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HARRIS: Family Farms Are the Bedrock of American Agriculture

Rising feed, fertilizer, fuel costs and global pressures have put the American farmer at a crossroads. The large, multinational agribusiness conglomerates who have come to dominate our nation’s food chain would like nothing more for regular Americans to think that their mass-produced meats are the only options available.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Small and family-owned farms are vital to ensuring American families have a variety of choices to find their favorite foods at their local grocery stores, markets and, increasingly, direct to the consumer from the farm itself.

Big Ag is increasingly threatened by family farms that pride themselves on the humane treatment of the animals they raise and the farmworkers they employ, such that they have pumped untold amounts of money into taking their fight to the Supreme Court.

This fall, Big Ag is asking the Supreme Court to give them unprecedented power to dictate the rules of play for the entire farming industry and the agricultural conditions in America. The case was filed by the National Pork Producers Council after a successful campaign by the voters of California to encourage the humane treatment of farm animals and better food safety by banning the sale of products in California sourced from animals kept in extreme confinement. Even though courts have sided repeatedly with California voters every time this issue has been questioned, the highest court in the land is set to hear a case that threatens family farms and Californians who want humanely raised, safer food.

An adverse outcome could unravel states’ rules and regulations throughout the country, giving Big Ag the upper hand it needs to exploit its market share, economies of scale, vertically integrated business model, and anti-competitive behavior to take over agriculture in America. If the Supreme Court chooses to allow Big Ag to use its business decisions to resist state regulation, the court will be declaring these multinational conglomerates too big to regulate and making them unaccountable for how they treat their animals and their workers.

These large corporate entities have been crushing family farms. For example, in the last 30 years, nearly 90 percent of hog farmers have been put out of business as multinational conglomerates have grown their massive production facilities. Now, this case could put the family farms that have been able to survive in jeopardy of losing it all to multinational corporations seeking to control the entire pork market.

Big Ag has been fighting for decades to achieve unchecked growth and power in states across the Midwest and Southeast. These campaigns have been so effective that the typical consumer has no idea the products they buy can often come at the expense of the communities that most rural America calls home.

Factory farms do not result in the same economic benefits that come from offering meaningful employment to members of the community. Moreover, poor working conditions on factory farms often result in even poorer treatment of animals. Pigs kept in inhumane conditions are more likely to get diseases that can be passed on in the pork sold in grocery stores. Those diseases can also be harder to treat, or even untreatable, because of rampant antibiotic resistance on factory farms. Scientific experts recommend reducing disease spread in animals on farms to reduce food-safety risks to people.

Big Ag wants customers to believe there is only one way to farm and breed animals. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, small and family farms have found incredible success selling free-range chicken, pork and dairy products to health-focused and environmentally conscious consumers. And in the case of pork, there are many different customer specifications, like organic, all-natural, antibiotic-free or crate-free. It is small farms that are meeting these consumer demands, and customers are choosing what works best for their families when given the opportunity.

If the Supreme Court sides with the intentions of these agribusiness conglomerates, industrial factory farms will continue to put family farms out of business and deny consumers any real choice in the meat products they cook for their families.

American agriculture, anchored by small and family farms, has been the bedrock of our society since the Framers wrote the Constitution. The court should not let Big Ag win this case to undo the choices of the consumers and keep animals in extreme confinement solely in the name of multinational profits.

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LOMBORG: How to Alleviate the Looming Global Hunger Crisis

global food crisis is looming, so policymakers everywhere need to think hard about how to make food cheaper and more plentiful. That requires making a commitment to producing more fertilizer and better seeds, maximizing the potential offered by genetic modification, and abandoning the rich world’s obsession with organics.

Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine is making less food available because the two nations have been responsible for more than a quarter of global wheat exports and big quantities of barley, corn and vegetable oil. On top of punishing climate policies and the world emerging from the pandemic, prices of fertilizer, energy and transport are soaring, and food prices have climbed 61 percent over the last two years.

The war has exposed some harsh truths. One is that Europe — which portrays itself as a green energy trailblazer — is highly reliant on Russian gas, especially when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. The war has reaffirmed the basic reality that fossil fuels remain crucial for the vast majority of global needs. And the emerging food crisis now reveals another harsh truth: organic farming cannot feed the world and could even worsen future crises.

Long simply a fashionable trend for the world’s 1 percent, environmentalists have increasingly peddled the beguiling idea that organic farming can solve hunger. The European Union is actively pushing for a tripling of organic farming on the continent by 2030, while a majority of Germans actually think organic farming can help feed the world.

However, research conclusively shows that organic farming produces much less food than conventional farming per acre. Moreover, organic farming requires farmers to rotate soil out of production for pasture, fallow or cover crops, reducing its effectiveness. In total, organic approaches produce between a quarter and half less food than conventional, scientific-driven agriculture.

This not only makes organic food more expensive, but it means that organic farmers would need much more land to feed the same number of people as today — possibly almost twice the area. Given that agriculture currently uses 40 percent of Earth’s ice-free land, switching to organics would mean destroying large swathes of nature for less effective production.

The catastrophe unfolding in Sri Lanka provides a sobering lesson. The government last year enforced a full transition to organic farming, appointing organics gurus as agricultural advisers, including some who claimed dubious links between agricultural chemicals and health problems. Despite extravagant claims that organic methods could produce comparable yields to conventional farming, within months the policy produced nothing but misery, with some food prices quintupling.

Sri Lanka had been self-sufficient in rice production for decades, but tragically has now been forced to import $450 million worth of rice. Tea, the nation’s primary export crop and source of foreign exchange, was devastated, with economic losses estimated at $425 million. Before the country spiraled downward toward brutal violence and political resignations, the government was forced to offer $200 million in compensation to farmers and come up with $149 million in subsidies.

Sri Lanka’s organic experiment failed fundamentally because of one simple fact: it does not have enough land to replace synthetic nitrogen fertilizer with animal manure. To shift to organics and keep production, it would need five to seven times more manure than its total manure today.

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, mostly made with natural gas, are a modern miracle, crucial for feeding the world. Largely thanks to this fertilizer, agricultural outputs were tripled in the last half-century, as the human population doubled. Artificial fertilizer and modern farming inputs are the reason the number of people working on farms has been slashed in every rich country, freeing people for other productive occupations.

In fact, one dirty secret of organic farming is that, in rich countries, the vast majority of existing organic crops depend on imported nitrogen laundered from animal manure, which ultimately comes from fossil fuel fertilizers used on conventional farms.

Without those inputs, if a country — or the world — were to go entirely organic, nitrogen scarcity quickly becomes disastrous, just like we saw in Sri Lanka. That is why research shows going organic globally can only feed about half the current world population. Organic farming will lead to more expensive, scarcer food for fewer people, while gobbling up more nature.

To sustainably feed the world and withstand future global shocks, we need to produce food better and cheaper. History shows that the best way to achieve that is by improving seeds, including by using genetic modification, along with expanding fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation. This will allow us to produce more food, curb prices, alleviate hunger and save nature.

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Holy Cow! History: Meet the Real Gerber Baby

Ann Turner Cook may not be a household name, but her face has been found in nearly every Amercian household for almost all of the 95-year-old’s life. (She celebrated her birthday late last month.)

Ann was the inspiration for the Gerber Baby.

“You must have been a beautiful baby,” an old song once said. And little Ann certainly was lovely. So lovely, in fact, that when she was just a few months old a neighbor decided to sketch her.

Dorothy Hope Smith was a noted commercial artist. Among her many artistic accomplishments was drawing a series of famous “Ivory Soap Baby” illustrations for Procter & Gamble.

Dorothy appreciated the twinkle in little Ann’s eyes and set about rendering her likeness in charcoal. Everyone in the neighborhood agreed it was a lovely sketch.

And so it might have remained until some unknown advertising genius came up with a bright idea in 1928. Gerber was preparing to launch a new line of baby foods. It held a competition to find the Gerber Baby.

Friends told Dorothy she should submit her sketch of baby Ann. The artist argued it was just a preliminary drawing and wasn’t finished. But she apparently thought, “What have I got to lose?” and mailed off the etching along with a letter asking what age baby they wanted and how big the ad would be. She said she would finish the sketch later if it was chosen.

The company was flooded with thousands of entries showing little darlings of shapes, ages, and sizes. And Gerber picked Ann’s portrait from them all. Dorothy was flattered and promised to complete the drawing. “Don’t touch it!” the Gerber folks told her. They loved the drawing’s simplicity and directness.

Dorothy received a $300 prize (about $5,000 today) and Ann gained advertising immortality. Her face graced millions of jars of food that fed her peers, their children, their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren, and now their great-great-grandchildren.

With her infant modeling days behind her, Ann went on to earn several college degrees, including a master’s in education. She taught English at elementary, middle, and high schools in Florida for many years, and even found time to write a series of mystery novels set on Florida’s Gulf Coast. While her early claim to fame was always fun to talk about, she never traded on it — well, except perhaps for a featured guest appearance in a 1990 episode of “To Tell the Truth.”

On a related note, a persistent Urban Myth surrounds the famous face on the baby food bottle. It says 1940s movie tough guy Humphrey Bogart posed for the drawing as an infant. You know, the star who portrayed cynical Rick Blaine in “Casablanca,” shady detective Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon,” and grizzled Charlie Allnut in “The African Queen.” Not the kind of image that appeals to moms buying food for babies.

But it’s easy to see how the mix-up started. Bogart’s mother Maud Humphrey was a well-known commercial illustrator in the early 1900s. She was so successful, her artwork earned more money than her husband, a cardiopulmonary surgeon, made! And she did, in fact, use a drawing of her young son in a Mellins Baby Food advertising campaign. But Bogart was not the Gerber Baby.

So, a belated happy 95th birthday, Ann. As Bogie would have said, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

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