Archive for the ‘misconceptions’ Category

flat-out lyingI’m not just frustrated by erroneous food “facts” anymore. I’m furious.

A lot of folks aren’t simply misleading the public about food choices. They are flat-out lying. I used to give them the benefit of the doubt. “They got inaccurate information somewhere,” I would think. Or, “They misunderstood what they saw/read/heard.”

But here’s the deal: Accurate information is readily available if you care enough to look for it and apply a bit of common sense in distinguishing credible vs. bogus sources. But in my book, if you spread fear and confusion without checking facts because it fits with your worldview or increases your sales, you’re lying because you didn’t bother to find out the truth first.

Here are two individuals currently topping my list of who NOT to trust with food information.

Dr. Oz. Where do I start? His list of confidently-spouted untruths is so long, he’s even been called before Congress to defend some of his claims. In a recent example of how he stokes consumer fears, his program aired a segment titled “New GMO Pesticide Doctors are Warning Against.” In this segment, he warned that the recently EPA-approved herbicide Enlist Duo is brand-new, toxic, and contains an ingredient used in Agent Orange.

Some quick facts: Enlist Duo is a combination of two very safe herbicides: 2, 4-D and glyphosate, neither of which are new. They are both readily available to consumers for use on lawns, precisely because their toxicity to humans and pets is low. The ingredient in Agent Orange that was determined to be contaminated with a deadly dioxin compound was 2, 4, 5-T, not 2, 4-D.

In this example, Dr. Oz preys on fear of the unknown with emphasis on a “new pesticide,” and fear of harm by both emphasizing the term “toxic” and unfairly and inaccurately tying Enlist Duo to Agent Orange.

Vani Hari, a.k.a. “Food Babe.” Hari is the individual behind the revelation that a chemical (azodicarbonamide) used to make yoga mats can also be found in bread. More recently, she charged that Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte contains, among other suspicious ingredients, “Monsanto Milk from cows fed GMO corn, soy, and cottonseed.” A quick cruise through her website surfaces phrases like “processed chemicals the food industry is dumping in our food,” and “Shocking: Why Are Doctors Recommending This Toxic Drink?”

Some facts: azodicarbonamide is an agent used to bleach flour and condition bread dough. Based on extensive review of safety studies, the FDA recognizes it as GRAS (generally recognized as safe).

More facts: Cows and other livestock have been consuming genetically modified crops for nearly 20 years. Analysis of feeding study data, (representing billions of animals) collected before and after GMO crops were present in livestock feed, shows no impact on animal health. Over 2,000 credible studies have shown they have no adverse effect on human health, either.

Like Dr. Oz, Food Babe’s popularity hinges on what I call the gasp effect, as in “<Gasp!> I didn’t know that! Do you mean that evil company is trying to pull one over on me to make money?!” Fear is her tool, and she makes her living by instilling it. (I’m waiting for her to start a campaign to ban dihydrogen monoxide. It’s a chemical that is tricky to pronounce and found in industrial solvents, breast milk, and baby formula.)

Approach new food factsUnfortunately, Dr. Oz and Food Babe are only two of the most notable culprits in the quest to frighten the public (and sell alternative foods or supplements while doing so). There are many more, and they are adept at preying on our deepest worries about our health and safety. My advice? Approach everything you read, see, and hear with skepticism. Watch for use of “scary” words like chemicals, toxic, processed, industrial, and unnatural. Don’t fall for fear-inducing images (like the ubiquitous syringe injecting a mysterious substance into an ear of corn). Check other sources, but be skeptical.

If you don’t have time to check other sources, then do me a favor: Don’t share anything you learn from Dr. Oz, Food Babe, or anyone else who gets your attention by trying to scare you.

P.S. Here are some of my favorite, accurate sources food and farming information:





This post appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the November 2014 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

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The following is a guest post written by 2014 summer Ag Literacy Intern Kelsey Faivre. Kelsey is a farm girl from DeKalb and sophomore at Iowa State University studying Agricultural Communications. 

Kelsey_woman_Tues_croppedAt the beginning of my internship, I thought that I was prepared to talk to people about agriculture. I grew up on a conventional grain farm, raise cattle, and am attending Iowa State University studying Agricultural Communications.

Having completed my internship, I’m not sure if anyone can be prepared enough to talk to the non-farm public about modern agriculture. Just one face-to-face conversation with a stranger had me questioning my career goals. It amazed me how fast being doubted made my chest ice over. I found myself wondering why anyone would subject themselves to this.

It was an event for families, and I was standing next to our Ag Literacy display. The woman approached me with her hands on her hips. Her little girl ran off to play.

“So, what group are you and what do you support?” she asked me. I explained what DeKalb County Farm Bureau was and that I was a summer intern.

“What is your stance on antibiotics and pesticides?” she questioned. At this point, I had a feeling I was in for a rough conversation. I asked her for clarification, and the next ten minutes were some of the most uncomfortable of my life.

She asked me questions like: “Is there any research that proves pesticides cause cancer? How do family farmers feel about being put out of business? Why do farmers in this area grow only corn and soybeans instead of food people actually want to eat?”

Then, the accusations started. “My family can’t live in the country because of all the stuff in the air. Like the chemicals. I can’t eat conventional meat because of all the antibiotics in it. I’m sure most Illinois farms are family-owned, but nationally that’s not true.”

I felt like I needed a shield to protect myself from her pointed questions and verbal shots. I answered her as reasonably as I could, using statistics as well as personal experience to share my perspective. For example, I told her that 98% of American farms are owned by families. I also explained that as a beef producer, I follow withdrawal procedures after using antibiotics to ensure that no residue is in the meat from treating my animals.  Finally, she asked me about hormone implants in beef cattle, and then cut off my response, saying “I have to get my daughter. It was nice talking to you. And kind of scary.”

I realized afterwards that she had no interest in hearing what I had to say. She may have been posing her comments as questions, but they felt like attacks on my family’s farm practices. It hurt. I believe in what we do and I believe we do it for good reasons, so being attacked is painful. I wondered, if she won’t listen to a farmer, who will she listen to?

This wasn’t the first conversation of this kind I’ve had. Each time a friend, family member, or stranger approaches me with these accusatory questions an icy hand clenches around my heart. Yet it’s also exhilarating to find the words that make people say “I’ve never thought about it that way before.” Then I know I’ve made a connection.

That’s what gives me hope for the future of agriculture. That’s why I’ve decided not to change my major to something like interior design and leave my agricultural roots behind. That’s why, despite the challenges I know will be in my future as an ag communicator, I’m still following my passion.

It’s also true that most people aren’t as aggressive. The other day at the Boone County fair, a man approached me in the beef barn and thanked me for being a farmer. Then, gesturing to the nearby animals, he asked me why some of the horses had nose rings.

That’s a conversation I think I can manage.

This post appeared in the September-October 2014 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

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