Updated version. Updates in red.
On the horizon of a new presidential administration, with major agriculture corporations filing for bankruptcy, food prices continuing to rise, ranchers to be taxed for animal methane emissions, and the government handing out trillions in bailouts, what does the future hold for agriculture? While Obama’s cabinet is starting to take shape, one appointment that is still lacking is the Secretary of Agriculture. Around the time of posting this blog, Obama announced former governor of Iowa Tom Vilsack as the Secretary of Agriculture. The issue of U.S. agriculture has not been a mainstream issue in the election, but it might be one of the most important ones. Many liberals and enviro-fascists are calling for the end of the agriculture industry as we know it today. Along with this, we will also see the end of the safe, cheap, and domestic food supply that we currently enjoy.
Happy cows raised by a conservative rancher
Consuming less that 10% of most Americans’ disposable income, food is taken for granted by most of America. Working through immense government regulation, the agriculture industry has been able to provide the best, cheapest, and safest food in the world; however, many are screaming for reform and Obama is listening. Michael Pollan – a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley and environmental activist – claims to hold the reform that the agriculture industry needs; he believes that agriculture must be transformed from a cheap energy fossil fuel driven industry, to a sunlight driven industry with small localized farms. He wants to “change how things work at every link in the food chain.” This seems catchy to some, but what are consequences to such a plan?
Currently, the industry is efficient due to specialization of labor and economies of scale. That efficiency would be lost. We also raise crops and animals where it is most efficient to do so. Pollan’s goal is to eliminate specialty or monoculture operations. In the name of saving the environment, they are willing to severely affect our ability to feed the world, and they are ok with that. Pollan says, “[W]e have no choice but to find out whether sustainable agriculture can produce enough food.” We do have a choice: we can continue to let personal interest act in a way that is the most efficient. In fact, we could actually help make things more efficient by creating a freer market in agriculture by removing subsidies, unnecessary regulations, and relaxing government control.
To keep this blog from becoming 9 pages long (like Pollan’s open letter to Obama), I will list a few more radical changes Pollan would like to make.
1. Pollan can’t wait to move cattle from feedlots where they are in “crowded, filthy and miserable existence” to small farms where they will be grass fed. He also notes that we could get by with 40% less grain if we did not feed grain to animals. On the issues of animal welfare and “humane” treatment, people that raise animals do so because they love animals; if not, they would not be in the industry. Animals are more productive the better they are treated; it is in one’s best interest to treat their animals well. I actually just dropped off a load of steers at the meat processing plant last night, and the steers were happy and had been waited on like children their entire life.
2. Move to small regional sunlight polyculture farms and create government incentives to do so (aka tax successful businesses); however, most large farms are family owned, so when they say they support family farms, it is not entirely true.
3. Pollan notes that “To grow sufficient amounts of food using sunlight will require more people growing food – millions more.” Why would anyone want to move to a system that inefficient? Basically they want to move us back a century. And do they really think that Americans will want to do these jobs?
4. Raise the price of food. “Yes, sun food costs more.” Poorer Americans spend more of their income on food, and these liberals want to make things harder for them!
5. Much of the reasoning behind such a plan is supposedly to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Instead of asking to remove tractors and put workers in the fields with hoes, why don’t we produce more oil domestically?
6. Of course it comes back to the environment; the main reason for these changes is the environment. Pollan lists numerous reasons why agriculture is allegedly ruining the environment. Vilsack added today, “promote American leadership in response to global climate change.”
7. Agriculture is also blamed for the increase in health costs, worsened public health, and obesity. Yes, it is the industry, not the consumer that makes the decisions on what and how much to eat…. “While the surfeit of cheap calories that the U.S. food system has produced since the late 1970s may have taken food prices off the political agenda, this has come at a steep cost to public health.” Vilsack is also dedicated to “making America a nation truly dedicated to health and nutrition.”
USDA Budget in 2007
As someone with a decent background in agriculture, I think that Pollan needs to learn a thing or two about agriculture before he creates “the sun-based regional agriculture we need”; however, many don’t feel the way I do. In fact, thousands have petitioned to the Obama Administration to make Michael Pollan the next Secretary of Agriculture. Just recently, another letter to Obama was published along with an online petition; Pollan was #3 to sign the letter. Besides recommending 6 people for the post of Sec. of Agriculture, the letter reinforced many of Pollan’s ideas.
“America must come to understand the environmental and human health implications of industrialized agriculture. From rising childhood and adult obesity to issues of food safety, global warming and air and water pollution, we believe our next Secretary of Agriculture must have a vision that calls for: recreating regional food systems, supporting the growth of humane, natural and organic farms, and protecting the environment, biodiversity and the health of our children while implementing policies that place conservation, soil health, animal welfare and worker’s rights as well as sustainable renewable energy near the top of their agenda.”
Obama talking to farmers
If all of this seems too crazy for even Obama, think again. In an October interview Obama said:
“I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollan about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it’s creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they’re contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs”
Obama added in the press conference today: (click here for video)
“And it means ensuring that the policies being shaped at the Departments of Agriculture and Interior are designed to serve not big agribusiness or Washington influence peddlers, but family farmers and the American people.”
Industries have a choice. They do not have to locate in the U.S. If such policies are adopted, a noticeable portion of the industry will move to foreign countries. Do people really think that other countries will do it better? Will other countries treat animals better? Will other countries pay their employees better? Will other countries care about the environment? By over-regulating we are pushing industries across our borders to places where animals will be abused, pollution will not be important, and things are done a lot worse than here in America.
The bottom line is that these policies are harmful and give the federal government more control over the lives of Americans. By raising the price of food, the poorest among us will suffer more. With another new government-created crisis – a “Hunger Crisis” – calls for more government intervention into the food industry will arise. For the sake of hyped pseudoscience and “public health,” the government will make it harder for the poor to feed themselves, prevent America from feeding the world, and slowly extinguish the freedom of all Americans.