mischa Fisher
In his first State of the Union Address in 1790, George Washington told Congress, “There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature.” He went on to call science “essential” to our nation. Two hundred and twenty years later, in his first inaugural address, Barack Obama vowed to “restore science to its rightful place.”
The president’s insinuation plays into the common perception in the media, electorate, and research community that Republicans are “anti-science.” I encountered that sentiment routinely in nearly a decade working for Republicans on Capitol Hill, and it has become more commonplace in the broader political discussion. Frequent offenders include Slate’s Phil Plait, Mother Jones’ Chris Mooney, HBO’s Bill Maher, a host of contributors at The Huffington Post, and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Continue reading
A narrative has developed over the past several years that the Republican Party is anti-science. Recently, thanks to the ignorant remarks about rape made by Rep. Todd Akin, the Democrats have seized the opportunity to remind us that they are the true champions of science in America. But is it really true?
No. As we thoroughly detail in our new book, “Science Left Behind,” Democrats are willing to throw science under the bus for any number of pet ideological causes – including anything from genetic modification to vaccines. Continue reading