Corn Commentary

NPR Highlights Scary Story behind Food Babe’s Public Prominence

National Public Radio considered both the accuracy and impact of the Food Babe in a recent post on its Salt blog, “Is The Food Babe A Fearmonger? Scientists Are Speaking Out.” The results, based on conversations with a wide-array of respected experts, found her credibility with consumers far superior to the facts upon which she bases her opinions.

In short, the Food Babe creates confusion and fear because she is herself confused. Her lack of scientific expertise leads to flawed assumptions. Yet, through clever marketing, she has a bullhorn that broadcasts her deluded diatribe and amplifies her alleged authority.

The post notes that “when the Charlotte Observer asked her about such criticisms, Hari answered, ‘I’ve never claimed to be a nutritionist. I’m an investigator.’”

While this response, similar to one given by Dr. Oz during testimony before Congress earlier this year, attempts to clarify her self-professed area of expertise, it does not sit well with the experts interviewed by NPR.

“That lack of training often leads her to misinterpret peer-reviewed research and technical details about food chemistry, nutrition and health,” Kevin Folta, a professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida and vocal online critic of Hari, explained to NPR. “She really conflates the science. If anything, she’s created more confusion about food, more confusion about the role of chemicals and additives.”

The post clearly lays out a wide array of arguments against the Food Babe’s pseudoscience propaganda given by a variety of experts.

“What she does is exploit the scientific ignorance and fear of her followers,” Kavin Senapathy, an anti-pseudoscience blogger who frequently challenges the assertions in Hari’s posts, explained to Salt. “And most of us are in agreement that we simply can’t accept that.”

Kudos, NPR, for journalism that looked beyond the hype and found credible information consumers can use. The Food Babe may seem attractive on the surface, but her flawless façade conceals an ugly truth about how pretty packaging can trump solid science in our nation’s great food debate.

CommonGround: Where Meaningful Food Conversations Take Place

Today, Corn Commentary features a post from guest blogger and CommonGround Minnesota volunteer Wanda Patsche that originally ran on her blog Minnesota Farm Living as part of a month-long series.

Day 29 of my 30 Days of Ag “All Things Minnesota Agriculture” is a fairly new organization (nationally – 2010) – CommonGround. CommonGround is a group of volunteers, mostly women and moms from the farm, where our purpose is to have conversations and answer questions other women have about their food. Questions such as how there food is grown or raised. And who better to ask than a farm mom. It’s through CommonGround where conversations take place.

This organization is truly one of my favorite organizations that I volunteer for. It is funded by farmers through the corn and soybean checkoff. Checkoff monies are deducted from every farmer’s check when they sell corn or soybeans. The checkoff monies are highly regulated by the USDA and can only be used for certain purposes. And thank goodness CommonGround is one of those approved activities.

There is both a state and national organization. In Minnesota we have about 18 volunteers.

What kind of activities is CommonGround involved in?

CommonGround Minnesota is involved in events, conferences or activities where there is a high probability of other women in attendance. They have been to Women Expos, Mom’s Conventions, Dietetics and Diabetes Conferences. They also have put on an influencer event where volunteers can connect to people who have an influence on food decisions. Read more about Minnesota’s last influencer event.

Social Media Sites:

National CommonGround Website: CommonGround

Facebook: CommonGround Minnesota and CommonGround (National) 

Twitter: @CommonGroundNow

CommonGround volunteers (Wanda on left)

CommonGround volunteers (Wanda on left)

How do moms get their questions answered?

CommonGround volunteers are available. Questions can be asked in person during an event where CommonGround volunteers are present or a question can be submitted on theCommonGround website. The organization supports ALL types of farming practices, as well as all types of crops and livestock.

Why do I love CommonGround?

Yes, I am a CommonGround volunteer.

I love CommonGround for many reasons. First, I love the organization’s purpose. Never in our history has there been more of a disconnect between agriculture and consumers. Many consumers want to know more about their food. And rightly so. CommonGround is just one tool consumers have to give them access to those answers. And I love talking to consumers about what I do and why I do it!

I love the people involved in CommonGround, all the way from national to state. We have a wonderful coordinator in Minnesota, Meghan Doyle. She puts in all the behind-the-scenes work for our events. As volunteers, we have input into the events we participate in, but for the most part, we just show up to the events because Meghan does a fantastic job coordinating our events. And I love the other volunteers also. Everyone has the same goal – talk to consumers about the truth behind their food. And when you belong to an organization where everyone has the same passion, enthusiasm and goal, it truly makes volunteering fun and fulfilling.

And I love that the Corn and Soybean growers have given their trust to this organization. And if there is one message I could give those in the “decision making” capacity in these organizations, it is “We are making a difference, one conversation at a time. And sometimes it’s more than one conversation at a time. We continue to find new ways to make these connections. And all of us bring something different to the table, which makes us more visible, our voices stronger and more effective. We are better today than yesterday and we will be better tomorrow than today.”

Enjoying conversations about food with consumers

Enjoying conversations about food with consumers

 

Best of Times for Agriculture?

Dr. Lowell CatlettCorn prices may be lower but eternal optimist Dr. Lowell Catlett says it’s still the best of times right now for agriculture.

“Historically, there’s never been a better time to be in agriculture,” said Catlett this week at the Bayer CropScience 2014 Corn and Soybean Future Forum being held in Germany. “The world has never known so much wealth, we’ve gone up 20 fold in the last 20 years.”

And that means more protein, which is good for corn and soybean producers. “We got to double meat protein production because of world wealth in the next 25 years,” said Catlett. “And if we double that, we’ve got to do it with some feed products with animals that are grown intensively – better health, better feed efficiency, and less impact on the environment.”

Listen to a quick interview with Dr. Catlett from Germany here: Interview with Dr. Catlett

Of course, if you have ever seen Dr. Catlett in action, you know he is not only an optimist, but a funny and informative entertainer – listen to an excerpt of his remarks this week here: Dr. Lowell Catlett Remarks

Entertainers Should Entertain, Not Preach

jason mraz 2As a former journalist I have a deeply ingrained sense of outrage when the public is being misled, bilked or fooled. This is especially true when misinformation is used to strip away their hard earned cash.
So I thought I would send an open letter to Jason Mraz, a singer/songwriter and niche celebrity, who also spends a lot of time and money working on causes he finds important including the environment.

If you don’t have time to read any further I have two messages for the obviously talented Mraz, who played to an appreciative crowd at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis last night:

Scientific experts say organic foods are not healthier that food grown using conventional methods contrary to what Mraz told the audience last night.
2 – Good for you for having the conviction of your beliefs. I appreciate your willing to use your celebrity to help a cause. But please keep your personal politics off the stage unless you do it through your songs themselves, that way fans know what they signed up for going in.

Using the interlude between music to espouse lifestyle choices, support political candidates, or give advice on something as personal as food is just bad form. Most people go to concerts, movies, sporting events, etc… to get a mental break from the headlines of the day or meditating on philosophical issues. I have never been a Jason Mraz fan, in part due to lack of exposure, so didn’t know too much about him. Still, I admit to being very surprised when a photo of his personal garden popped up on the stage and he proceeded to espouse the benefits of organic food production.

My hat is off to Mraz for trying to live a health-conscious lifestyle, but I went to hear music not visit a lifestyle coach, let alone one without real credentials. You have every right to your opinion but please try being more selective in how you use your notoriety and bully pulpit.

An article in “Real Clear Science” earlier this summer points out the majority of Americans believe that organic foods are healthier than food grown through conventional methods. The majority of Americans are wrong. Science has shown that organic is neither healthier for you nor better for the environment. In fact, it’s not safer, more nutritious, not does it taste better. These are all notions promoted by organic food proponents who have a lot to gain or were just misled. Given the markedly higher prices for nearly all of these products, the public has a right to know they are being hoodwinked.

Orange Corn for Better Eyesight

orange-cornResearchers at Purdue University have identified a set of genes that can be used to naturally boost the provitamin A content of corn, which could help fight vitamin A deficiency in developing countries, as well as macular degeneration right here at home.

The human body can convert provitamin A carotenoids into vitamin A, which plays key roles in eye health and the immune system, as well as in the synthesis of certain hormones. Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness in 250,000 to 500,000 children every year, half of whom die within a year of losing their eyesight, according to the World Health Organization. Insufficient carotenoids may also contribute to macular degeneration in the elderly, a leading cause of blindness among the elderly in Europe and the U.S.

“This study gives us the genetic blueprint to quickly and cost-effectively convert white or yellow corn to orange corn that is rich in carotenoids – and we can do so using natural plant breeding methods, not transgenics,” said Professor of Agronomy Torbert Rocheford. Identifying the genes that determine carotenoid levels in corn kernels will help plant breeders develop novel biofortifed corn varieties for Africa and the U.S. The dark orange color of these corn varieties also makes them more culturally acceptable to consumers in African countries where yellow corn is generally fed only to animals, Rocheford said.

Note that he said this can be done by “natural” plant breeding, not “transgenics” which is another word for genetic modification. Genetically modified Golden Rice, which has been around for a decade now, was developed specifically to address vitamin A deficiencies in developing countries yet has been maligned and protested by GMO critics. Let’s hope they can speed up the “natural” process and get orange corn out there before too many more hundreds of thousands of children die.

Read more about orange corn from Purdue.

Dr. Oz, Again? Can Someone Hand Me the Remote

ozLet’s get one thing straight from the get go. Dr. Oz is a professional celebrity who hawks his opinions for money. Whether fear-mongering or shilling for “magic pills,” he makes exaggerated, even unsubstantiated claims to get attention. Attention turns into ratings. Ratings turn into money.

There is one reliable way to stop his bogus claims. Turn off your television. Tell your friends how bogus he is. Explain that he is not watching out for their best interests. Repeat the above paragraph.

If everyone ignores him, he will go away.

With that said, Dr. Oz still basks in the glow of the Oprah-effect. Her blessing radiates like a golden halo around his head. She has sprinkled fairy dust on his tongue and now his words come out as if proclaimed by an angel sitting on its tip, chiming like golden bells in the ears of many.

What makes his brand of show business particularly heinous is that he capitalizes upon this image and on the M.D. behind his name.

Today, he will air a show bashing what he calls “GMO pesticides.” From the information already online, it appears to focus on Dow’s Enlist product which is still in the regulatory process. The episode’s preview shows children eating fruits and vegetables, flashes words like “president” in red type and contains the great Oz’s melodramatic warnings of an oncoming Armageddon.

The fact Enlist is meant for use on row crops and not fruits and veggies aside, the heavy-handed tactics employed conjuring the imagery used in dramatic interpretations of conspiracy theories.

The blatant fear mongering relates back to a letter sent to the EPA by a group of scientists. The “evidence” to which they point has been discredited time and time again. Yet, they trot it out another time as if facts do not matter; baseless fear trumps fact in their logic.

Some might be blinded by the signatories’ titles. Reading to the very end of the document, find the very last line.

“The signers of this letter have done so in their personal capacities. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes and do not imply any institutional position.”

The signatories have not been given the backing of their respective institutions in this matter. They are acting on their own behalf on this one.

Dr. Oz flashes the names of terrifying illnesses on the screen. He magnifies their claims and ignores the incredibly stringent standards any pesticide must meet to gain EPA approval.

Why would he do this? If you do not wish to simply refer to the first paragraph, consider what Dr. Oz said himself when testifying before Congress on some of the claims made on his show earlier this year.

“I actually do personally believe in the items which I talk about on the show. I passionately study them. I recognize that often times they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact.”

Passionate or not, he clearly understands that what he says does not always pass for fact. He willingly creates panic and stress amongst those who place their trust in him. His credentials may have meant something once. Now, they seem sullied as he breaks his oath to “first do no harm” every time he misrepresents his program as factual advice provided by a caring doctor.

Together, let’s turn him off. Then, tell those we care about to do the same. Dr. Oz relies upon our complicity to promulgate his propaganda. Shutting him off will shut him down.

Food Babe’s Science Is as Fluffy as Her Marabou Slippers

From suburban dog parks to Park Avenue, people are buzzing about the Food Babe. Using crazy videos filmed in low-cut workout clothes, she has garnered quite a bit of attention seemingly overnight. Television being a visual medium, talk shows book the petite brunette with the telegenic face. She is getting more attention than counterparts whose credentials outshine their smiles.

All of that is changing though. Today, Bloomberg news compiled a growing list of media critiques of the Food Babe and her pseudoscientific comrades. The article, based on the premise that public conversations on food should actually include credible data from certified subject matter experts, dissects how she rose to internet empowerment and how the food industry is responding. While the article approaches her from a less biased, more respectful place than she uses in her own work, it shines a spotlight on something that has been missing from her pseudoscience stunts – the truth.

“They are attacking the messengers who are spreading the truth,” she vented to her Facebook fans in August. “They are hoping I, along with other activists, including you, just give up.”

Ms. Food Babe, the truth is not a flexible concept. A computer scientist has no business pretending engineering classes qualify her to speak on food chemistry and public health issues. Every ingredient that you cannot pronounce, which notably you might be able to if you were an actual expert, does not secretly cause death. Your own personal ignorance does not provide a substantive basis for your public indignance.

People spend years upon years studying the vast array of subjects necessary to form a well-qualified, thoughtful opinion on food issues. From doctors to dieticians and nurses to nutrition scientists, credible, scientifically sound data does exist.

Cash hungry charlatans touting trumped up theories provide more flash than facts. Don’t fall for their hip hype.

Serious conversations deserve serious participants. In conversations about food, too much is at stake to substitute pseudoscience for the real thing, even if it comes in a prettier package.

It’s Time to Speak Up!

Today, Corn Commentary shares a post from CommonGround Wisconsin volunteer Kim Bremmer. To find more posts on a wide variety of subjects authored by CommonGround volunteers, click here.

It’s Time to Speak Up!

Kim BremmerOne of my favorite ways to start the day is at the counter of my favorite coffee place, ordering a grande triple shot caramel macchiato and a spinach and feta breakfast wrap. But I ALWAYS ask them to use regular eggs instead of cage-free eggs.

I am usually met with looks of question, not only from the barista but also from all the people in line with me. The response is always a disappointed, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that, ma’am.”  I then smile and ask them to please pass on my message to the corporate office that I would like the choice.

But the best part is that I then have a captive audience for the next 20 seconds or so.

I use that time to explain that I prefer eggs from chickens grown in cages. I used to raise chickens outside, and I know how much they like to eat things out of the dirt, including bugs, grubs and more. I also have friends who have some really nice chicken barns, where they raise very healthy, happy birds in cages.

It’s time to speak up.

With less than two percent of the population actually farming today in the United States, we have opportunities every day to talk to about food production with a very large audience that has never actually “been there and done that.”

We now live in a time when the opinions of journalists and marketing that plays on emotions trump solid peer-reviewed science every single day.

All of this well-funded creative marketing wants consumers to buy the latest and greatest trend: organic, natural, GMO-free, rBST-free, cage-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, humanely raised, responsibly produced and the list could go on and on. Consumers are led to believe that the latest buzzword must be good and conventional food production must be bad. But, all of these strategically worded labels come at the expense of consumers’ trust in agriculture.  The story of agriculture is being told by people selling stories, not by those actually involved in agriculture every day.

Well, it’s time for us to sell our story.

Another one of my favorite things to do is go to the grocery store either on Friday afternoons at 5:00 or Sunday mornings right after church. Some of my very best conversations about farming and food happen then!

It is so easy to strike up a conversation with someone comparing labels in the dairy aisle or meat counter and ask if they have any questions. I tell them I am simply a mom who understands the importance of feeding my family the healthiest food.

I also tell them I get the great opportunity to work on different farms every day. I can share my perspective on the different food-production practices because I work with all of them. The real tragedy is how truly scared people have become of food, even though we are producing the safest food in history, using fewer resources than ever before. My mission at every visit to the grocery store is to give people permission to not fear their food.

It’s time to speak up.

I am proud of conventional agriculture and not afraid to feed my family conventional food. I see how the animals are raised every day and how the land is cared for. I have friends who are organic farmers, but I would never pay more for the food they produce.

The biggest misconception is that a label means something is safer or healthier. A great example of this is the fact that added steroids and hormones aren’t even allowed in poultry production in the United States, yet consumers continually pay a premium for “hormone-free” chicken in the grocery store.

I believe that it doesn’t matter which production method a farmer uses because it is really the human element that makes all the difference. I always encourage people who have questions about agriculture to visit a farm instead of just “Googling” it.

Or ask a farmer by contacting a farmer-volunteer at www.findourcommonground.com. I could take you to visit a beautiful 35-cow dairy or a beautiful 3,500-cow dairy. Both use very different management practices, but both provide safe, high-quality food. If the farmers I see every day choose to do their job by responsibly using antibiotics, GMOs, rBST, cages and barns, I feel they should be able to.  I don’t ever want to be forced to pay more for food with a fancy label when I understand the safety of conventionally raised food and get to see how it’s produced every day.

I am proud of agriculture today. You should be, too. Share the real story.

It’s time to speak up.

Quick and Easy Corn on the Cob

Sweet corn is a summer treat, but few people will go to the trouble of cooking corn on the cob for just themselves. This YouTube video showing a fast and easy way to make corn on the cob for one has gone viral this summer. I can’t wait to try it!

Let’s Move! Science Backs GMOs

Whether one is a fan of the White House’s Let’s Move! initiative or not, it almost inarguably plays a large role in our nation’s discussions on food. Today, Let’s Move! Executive Director and White House Senior Advisor on Nutrition Policy Sam Kass made a major statement about the future of food during the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives conference backing the science behind GMOs and advocating for a cultural shift toward their acceptance.

Kass’s remarks, covered in Politico Pro, indicated his thoughts on how the impact of climate change and adaptive technologies will shift the currently fierce debate over GMO foods.

“I think this debate is naturally going to start to shift,” said Kass. “I think the science is pretty clear. Ultimately I think the science will win out.”

His comments echoed those often made by groups such as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and CommonGround in espousing the importance of consumer choice and access to factual information about the quality and safety of the abundant food options produced by U.S. farmers and ranchers.

“I think part of the problem with the debate as it stands is that it’s either one or the other,” said Kass. “Every side says my way is the best way. Diversity [in agriculture] is strength.”



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