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Economic Sense

RSS By: Matt Bogard,

Matt's primary interest is in the biotech industry and ag policy.

Get Schooled up on the Politics of Food

Feb 21, 2010
By Matt Bogard

Below is a link and an excerpt from a story (from UVa Today) about a new class being offered at the University of Virginia.

Chew On It: New J-Term Class Delves Into 'The Politics of Food'

After just a few days in the class, several students had already altered their eating habits. Third-year Rashawnda James gave up eating chicken after watching "Food, Inc." and seeing how factory farms cram chickens into cages so tiny that they can never spread their wings. One line from the film, "We're not breeding chicken; we're breeding food," conveyed the objectification and inhumane treatment of animals endemic to factory farming, James said.

Pape noted that he personally buys organic milk. When a student asked why, he noted that he didn't want to serve any additional hormones to his 12-year-old daughter.Freedman noted that he also purchased organic milk for his family, and had a hard time explaining, even to himself, exactly why he made that choice. "I think it's a little superstitious. I think a lot of my food choices are tied not to reason, and not necessarily even to preference or taste, but to practice and tradition and habit."

From the description in this story, it appears that a large portion of the class is focused on politically motivated films and books, with an agenda critical of modern agriculture and most family farms. Perhaps there should be a co-requisite or a companion course that also looks at the science and environmental impacts of food choices. Perhaps it could convince Mr. Freedman to give up on his superstitious practices.

Just presenting some basic facts might help Mr. Freedman deal with his superstitions. Somatotropin receptors in human cells cannot recognize bST. (the hormone he is most likely concerned with). Residue levels of hormones in food have been demonstrated to be safe,and are well below any level that would have a known effect in humans. Similarly with regard to concerns about antibiotics, given no conclusive scientific link between the use of antibiotics in livestock and clinically important antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, more effort should be placed on judicious use in humans as well as livestock. But that does not provide any argument for going antibiotic free or banning sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock.

Facts relating to the environmental impacts of these lagely personal and political choices wouldn't hurt either. For example, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef or per gallon of milk produced are much less for cattle that utilize modern pharmaceutical technologies.   

More information:


rBST -Cornell University Dept of Animal Science

Antimicrobial Resistance: Implications for the Food System
Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety
Volume 5 Issue 3, Pages 71 - 137
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COMMENTS (2 Comments)

Once weve found a descent price for commodities. Lets get everybody schooled you might say that no longer will your food be quite so cheap. If we pull the rug out from farmers than they can for once demand the prices they need to make a living. To keep playing the nickel and dime programs only extends the agony for a couple more decades. We need to get rid of federal crop, direct payments, and everybody stop paying their health care premiums for a couple of months than everything will have to come down a bit, back to reality.
8:34 AM Feb 26th
We worry too much about creating more and more exports and keeping price that is affordable to overseas customers. Lets take a serious look at what the US farmer needs per bushel or pound of meat to make a descent living.
8:29 AM Feb 26th

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