When All Else Fails

The Speech the Industrial Ag Lobby Doesn’t Want You to Hear

from EWG

Why is the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation afraid of an open and honest discussion about the issues facing agriculture?

Is it because the Federation knows that consumers are asking important and legitimate questions about the food they are eating and feeding to their children? Is it because many people want to know why industrial agriculture is the single largest contributor to water pollution nationwide? Is it because Iowa residents, in particular, see the effects of that pollution in lakes and streams that have been closed to swimming and see the state’s soil eroding away at ten times the sustainable rate?

Maybe it’s because the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation knows that consumers want the truth about how GMO crops and the chemicals used to produce their food might threaten their health and the health of the environment.

Or maybe it’s because voters want to know why the federal farm bill continues to send billions in subsidies to highly profitable farm businesses while programs to support healthy food, sustainable agriculture and clean water get crumbs – at a time when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 28 percent of Iowa residents are obese.

Maybe it’s “all of the above.”

What we know for sure is that the Federation did its best to discourage the state Department of Natural Resources from publicizing an upcoming talk by Ken Cook, president and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, who titles his presentation, “Hunger Games: What is it about agriculture that’s eating consumers?”  Cook is scheduled to speak onTuesday, Oct. 9, at 7:00 p.m. at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) in Cedar Falls.

If the Federation had its way, no one would even hear about Cook’s talk. A few days ago, Rick Robinson, the Iowa Federation’s Environmental Policy Advisor, sent an email to Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp in which he made that clear:

I hope the Iowa DNR does not use any of its limited resources to publicize the anti-agricultural propaganda of the Oct. 9 UNI event… There are some well-intentioned folks in the Cedar River Watershed trying to build new coalitions and continue to make progress on very challenging issues. The approach the UNI event takes, unfortunately, is divisive, and the solutions to the issue of water quality are complex and require true collaboration – something the speaker from the Environmental Working Group is not proposing.

I wish they would have instead invited Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, you or the ISU science team to the event to discuss the results of the water quality research and some of the solutions underway, or perhaps including some folks from other watersheds that have made progress to discuss their strategies so that the event is focused on real solutions.

The DNR, other public institutions or the coalition should not be associated with promotion or funding this kind of negative rhetoric.

What could possibly elicit Robinson’s reaction to a speech by Ken Cook? Could it be Cook’s vocal advocacy for agriculture policy that focuses on healthy and sustainable food instead of churning out the raw materials for America’s industrial food system? Could it be that EWG has long advocated a sane realignment of federal agriculture policy to focus on health and the environment?

Could it be the growing awareness that voluntary conservation measures in Iowa have done little to clean up the state’s water or shrink the Gulf of Mexico “Dead Zone?”

Or could it be taxpayers’ frustration with sending each of 40 highly profitable Iowa farms a $250,000 crop insurance subsidy in 2011 – with no conservation strings attached?

Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise that the industrial agriculture lobby is doing its best to impede the common sense conversation that consumers crave about a healthier path forward for agriculture and the communities it serves. Fortunately, that effort is doomed to fail.

For folks near the UNI campus on Oct. 9, stop by and join Ken Cook in the conversation the industrial agriculture lobby doesn’t want you to have.