Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Safe, But Do We Want to Eat It?

When I found out that our industrialized food system considers chicken manure an acceptable source of protein in cattle feed, it was clear to me that consumers and corporate agriculture have very different ideas about how we should produce food.

When I was a youngster, there was a different standard, the wholesomeness standard. I was raised on a farm where the thought of feeding chicken manure to our cattle would have been considered outlandish. Consumers then sought food produced with a reliance on nature’s ways and hard work. We had milk from the contented cows of nearby farms and truly farm fresh eggs.

Food marketers today know how seductive the romantic family farm image is to consumers. It is used all the time in food packaging and advertising.

Prior to industrialization there was a reliance on husbandry techniques to keep animals healthy. Rapid weight gain in meat animals was important, but it didn’t trump wholesomeness and healthy living conditions. Keeping production costs down was important, but only poor producers would use poor feed. No one dreamed of using manure or animal by-products as feed sources. No one dreamed of implanting beef cattle with growth hormones to speed them to market.

The consumer reaction to the makes-you-squeamish-but-it’s-safe standard has been building for years. It can be seen in the surging demand for organic food and food produced using traditional and artisan methods.

Market demand in Europe and Japan for dairy products from cattle that are hormone free and for beef tested for mad cow disease is not just a trade tactic. Neither is foreign demand for biotech-free grain. It is a manifestation of consumer sovereignty — customers getting what they want. Forcing these consumers to accept food produced in a manner they consider unwholesome, just because the food industry says it is “safe,” misses the point of putting the consumer first.

Some have argued that we are headed for an elitist food system, in which wholesome food is available only to those who can afford its higher sticker price. There is some truth to this, as anyone who has visited a gourmet grocery or restaurant lately knows. Such labels as “free-range,” “hormone free,” “natural” and “organic” are common at the high end of the food marketplace.

But increasingly, companies that target less rarefied customers are promoting wholesomeness. McDonalds has new policies that shun the most industrial forms of food production.

McDonalds requires beef producers to certify their cattle are fed according to FDA requirements designed to prevent mad cow disease.

And the company on its own stopped buying poultry treated with fluoroquinolones, a group of antibiotics that includes Cipro, which is used to treat anthrax. In June 2003, McDonalds established a global policy phasing out antibiotics used to promote growth in beef cattle. These moves encourage the entire livestock industry to reduce antibiotic use.

McDonalds now audits its processing facilities worldwide to ensure humane treatment of farm animals. In Britain this is done in partnership with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In the U.S. the corporation has established an Animal Welfare Council. During 2002, the company performed 500 audits of its beef, pork and poultry processing facilities.

McDonalds uses more than 2.5 billion pounds of beef, chicken and pork annually. As consumer-driven retailers the size of McDonalds provide feedback like this to the world’s producers, we should see a trend toward food that is not just “safe,” but also safe and wholesome. This can be an open market door for any farmer who responds, not just agribusiness.

Food safety is a requirement for everyone. Fortunately, we also are seeing a revival of a wholesomeness standard, one that reflects growing concern among consumers about how food is produced. Consumers increasingly want freshness, humane treatment of animals, minimal use of drugs and hormones and, yes, even locally grown food. Wholesomeness has become a powerful, and positive, marketing tool.

DAN NAGENGAST is a Lawrence, Kan., farmer and executive director of the Kansas Rural Center. He is a member of the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.

 

More articles by:
May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail