One of the most important jobs a communications director has is correcting the media when it goes astray. Unfortunately, this has become almost a full-time task as it seems more and more media reports surface daily that put the plant health input side of agriculture in an unfavorable and unfair light. In many instances, the scientific truth is lacking to support these media stories.
One such case was a recent cover article that appeared in Time magazine titled “The Real Cost of Cheap Food,” written by Bryan Walsh, which was long on sensationalism, but short on facts. To allow such faulty and false remarks to go unchallenged is, well, just unacceptable.
Mr. Walsh seemed to be blaming traditional American agricultural systems for contributing to obesity in the U.S. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is overwhelming evidence, and most accredited health organizations, including the American Heart Association, refute this myth. Simply put, obesity is not a debate between organic versus conventionally grown crops. The problem lies in consumers’ lifestyle choices; eating prepackaged, processed, and fast foods. For numerous reasons, Americans have replaced healthy meals with quick, nutritionally deficient choices – which tend to be heavily imbalanced toward starches, fats and sugars.
Another passage in the article gave the impression that producers and users of fertilizer products were out to poison the earth. Had the author contacted agricultural plant health experts, he would have learned the fertilizer industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing the most effective and efficient fertilizers and application methods to prevent issues such as runoff. No grower relishes the sight of his money running down the drain and does his best to avoid it.
Yet another segment of the Time article advanced the notion that all that production agriculture has to do to rescue consumers and the planet from the evil of giant agribusiness is to convert food operations to organic crops. This is an idea that has been gaining traction amongst the general population, but really has no anchor in reality. Let it be said that organic farming cannot solely feed the world’s growing population. My source? According to crop experts Kirchman, Holger, Bergstrom and Lars, in the 2008 book “Organic Crop Production – Ambition and Limitations,” a scientific work that largely debunks utopian organic food claims, there would be a 40 percent reduction in global crop yields through large-scale conversion to organic agriculture. A 40 percent reduction in yield on a global scale is equivalent to the amount of crops required to feed 2.5 billion people — that’s with a “B.”
While describing the worldwide benefits of conventional fertilizers, the experts summarize their findings with this observation: “It is obvious that worldwide adoption of organic agriculture would lead to massive famine and human death.” Put simply, you can starve much of the world population so we can feel good about using organic labels, or utilize environmentally safe and agronomically sound conventional systems that will feed the world. You choose.
• Enviro lawyers love the ‘green’ in ‘green’
A sharp attorney who represents farmers and ranchers in Cheyenne, Wyo., has tallied up the bill that has been paid to environmental groups for attorney fees and costs and the amount is staggering. According to Karen Budd-Falen, the federal government between 2003 and 2007 paid more than $4.7 billion in taxpayer money to environmental law firms — and that’s just the lawsuits she tracked. The actual figure, she said, is far greater.
In some cases, the attorney notes, intervening ranchers and farmers are paying for the defense of their farm and ranch practices and (through their taxes) paying for the opposing lawyers’ attorney fees.
“That money is not going into programs to protect people, wildlife, plants and animals,” Budd-Falen said in a media interview, “but to fund more lawsuits. They are not filing these suits to try and protect the environment; they are filing these suits to make money.”
She pointed out that between 2000 and 2009, three tax-exempt, nonprofit environmental groups – Western Watersheds Project, Forest Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity – filed more than 700 cases against the federal government.
“Ranchers and other citizens are being forced to expend millions of their own money to intervene or participate in these lawsuits to protect their way of life when they have no chance of the same attorney-fee recovery if they prevail,” she told the press. She added that in one 15-month-long case, the Earthjustice Legal Foundation and the Western Environmental Law Center filed for $479,242 in attorneys’ fees. Lastly, she documented the salaries paid to top environmental executives. On top of the list was the $446,072 salary paid to the president of the Environmental Defense Fund. Second was the $439,327 salary paid to the president of the World Wildlife Fund.
So we need to keep these facts in mind the next time we read that a certain activist group masquerading as a crusader for environmental justice actually may be only a puppet of their legal advisers who are nothing more than opportunistic tree-hugging ambulance chasers.