Do you have an opinion for the motivation of, mostly ignorant to agriculture, people attacking agriculture in many ways? Hormones/Antibiotics, GMO, pesticides, carbon or methane production, animal husbandry e.g. Chipotle. I have no desire to spend my time attacking an industry that I know little about yet some people do. Just wondering your thoughts on their reasoning for doing this.
Thanks so much for the question! If only I had a dime for every person that has asked me this question in one way or another. I don’t really understand it either. Why are so many people so willing to believe the absolutely worst when it comes to farmers? And how do so many Americans, who are generally somewhat educated, fall for all the misinformation?
It probably seems so absurd to us because it all comes back to one universal truth about agriculture and farming: farmers also eat the food they produce.
With that in mind, it seems odd that consumers could ever possibly believe that we would do anything to purposely poison or contaminate our food supply. Just as it seems odd that someone would think we are indifferent to preserving our natural resources – uh, we kinda need those to stay in business – or harm our animals – good animal husbandry results in better quality products.
I have a few thoughts about why some consumers are so anti-agriculture, though the assessment is (admittedly) based on my own observations and interactions instead of any hard data. But here it is…
It gives the consumer some semblance of control.
Our world is becoming more and more complicated. Take our smart phones as an example. We carry a ridiculous amount of computing power with us all day. A decade or so ago, that type of computer would have filled several rooms. Today, we hold that amazing little devices in the palm of our hand. Yet most of us have absolutely no idea how they work. Our lives have become so dependent on them, yet the vast majority of people using one would have no idea what they were even looking at if they cracked it open.
When we stop and think about it, most of us are pretty dumb when it comes to how the world around us works.
While we might be okay with not knowing anything about our phones, food is different. Food is personal. We put it into our bodies. It becomes part of us. We give it to our children. We count on it to nourish and sustain us.
As a result, I think most people want to feel some type of control over the food they eat. They want to understand the process with which it is created. Understanding the agricultural production method makes them take back some of the control and understanding we’ve lost in lots of other areas of our lives. And it makes sense that we want that in our food, because it is so personal.
This makes sense when you think that consumers buying into the misinformation tend to lean in favor of production methods that seem simple or easy, even when the idea is erroneous. For example, many consumers believe organic food is produced without the use of pesticides. That’s not true, but they like it because that makes it easy and understandable.
Some people profit from the fear.
This one is easy and hardly deserves an explanation. Some people buy into the food fears because they’re making a buck off of it. Food Babe and Dr. Oz are both very good examples of it.
Food Babe criticizes products that are supposedly bad for you, and then makes a profit on items and brands that give her a kickback. For example, she recently decried the dangers of canola oil only to then suggest her followers purchase another specific brand. As explained in the above linked article, Dr. Oz also sees a kickback on many of the products he supports on his show.
So, do Food Babe and Dr. Oz really believe all the garbage they sell? Certainly, Dr. Oz should know better since he went to medical school and at some point must have learned the basics of science. I assume he doesn’t really believe it. Food Babe, on the other hand, has little to no scientific background, though it still seems that her misinformation is too purposeful and unbelievable to be true.
In any case, both Food Babe and Dr. Oz at least act like they believe the lies they’re trying to sell the public. Therefore, we can at least say that their motive is partially market based.
As one frustrated nutrition professor put it:
I’ll keep teaching and writing about the real science behind what’s in our food, but in the meantime, maybe this message will appeal: when you hear somebody trying to scare you about food, ask what they’re selling
(Source: PLOS Blogs.) Heck, no kidding!
Disrespect for farmers and rural life generally.
I think there are people out there that, quite frankly, just don’t think farmers are all that smart. Nor do they trust the rest of us living in rural America either. I mean, come on, aren’t we all just backwoods hicks? Why choose to live in a small town when you can cruise through the skyscrapers of Manhattan? If given the choice, everyone would want to live in a big city; right?
That might be pushing it a little bit too much, but the point still stands.
There is still an idealized version of farming that thinks the farmer runs around in his overalls and momma is always wearing her flowery day dress pouring lemonade somewhere. The criticism stems from the belief that farmers are hard working and admirable for producing our food, but they’re just victims of the big, bad corporations that are coming in and telling them what foods to grow and how to grow them. Farmers are really just victims.
In reality, farming has become a pretty sophisticated business. Farmers can’t just ride mindlessly on the tractor these days. Colleges and universities offer actual degrees designed around the various skill sets required for successful farming. You have to understand the weather, agronomy, soil health, financial markets, business practices, federal regulations, and even a little foreign relations. The issues are complicated and there isn’t always an easy answer. But we definitely aren’t victims to someone else.
In short, we’re suffering from a public perception problem.
So there you have it- those are my three theories for why some people are so willing to take a stand against modern agriculture. I’m sure these theories only apply to certain fear-mongers, or maybe it’s a combination of both. There are probably lots of other reasons or theories for it too. Of course, maybe there really are just some true believers out there too.
But, so far, I’m fairly certain that the vast majority of people do not consider themselves anti-GMO or anti-conventional farming. Even less probably consider themselves anti-modern agriculture. I think most people are just in the middle. They’ve heard about these topics, but they either haven’t taken the time to really learn about it, or just don’t care. That means it’s our job to be there as a resource for those folks when they finally decide to sit up and pay attention.
So, maybe it only seems like there are a lot of people against us?
In that regard, things may be getting better. According to recent research by the Center for Food Integrity, the number of consumers that think our food is headed in the right direction is increasing. The report showed:
This year, 42% of survey respondents said the food system is headed in the right direction, an increase from 32% last year. . . . The number of respondents who believe the U.S. food system is on the wrong track decreased from 38% to 30%. The number who feel unsure about the food system decreased from 28% to 27%.
(Source: CFI.) Now, the problem is that we have no idea why they think our food system is heading in the right direction. What is the right direction? For all we know, those people may consider Food Babe an expert.
But, again, let’s hope that when they’re ready to discuss these issues, they come to the farmers that are raising the food for answers – not the radicals attacking us.
Thank you for your thoughts on this subject. I believe your theories on this subject are valid, but I think the real basis for the mistrust of farmers and modern agriculture goes even deeper.
I was present at the first Earth Day as a college student “defending” modern agriculture and I have been doing my part to continue that defense for the past 40+ years. What I have noticed is that the pendulum of public opinion swings back and forth on any number of subjects and agriculture is one of the subjects that is vulnerable to those swings. It seems that just as we put one fire out and move forward another springs up behind us.
For a moment, think of who we all seem to mistrust. The list may seem endless depending on the moment, but politicians, teachers, doctors, insurance companies, media news, and police seem to be on the list much of the time.
However, in general, “our” politician, “our” childrens’ teachers, “our” doctor, “our” police force is different from all of “those” others.
The personal connection we may have, hearing the positive information about, and our local/regional bias all affect how we feel about “they.” The further away from home the more we distrust. We all “love” our local team and we “hate” any competitor who might have the audacity to beat them.
This is a grand generalization, but I believe that our society mistrusts more and more each day. Yes, there are bad politicians (I have worked to get one or two elected, who later resigned in disgrace). Yes, there are bad teachers (I have known several who outlived their legacy). Yes, there are bad doctors (at the very least those who made a wrong diagnosis). Yes, there are bad cops and bad farmers, and bad (insert the profession you don’t like here).
Does that mean we mistrust all politicians, teachers, religions, police, doctors, and . . . . Yes, for some of us we “always” do mistrust everyone. It is a sad place to be.
For the rest of us we pick and choose, but all of us have these biases and sometimes we are talking when we should have been listening.
I have a bunch of children and step-children. Sometimes my wife and I are appalled at their beliefs and actions. One mistrusts doctors, except naturopaths, another questions my use of pesticides on my farm, another won’t watch the news but believes various conspiracy theories, and etc.
The only thing you and other agriculturists can do is continue to tell the truth and refute the blarney when we hear it.