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March 2012 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block, AgWeb.com

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

Tabloid Journalism – ABC News Slimes Lean Beef

Mar 29, 2012

This is Rick Frank sitting in for John Block.
Reaching new lows in broadcast television journalism, ABC News several weeks ago ran an investigative report unfairly and inaccurately disparaging a safe and wholesome lean beef product by repeatedly referring to it as "pink slime."
 
They sent out their reporters on a witch hunt to identify those retail stores across the country offering their customers ground beef with "pink slime." This sensational reporting unnecessarily scared the public and amounted to an attack on American agriculture. It reminds me of the scare attack on alar in apples…turned out to be no problem for consumers; but nearly killed the apple industry.
 
Lean, finely textured beef, or LFTB, is safe, wholesome, nutritious, and 100% meat. It has been and continues to be inspected and approved by USDA. BPI, the principal producer of LFTB, has a safety record second to none in the industry.
 
Yet inexplicably, LFTB continues to be the punching bag of investigative reporters and bloggers. One has to ask the question, why a company that has achieved some of the greatest innovations in increasing cattle yield and improving food safety would be the target of such an inaccurate and mean-spirited publicity campaign.
 
Several years ago, two mid-level USDA employees sought to block the approvals for the production, use, and labeling of LFTB. One of those employees derisively dubbed the product "pink slime" and, along with a disgruntled former BPI employee, began a crusade to malign the product. The overwhelming majority of USDA officials, including leadership under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, disagreed with them. USDA reaffirmed the safety and wholesomeness of LFTB just last week.
 
It’s important to note that for over 10 years, most of the nation’s leading hamburger chains and retail grocery stores have safely used LFTB with confidence. It has only been over the past few months as the cheap shot "pink slime" stories hit the headlines that the users have run for the exits.
 
In many instances, investigative reporting and even solid muckraking benefit the public. Upton Sinclair’s seminal work, The Jungle, exposed horrendous working conditions in Chicago’s meat packing plants and led to huge improvements for agricultural workers. In contrast, BPI is the nation’s leading innovator in finding ways to make ground beef safer and has one of the most modern plants in the nation.
 
Yet, the pink slime campaign has led to nearly 1,000 workers losing their job. Both Linda Golodner, former President of the National Consumers League, and Nancy Donley, Spokesperson for STOP Foodborne Illness, have expressed sincere disappointment and regret at what is happening to BPI and, by extension, food safety in America. Sadly, I join them.
Until next week, I am Rick Frank sitting in for John Block in Washington.

Celebrate Agriculture

Mar 16, 2012

 
In the past week, there has been a lot going on. At the top of the list – Ag Day. We celebrated the remarkable contribution American agriculture makes to this country and the world. A beautiful dinner was held in the Atrium at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Secretary Vilsack spoke. I felt very much at home there myself with a room full of agriculture friends, including John Deere, Monsanto, Future Farmers of America, Jaycee Outstanding Young Farmers, cattlemen, pork producers, on and on. Speaking of pork – a big, thick pork chop was our entrée.
 
We have a lot to celebrate – a lot to be proud of. Just one farmer in this country produces enough food to feed 155 people. We’re doing it with less crop acres today than 40 years ago. That’s precision farming. Besides feeding all these people, 10% of our gasoline comes from farms.
 
With a booming farm economy and record exports, everyone was in a party mood. Yes, we have some disagreements within the farm family, but we know we must stand together. Ag Day is an opportunity to get our message out to the public, and counter the critics that want to distort the facts.
 
Another big event that depends on farmers and food was the School Nutrition Association meeting with more than 400 attendees. Secretary Dan Glickman, Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner, and I participated in a panel discussion moderated by Sara Wyant of AgriPulse. Once again, we put a lot of issues on the table.
 
For many children, the school lunch programs are the foundation of child nutrition. It was noted that in this country we have the most abundant, safest, and most reasonably priced food in the world. Our families spend less than 10% of their income on food. No other country in the world can match us. At that school lunch event, we got into a discussion about whether the government should be telling children, or even grown-ups, what to eat and what not to eat to fight obesity. We didn’t settle that question.
 
In closing, since we are in a celebratory mood, let me point out that 150 years ago, President Lincoln created the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We’re going to celebrate President Lincoln’s vision and his creation of the Department all year long.
 
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to www.johnblockreports.com.
 
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.

 

Ag Outlook Conference

Mar 01, 2012

Today, I want to talk about the Ag Outlook Conference held here in Washington, D.C. last week. Two thousand people attended as Secretary Vilsack opened the event with his address, followed by an open discussion of issues by 7 former Secretaries of Agriculture. I’ve never seen that many Secretaries of Agriculture in one room.

Secretary Vilsack’s remarks focused on some of the most important challenges that the ag industry faces. He did a good job.
 
Here are my thoughts on some of those issues.
 
Trade – trade is important because we export 30 percent of what we produce. As a nation, the U.S. runs a huge trade deficit. But not agriculture. We exported 140 billion dollars worth of products last year, running a big trade surplus. After years of delay, last year we got our trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama wrapped up. That will add more sales in the future.
 
Biofuels (ethanol, in particular) – 10 percent of our gasoline is home grown. With gas prices spiking toward $4 per gallon, thank the American farmer for holding the price back. We would be paying $4.50 per gallon if it wasn’t for ethanol.
 
Secretary Vilsack talked about the Farm Bill. I don’t think we know what the next bill will look like. These are exceptional times. We don’t have the money to spend on farm programs. It’s hard to justify spending when farm prices are as strong as they are today. We’re getting our money out of the market place. That’s the way it should be.
 
When you begin a free wheeling discussion with 7 former Secretaries of Agriculture, you really have no idea where it will lead. I was surprised and pleased to find that we were “singing from the same hymn book.” Our collective position was best expressed by the headline of a publication covering the Conference. It read:
 
“Former Ag Secretaries decry ‘hysteria’ over CAFO and GM crops.”
 
“Environmentalists who argue modern agriculture depletes the soil and threatens the safety of the food supply are causing ‘hysteria.’”
 
I said, “they don’t even know what they are talking about. They just try to scare people.”
 
All of us former Secretaries of Agriculture stood shoulder to shoulder, supporting GM crops, new technology, and modern agriculture. We will never be able to increase production to feed the world if we go back to farming like my grandfather did.
 
I was proud to be a player on that team of former Secretaries of Agriculture.
 
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to www.johnblockreports.com.
 
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.
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