Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wonky Tonk

 Mark Bittman surrogate Ezra Klein devoted his Wonkbook writing today to the issue of animal antibiotics.  For those unaware, Klein is an exceptional policy wonk and something of a subject matter expert on politics.  I get his Wonkbook updates emailed to me daily.

I wrote about the need for more Subject Matter Experts a month and a half ago, but I was specific about the SME's needing to speak from their own area of expertise.  This is where I have a problem with Ezra Klein's Wonkbook entry.  Ezra IS something of a foodie and has written about experiences with Haute Cuisine in the past, but Ezra is not by any means a regular writer of, or expert in, food & ag issues.

He mentions how 70% of all antibiotics go towards animals, which I am not disputing.  I would say... as I have in the past that there is a simple explanation for this.  There are about 315,000,000 people in this country... but over a billion head of livestock.  So while 70% seems like an alarming number at first glance, it's entirely reasonable that since animals out number us more than 3 to 1 that most of the antibiotics goes towards animals.

Ezra went on to very matter-of-factly wax on about how animals are all 'stacked on top of one another'.  While this can be true for chicken, we aren't stacking animals or crowding them nearly as full as is made out to be true in the media.  It's counterproductive to cram animals tightly together(chickens notwithstanding) because the stress will cause illness and negatively impact rate of gain.

Antibiotic use is a hotly debated issue, but I haven't seen any evidence that we are eating the antibiotics that the animals eat, as Ezra Klein asserts.  I haven't even seen credible evidence that animal antibiotics contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans.  Again, it would be foolhardy to give antibiotics, therapeutic or not, to animals when it will still be in their system at slaughter.  It's a waste of antibiotics, and besides, USDA regulations require a minimum withdrawal period before animals can be harvested.  That number is different depending on the medication.

Also... don't people cook their meat?  Other than steaks, are people eating rare chicken or rare hamburgers?  How else would antibiotic resistant bacteria make it from the animal to you?

I'm still a fan of Ezra Klein, but I just wish that people would stick to their area of expertise or at least do more homework than reading Bittman's blog or Michael Pollan's books. We have many great colleges with awesome food/ag science departments that a man of Ezra Klein's notoriety could easily access.

[The number of head of livestock in this post was a loose estimate, and if anything, is probably very low]

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mecca Flakes

 So we have several companies that make corn flakes.  Hundreds of workers are responsible for this breakfast classic that has been a part of the American breakfast for many decades.

What if I propose a rule saying that any company that employs a Muslim man or woman must put a symbol on their boxes when they worked on the line that produced that box of cereal?

Presumably, we've already done the same background checks as we have for every other employee.  The employee has received many hours of food safety, GMP, bio security, and other basic company/HR training.  The employee has also received the same on the job training that any other line worker gets and is monitored closely for a period of time after he/she is trained.

"But still.... how do we know that he/she won't.... you know???  I'm concerned for my family... I should have a choice between corn flakes made by friendly white people and ... you know...  Look, I know they're not ALL bad, but... you know... I've heard things.  A few of them have been known to be bad in the past... and well... I don't want to take any chances."

Would this bother you?  Would you be outraged?  Would you think it was a load of crap that the person proposing such a rule would hide behind 'choice' when we all know they're motivation is either fear or misinformation?

Suppose this rule went into effect and several groups boycotted the companies that manufactured these 'Mecca Flakes' as they will call them.  Pretty soon, those companies will get rid of any Muslim employees and a general panic may be stirred up about the role of Muslims in our society, despite all assurances of safety and all calls for sanity and for reason.

Now, replace the word Muslim with GMO.

"Oh Sam, that's different!"

Bullshit.  The traits of one worker on one line in one factory that hammers out thousands of boxes of cornflakes a day is NO different than one gene in a plant that produces corn in a field that produces many thousand of bushels.

Do you think it's wrong to require a company to disclose it's Muslim employees?  Good.

"But what about choice?"

'What's the difference?', I say.  In both cases their safety has been verified and their performance thoroughly analyzed.  In both cases, a non Subject Matter Expert stirs up fear and misinformation, recruiting others that are ignorant about the issues to call for labeling so they have a 'choice'.

Labeling of GMO comes from two agendas: 1. I don't know enough about science to know this is safe, I'm afraid and fear drives my choices or 2. I want more people to be afraid and stirred up about this and with GMO labeling, we will have something specific to boycott so we can drive the technology out of the market altogether.

Remember when Rush Limbaugh was trying to get people to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Presidential Primaries?  He wasn't doing so for any genuine reasons(sorry Ditto Heads), he knew that the GOP had a strong campaign ready to go against her,  The Anti-GMO activists know that they can drive mass hysteria IF there is something to point at and be hysterical about. 

I don't support labeling because:
1. Safety has already been verified.
2. It IS the same commodity -  Corn is corn & soy is soy
3. USDA Organic already has guarantees for being GMO free
4. I want to take a stand against runaway activism that preys on the ignorance and fear of others to get what they want.