The government regulates away our choice. The FDA has come down hard on raw milk producers. They regulate who can say organic and who can’t. It’s not about the food, it’s about the lobbying. Tallgrass Beef is not organic. The reason why is there is a non native noxious weed in Kansas that they have to spray for. Because they spray for one stupid weed that came over with the pioneers, the pasture isn’t organic. But the beef has no growth hormone, no chemicals, and only eats grass. The only fertilizer that grass sees comes out of the back of a cow. Seems pretty organic to me.
All these slow food fanatics need to remember it’s a choice. Instead of worrying about supply, educate the demand curve. If they are right, and persuasive enough, the suppliers at the other end will change. Did you happen to notice that McDonald’s ($MCD) and other fast food places won’t accept pork from farms that use gestation pens. Why would big business do that when the costs of production surely will go up with the changes? Demand from their customers. They wouldn’t change unless they heard from their consumers.
McDonald’s is extremely close to their customer. So is Walmart ($WMT) and Costco($COST). Walmart is the largest retailer of organic food in the nation. Why? Because their customers are demanding it. It has nothing to do with imputing a value of “good” or “bad”. If the demand wasn’t there, Walmart and Costco wouldn’t be supplying it.
Ironically, Monsanto provides the lion’s share of heirloom seeds, along with the genetically modified (GMO) seeds. In another ironic twist, GMO seeds use a lot less chemicals than they used to. They are actually better for the environment.
The slow food advocates vilify what they see is the evil cabal of consolidation among big food processors. Cargill, Del Monte, ADM($ADM), Hormel($HRL), Smithfield, Tyson($TYS) and others. However, those food processors offer us economies of scope and scale so that we all can afford to eat. America feeds the world. It’s hard to do that without large scale production. Imagine the ads, “You can feed this starving child for $100 per day.”, instead of the $5 or $10 it takes today.
My personal experience with slow food advocates is they don’t want to take on the government, the real root of the problem. They want to go after corporations. I think this is because they want to dictate to the market what’s best, and will use the government to do it. They either don’t trust consumers intelligence, trust the free market, or know that their position is so untenable that unless big government were behind it they wouldn’t get things their way. Instead of being libertarian in their approach, they are pawns of the big government loving Democratic party. Since they see the corporations as tools of the Republicans, they go the other way.
What can we do?
First, no values judgements. What’s good for me might not be good for you. Everyone has different tastes and budgets. If you want to only buy food from megacenters, that’s your choice and I wouldn’t limit it. If you only want to research and find small producers, that’s cool too. Choice is the key.
Second, end all the infernal subsidies for farming. We pay farmers to produce, and not produce. End ethanol subsidies. They cause huge economic imbalances in the marketplace. Let the market decide.
The government regulates how much you can plant, and what you can plant. End all those regulations too. Let farmers manage their own land. If they think the corn market is going to be better this year, let them plant more corn. Get government out of the farming business.
Have really transparent labeling and educate consumers. Don’t shock them, educate them. Let’s put some science where the emotion is. Already, they have found that organic fruits and vegetables don’t have any more vitamins or minerals than conventional farmed food. If they taste better, it’s a matter of individual opinion.
Allow for alternative foods to hit the market. Why isn’t there a raw milk cheese industry in the US? Why can’t we get some of the sausages and beautiful variety meats available in Europe. It’s not killing anyone over there.
The internet is there. It’s a great resource. It’s a great truth detector. If you want to change the world, it’s a lot easier now than it ever has been. Just don’t try to impart your values and your beliefs on everyone else just because you think it’s better for me. Instead, campaign for a level playing field, get big government out of it, and then use science to win the hearts and minds of consumers.
Consumers have the wallets. No one is forcing them to shop anywhere. They have the power. Not the producers.