Why do we always seem to take sides these days?
In politics, it’s either hardcore conservatism or bleeding heart liberalism.
In sports, you either love or loathe the Yankees (the latter, thank you very much).
In religion, it’s either My Way or—well, you know what the “alternative” is.
Now with the farm bill (hopefully) nearing enactment, the debates over agricultural policy have taken on a similar polarity, with the most strident voices being the activist groups using farm policy as a club to hammer home their agenda.
Consider this recent appeal from Farm Forward, normally a moderate group that counts among its priorities several initiatives I support: agricultural diversity, funding for specialty producers and an urgency about recruiting the next generation of growers and producers. In a recent outreach to their constituency, the group’s executive director led off with this right hand to the chin:
“We’ve made great progress, but we still have a long way to go. Make your donation now and together we can make factory farming a thing of the past.”
Really? That’s the goal? To eliminate 90%, maybe 95% of all food production in America?
Now, I understand that using loaded terminology is obligatoire for fundraisers. The goal is to press people’s buttons and get them to click on the group’s “Donate Now” button in response. I get it.
But what I don’t get is how any reputable reform organization could advocate for what amounts to the destruction of U.S. agriculture. Of course, the majority of consumers are clueless about food production, so “make factory farming a thing of the past” probably sounds pretty plausible to most people.
The slow pace of real reform
A much better approach to real reform would be to talk about genuine, positive transformation of the system, rather than demonizing our current system, then recklessly calling for its elimination. That’s not only troubling on its face, but ironic in the context of Farm Forward claiming that, “We’re not your average advocacy organization.”
No, you really are typical of every other advocacy group that uses the specter of factory farming as a platform on which to fund-raise.
Without exception, a transformation of any institution—whether it’s agriculture, transportation, medicine, jurisprudence or whatever—involves two parallel tracks. One is the slow, often dissatisfying process of modifying what is typically a huge, cumbersome, non-responsive organization. That takes years, involves inordinate amounts of energy and often yields pitifully miniscule results.