Letter from Langdon: Inquiring Stomachs
[imgbelt img=enquirerbeef320.jpg]Farmer Richard Oswald has had a belly full of big ag’s messages about yields, food safety, and transportation. How about a taste of tabloid journalism?
The beef in your fast food burger could have come from one or all of four different foreign countries. All that matters to Big Food is profit. As it isolates Americans from their food supply, Big Food gets a big bonus by controlling markets and prices paid to U.S. farmers and ranchers.
The Department of Justice and USDA are examining the way our markets work, and the way at-the-farm prices have been disconnected from retail pricing in food stores. But while the government and FDA think about food safety, family farming shrinks, and food miles keep getting longer.
It’s a good bet these days that some of our food has traveled farther, through more countries, than have the Americans who eat it. The Langdon Enquirer asks: “Was this trip really necessary?”
Secret #2 — Collateral damage is a cost of doing business
When the military accidentally kills a few civilians they call it “collateral damage.”
The same thing happens in the food business.
We know that things like lead and melamine in food are bad. And we know that rodent droppings or bacteria in our food can be dangerous. Bad things are eaten every day and no one is the wiser.
Who could fault Big Food for a few unavoidable mistakes that lead to collateral damage?
The fact of the matter is Big Food knows there are things in our food supply that don’t belong there. Each year a few of us get sick…some of us even die…from eating tainted food. Secret #2 is that consumer mortality has become just another cost of doing business.
Some in Congress and the courts even try to limit liability for companies that have become serial offenders. They say that too much law enforcement can raise production costs and make food more expensive. While some of us may be eating our last supper, those elected representatives of the people prefer to wait hand and foot on food lobbyists instead of the people they actually pledged to serve.
When it comes to bacterial contamination of meat, irradiation is the cheap alternative to cleaning up. Even meat that’s a grassy-green would be theoretically “safe” after a few rads. If that becomes the norm, The Langdon Enquirer wonders how long it will be before Big Food removes meat from the label altogether and serves up high-fiber radiated offal.
The Langdon Enquirer asks Big Food burgermakers: “Where’s the beef in that cow patty?”
Secret #3 — Biotech doesn’t really feed the world.
The whole truth is that people feed the world. Claims by Big Agribusiness that patented seeds account for new gains in productivity are merely justification for their own higher profits at the expense of farmers.
Old fashioned research and plant breeding account for improved yield of crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat. New modern equipment, soil fertility, and improved practices by farmers get some credit too. But farmers must bear an ever greater burden of expense as patent holders are free to charge whatever they want for monopolized seeds.
Roundup ain’t what it used to be. With some weeds becoming resistant to Roundup and its generic counterpart, glyphosate, patented Roundup Ready seeds aren’t worth what they once were. They should be falling in price. But instead, the price of patented Roundup Ready seeds keeps going up. The only thing weed-besieged corn, cotton, and soybean farmers can do is find new ways to control old weeds while absorbing more out of pocket cost.
According to University of Iowa yield trials, genetic modification has failed to improve district average soybean yields in Iowa significantly in 15 years. In fact, in 2009, one of the best years U.S. farms have had, soybean yields in Iowa were only about equal to yields experienced in 1994. According to university data, average soybean yields in Iowa have improved only about 2.5 bushels over the last 20 years. In the meantime U.S. soybean seed costs have risen from $12.50 in 1994 to an estimated high in the mid $70 range for 2010. That’s a whopping 576% increase for seed costs versus only a 6% improvement in yields.
Welcome to the Park Place of seeds. Do not pass go, do not collect $200– unless you have a patent. That’s how Monopoly works. The Department of Justice is looking into it, meanwhile Monsanto is buying up seed companies like they were Hotels on Boardwalk.
Considering the less than stellar trajectory of yields and the meteoric move in seed prices The Langdon Enquirer asks, “Will American farmers ever land on Chance, and draw a ‘get out of jail free’ card?”