Feast & Famine in the ag industry

FAMINE: As competition intensifies for the best potential students among institutions of higher learning, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh didn’t do itself any favors recently by spending $20,000 to host a speech by anti-GMO, anti-modern agriculture activist Vandana Shiva.
Spending taxpayer money — essentially using the dollars of local farmers to host a speaker who attacks local farmers — was defended by the typical Ivory Tower Intellectual argument that colleges should foster “open” conversation and intellectual curiosity.

Would they spend the same money or make the same arguments if the speaker was a Holocaust denier or someone advocating for the end of female voting rights? As extreme as that analogy may seem, it’s appropriate in light of the fact that Shiva’s chicanery has been thoroughly debunked for years now by any number of serious media and scientific institutions. Here are just a few highlights:

• “She opposes the tools and practices of modern agriculture and science — and well, modernity in general —and advocates retrogressive policies that will cause widespread malnourishment, deprivation and death to the very people she claims to champion,” the Genetic Literacy Project recently reported.

• “How would you feel if someone was paid tens of thousands of dollars to lie about your occupation? As farmers, she has not been speaking the truth about what we do and claims that GMOs are poison, we are drenching our fields in chemicals, Monsanto has control over us in ag, and GMOs are killing the bees and causing farmers to commit suicide … it is admirable if someone chooses to be an organic farmer — there are many ways to address food security issues as long as we promote cooperation and coexistence — but there is something wrong with lying to people for profit,” reported Michelle Miller for AgDaily.

• “Hundreds of millions of people in 28 countries eat transgenic products every day, and if any of Shiva’s assertions were true the implications would be catastrophic … her statements are rarely supported by data, and her positions often seem more like those of an end-of-days mystic than like those of a scientist,” reported a lengthy expose’ on Shiva published in “The New Yorker” in 2014.
Our position is that these are serious times requiring serious discussions with serious facts. Apparently, UW-Oshkosh still prefers to sell “provocation” as “progress” and “controversy” as “conversation.”

FEAST: The same night that Shiva was sticking it to Wisconsin farmers, they were too busy to notice. Instead, farms of all shapes and sizes were digging out from the second-worst snow storm in that state’s history. Northeast and east central regions got hammered with as much as 28 inches of ice and snow, leading to barn collapses and structural damage at more than 125 farms of all shapes and sizes.
If UW-Oshkosh represented the worst face of society that evening, literally thousands of other people — exhausted farmers and their employees, concerned neighbors, dairy industry vendors, emergency service providers and others — put forth the very best.
Thousands of animals were saved and untold numbers of potential human injuries preempted because people rolled up their sleeves and got down to  hard, difficult work in often cold, miserable conditions.
There are people who “talk” and there are people who “do.” If UW-Oshkosh exemplifies the former, we choose to celebrate a lot of quiet, everyday heroes who embodied the latter.
FAMINE: Just a gentle reminder that while a cause may sound great in a sound bite, you have to know with whom you are dealing. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), for instance, is in a freefall following allegations of sexual misconduct and the resignations of CEO Wayne Pacelle and vice president Paul Shapiro earlier this year.
The “charity” — which has been plagued with ethical questions on its financial practices for years — has now lost its accreditation from the Better Business Bureau’s charity-accreditation arm, the Wise Giving Alliance (BBB WGA). This news comes after Charity Navigator downgraded its rating of HSUS to just 2 stars out of 4 — including a lowly 1 star for financial metrics, indicative of financial waste at the nonprofit. Animal Charity Evaluators, which recommends animal-rights nonprofits, has also pulled its approval of HSUS.
“It’s safe to assume the HSUS board’s initial decision to retain Pacelle after its internal investigation turned up several credible accusations of sexual harassment was the impetus for BBB WGA to initiate a review,” reported Humane Watch, which tracks HSUS’s misconduct.
“What’s particularly noteworthy is that the BBB WGA has been notorious for having weak standards.
“The BBB WGA has come under fire in the past for taking thousands of dollars from the charities it accredits in licensing fees for the BBB logo, which creates a clear conflict of interest to keep the bar low for accreditation,” the Humane Watch reported. “But even the thousands that HSUS has given the BBB couldn’t keep them in the evaluator’s good graces in the wake of HSUS’s #MeToo scandal.”
FEAST: Here’s a group that doesn’t often get a lot of public praise — French lawmakers.
But let’s give credit where credit is due: French legislators are warning food companies that describe their vegetarian or vegan foods using terms usually associated with meat to find new ways to label such products to prevent consumer confusion.
According to press reports, “The French parliament has banned the use of such terms as ‘steak,’ ‘sausage,’ ‘burger,’ ‘fillet,’ ‘ham slices’ and ‘chicken’ when marketing foods that have no animal protein in them, such as ‘vegetarian sausages’ and ‘vegan bacon.’ The new provisions — which also include dairy alternatives such as soy and tofu products marketed as ‘milk’ or ‘butter’ — were sparked by a European Court of Justice ruling last year specifically barring the dairy alternative names, according to The Independent in the United Kingdom.
“Food companies that fail to comply with the new rules are subject to fines of up to $366,000,” the report added.
In America, at both the state and federal level, initiatives against “food counterfeiters” continue to be floated. It’s time our lawmakers put a little steel in their spine and follow France’s precedent.