Food Dialogues–the Good, Bad, and Ugly

I attended the November 19 Food Dialogues session in Ames, Iowa–a few thoughts: 
The Good:  USFRA and two Iowa corn groups set up a lively, thought-provoking panel discussion, and the six participants (along with moderator John Bachman) spoke clearly and intelligently. I heard points of view that have me thinking about perspectives and objectives. They all seem passionate about agriculture and quite assured that they are doing the right things.
The Bad:  Several key ag issues are still in the gray zone for me. They discussed biotech, GMO labeling, CAFOs, and other important controversies. I’ve looked into these topics—research, news articles, farmer conversations, blogs—and the panelist’s personal comments added to my ag-bipolarism.
The Ugly:  Me—I don’t want to be a “21st Century Schizoid Ag Man,” but with so much information (digital, analog, slanted, credible, visual, in-print, online, in-person), it’s sometimes hard to know what to think.
Conclusion:  Painful or not, it is good to discuss issues, and even if modern communication has its warts, we need to focus on common goals. At times, the panelists had divergent views and methods, but they all want plentiful, safe food for consumers.

The 90-minute session is available online, and you can form your own opinions. I’ll end with a sample quote I scribbled down from each panelist.
Larry Cleverly, well-known organic farmer, said, “Consumers have a right to know. Labeling is a no-brainer.” (He worries about the lack of long-term GMO research and the tight control of big ag corporations.)
Wayne Humphreys, a crop and livestock farmer, said, “All statistics are wrong—but useful.”  (He pointed out that his biotech corn had higher yields, and he seems to think labeling is a negative and numbers can be misused.)
Dave Murphy, Director of Food Democracy Now, said, “Democracy is for sale, and labeling efforts are battling big corporate money.” (He is concerned about CAFOs and biotech; he thinks organic can feed the world.)
Katie Olthoff, turkey farmer and blogger, says, “Big farms are just as good as small farms. We need to use many solutions.”  (She is not in favor of GMO labels—or other labels she thinks are misleading such as “factory farms” and the negative connotations aimed at “Big Ag.”)

Wayne Parrott, ag professor at the Univ. of Georgia, said, “Science is not an either/or proposition. We need quantity and quality.” (He believes research shows that biotech has had no ill effects.)

John Schillinger, crop researcher, says, “Science is important, but nutritional gains can come from non-GMO innovation.” (He thinks non-GMOs can feed the world.)
Conclusion #2:  Ethanol, antibiotics, hog stall use—the tough issues are out there, and we need to deal with them. Forums like the Food Dialogues can help when they include panelists such as these. So—do I leave knowing how I would vote on a GMO labeling issue? Nope. It would depend on how it’s written and implemented. And I think that is something all sides of the issue could work on and maybe agree on. Ag is filled with some great divides, but communication, empathy, and common sense might help us bridge them.
dan gogerty (pic from

Help Support CAST

Your donation to CAST helps support the CAST mission of communicating science to meet the challenge of producing enough food, fiber and fuel for a growing population. Every gift, no matter the size, is appreciated.