NO matter what you do, no matter where you go, somehow, in some way, you're going to come face to face with an issue that involves the food industry.
That's not really surprising given that food and agriculture are such an intrinsic part of our lives, and those of us who work in the business are always cognizant of its place in society.
That's especially true when it comes to some of the quirky perceptions and incongruities that get perpetuated among the general public. Given my recent experience, some of those can catch you off guard, popping up at the most unexpected times.
The backdrop for this particular story is the recent worldwide "March against Monsanto" protests.
The protestors would likely ramble off a whole list of complaints, but the most succinct summary I've come across describes the campaign as "a worldwide mobilization against corporate greed, the assault on our health and environment and the oppression of small farmers." Or, alternatively: "Monsanto and their buddies in big agribusiness might want to dominate the world's food supply, but a growing number of citizens are getting fed up and fighting back."
None of that is really new. It's an enduring theme within our business. There's a sizeable and vocal faction that wants food production to "go back to the start." Those consumers believe, or want to believe, that we're regressing when it comes to the food system. Moreover, that faction sees the system as being dominated by corporations.
It's always interesting to me the pervasive belief that all benefits related to genetically modified (GM) crops go to agribusiness.
That misperception is hard to swallow; GM plants have provided some great benefits to agriculture, or else they wouldn't persist in the marketplace. That's the beauty of the free market system: It allows people to make decisions based on the merit of the product.
Even more important to this discussion is the widespread notion that agriculture's increased productivity is, in some way, detrimental to society.
Consider that, over the past 100 years, we've been able to reallocate human labor to some other endeavors besides just feeding ourselves. That has led to an amazing boom in specialization and creativity that provided all sorts of advancements in other areas, the likes of which we would NOT enjoy if it weren't for the ability to produce more food with less labor and fewer resources. Not to mention, there'd be far more hungry people on the planet.
That brings me back to my story. During a recent vacation in Colorado, my family and I stopped in Boulder to have lunch. As we were eating, I looked out the window and saw a man carrying a sign that read:
"Monsanto has been removed and banned by Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Luxemborg, Madera, Peru, New Zealand, S. Australia, Russia, France and Switzerland. Why not here!?!?"
So, we had a little entertainment for our lunch hour. It was an especially good opportunity to reinforce to my young daughter the absence of merit surrounding any peer pressure argument; just because someone else does something doesn't mean we should do it (no matter the subject!).
Wait, it gets better! Upon leaving the restaurant, I came across the gentleman once again, this time involved in some very passionate discussion with another individual about the general evils of Monsanto, GMOs, etc. Now, he had two signs — and I just had to get a picture of it (thankfully, he readily agreed).
The irony was remarkable and simply couldn't be ignored. The second sign, side by side with the first, read: "Hungry dude."
I didn't have time for, nor did our protestor want to listen to, any explanation about the very inconsistency of those two themes: hunger versus anti-GMOs.
I thanked him for his time, and then I walked away, reminded of how much work there is to do regarding the enduring, pressing challenges for global agriculture in modern society.
*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.