Industrial Jargon Interpreted
The industrial food system employs some of the sharpest cleverspeak wordsmiths in our culture. Their art is describing things in a way that makes you like something even though it is reprehensible. Most people don’t realize that in the focus groups and think tanks of industrial food empires—down in the bowels of the beast—really smart, high-salaried folks create words to drive their public relations campaigns. In this column, I’d like demystify a few of these terms so you’ll be wise when they show up in news stories and policy position papers.
“Cold pasteurization” means irradiation. Since most folks understand that zapping food with radiation might alter it in some way—and it certainly does—the industry had to figure out a way to label this process more acceptably. And since most consumers believe pasteurization is a good thing, this phrase takes the negative edge off the obvious association with radiation, like mushroom clouds and Chernobyl, and makes the whole process seem like God’s gift to health. The number one food candidate for irradiation is meat, but this technology is in the cards for all foods.
“Tracking” is another name for placing government-mandated radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in animals and eventually in fruits and vegetables. The USDA has already spent millions trying to implement the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) but is running into farmers with fierce independent streaks who don’t want every backyard chicken implanted with an RFID chip and registered in a government database. Capitalizing on the foodie buzzword “sourcing,” the industrialists reinvented this draconian, unworkable idea by piggybacking on the benevolent desire to know where your food comes from. Never mind that a single fast-food hamburger contains parts of 1,500 different animals.
Our government, which can’t seem to identify corporate banking scoundrels or undocumented foreigners, will be hard-pressed to keep up with every backyard chicken, don’t you think? This whole expensive notion will in effect destroy all small farming in America—and that’s exactly what the industrialists want. A large-scale commercial chicken house only needs one chip for every 15,000 chickens, but in a small backyard flock, you would need one in every bird. How’s that for prejudicial?
Precision FarmingThe phrase “precision farming” is quite insidious. What could be better than being precise? After all, don’t we want to be precise? But what this specific term really suggests is that humans are capable of taking all the guesswork and mystery out of nature. It applies both to genetic manipulation and to the application of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides using global-positioning satellites. While applying toxic substances precisely sounds like a good idea, it begs the question, “What about not applying toxic substances at all?”
Of course, like most of these terms, “precision farming” is used condescendingly to separate its practitioners from imprecise, or general-type farmers. But heritage-based farming is general. On our farm, we don’t begin to try to manipulate the cow’s ingestion too closely, as if there were a perfectly scripted diet; we rely on her innate ability to choose one grass, legume, herb, or weed over another totally spontaneously and according to her own senses. That someone would presume to know precisely what she should eat on May 15 at 5 p.m. is itself arrogant and disrespectful of the cow’s mind. To say that my trust of the cow and the compost (which is inherently imprecise because it has all those bugs in it) is farming with unknowns—and therefore unsafe or backwards—assumes that humankind has unlocked all the mysteries of the mitochondria.
When the human genome mapping project started, the scientists assured us that at least 100,000 gene pairs would occupy the DNA strand, due to the precise calculations of the number of known genetic traits. Wonder of wonders—the project discovered only some 35,000 or so, concluding that a lot of hanky-panky is going on up and down that DNA strand that we don’t have a clue about. And yet we match, bombard, and rematch DNA with impunity, release these new life forms into the world, and act like we humans have it all figured out. Precision farming is another way to say, “I’m an arrogant know-it-all and all the rest of you hick farmers are holding back progress.” In truth, genetically modified organisms can’t be kept in a bottle and are far from controllable.
The phrase “science-based” is wending its way through Congress in food safety bills and is probably the most insidious term on my list. Industrial food elitists want government agencies to be able to conduct warrantless searches of all farms to determine whether any production practice does not adhere to science-based criteria. Of course, “science-based” farming means factory chicken houses and hog farms, irradiation, mandatory vaccinations (which assumes that the conditions in which animals are raised makes them sick), chemical usage, and anything else agribusiness loves. The whole campaign is to paint agribusiness corporations as scientific and heritage-based farmers as anti-science Luddites.
Remember, the USDA has been telling farmers like me for 40 years that science-based cattle production requires feeding dead cows to cows. (Scientists created feed that includes pulverized cow carcasses.) Isn’t it disingenuous for the very agency that promoted the techniques that by its own admission gave us bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) to then position itself as the repository of food safety? Or science? Why would you, I, or anybody else trust these folks? To them, science-based poultry raising means crowding 15,000 chickens, beak by wattle, in a house filled with fecal particulates. They say that letting chickens chase down grasshoppers and ingest clover buds on open pasture is unscientific.
Every time you see a news article quoting an expert lauding science-based agriculture, realize that he’s taking a pot shot at organic, pasture-based, multi-speciated, nonmedicated, heritage-based agriculture—the kind of agriculture that heals the land, the plants, the animals, and ultimately the eaters.
Now you’ve got the scoop. Beware.
This article originally appeared on flavormagazinevirginia.com. It is re-posted here with permission from the author.
THE WRITER: Internationally acclaimed farmer, conference speaker, and author Joel Salatin and his family operate Polyface Farms in Augusta County near Staunton, Virginia, producing and direct marketing “salad bar” beef, “pigaerator” pork, and pastured poultry. He is also co-owner of T&E Meats in Harrisonburg.
Have you ever felt misled by industrial food jargon?
Chris Regan and Ashley Mayne produce a wide array of delicious greens for the Hudson Valley.
With his new book, Forrest Pritchard tells the stories of 18 farms from all across America.
Forrest Pritchard and Smith Meadows are prime examples of sustainable family farming.
Jonathan Waxman shares his food philosophy with Slow Films.
A group of star chefs play with fire for a good cause.