Agweek editorial: Dealing with the 'food nannies'
They're known as "food nannies" and "the food police." Mainstream agriculturalists sometimes call them names that can't be reprinted here. Whatever you call them, they're people who through legislation or regulation or both would limit what Ameri...
They're known as "food nannies" and "the food police." Mainstream agriculturalists sometimes call them names that can't be reprinted here. Whatever you call them, they're people who through legislation or regulation or both would limit what Americans can eat - which should concern consumers as well as agriculturalists.
The latest example of the food police came in recent comments by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who's seeking her party's presidential nomination. Harris said that while she personally enjoys an occasional cheeseburger, she thinks Americans should eat fewer of them. She also said she would change dietary guidelines, even food labels, to enforce her belief that red meat consumption harms the environment.
That environmental component is critical to most of the the food nannies' arguments. They claim that red meat, besides potentially harming human health, is a wasteful use of natural resources and damages the environment. In their view, less cropland should be devoted to crops like corn that are fed to livestock, with more cropland allocated to crops eaten solely or predominantly by humans.
But a study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and The Beef Checkoff and released early this year, found that beef production is far easier on the environment than the food nannies claim. Four examples from the study:
• Beef production, including the production of animal feed, is responsible for only 3.7% of greenhouse emissions in the United States, much less than the global livestock figure of 14.5%.
• Per pound of beef carcass weight, cattle consume only 2.6 pound of grain - and nearly 90% of grain-finished cattle feed is inedible to humans.
• On average, it takes 308 gallons of water to produce a pound of boneless beef, far less than previous estimates of as much as 24,000 gallons.
• Of all fossil energy use in the U.S., beef cattle production is responsible for just 0.7%.
Surely those numbers should mitigate concern that too much cropland is used to support livestock production. Highlights of the study are available here: https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/newsroom/lifecycle-assessment .
And we wonder whether the food police have visited places like northwest Minnesota, western North Dakota, western South Dakota and eastern Montana, where big chunks of land are unsuitable for crop production but relatively good for livestock. That, too, discredits food nannies' arguments.
As for red meat's affect on human health? We're confident that reliable nutritional studies show it has a role in healthy, well-balanced diets.
How to respond
The food police, who would limit consumption of much more than red meat, are ridiculous at times. A good example is the city of London transit system, which banned an on-board advertisement featuring an image of cream and strawberries in a promotion for Wimbledon Park as a transit destination. Cream and strawberries are an iconic English dessert, and the advertisement made perfect sense to rational thinkers. But the food police thought and acted differently.
Many in mainstream U.S agriculture question the motives of the food nannies. Not us. We think most of them are sincere and well-intentioned. We also think they're wrong, and we oppose their attempts to force their views on the rest of us.
It's easy and enjoyable for U.S. agriculturalists to ridicule the food nannies. But that's the wrong way to deal with them. The regulators and legislators they're trying to influence need to hear the legitimate arguments of U.S. ag, which farm organizations are doing their best to provide. If you're not a member of one or more of those groups already, consider joining one to help do your share.
But the best thing U.S. agriculturalists can do to counter the food police is to engage the public in respectful conversation about our food system. Talk honestly with individual consumers, from the heart, about who you are, what you do and why you do it.
Let's make sure consumers hear our side, not only what the food police tell them. We're confident that if they know the full story, most Americans will agree that limiting individual food choices - as the food nannies insist on trying to do - would be wrong.