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Losing our way on food security

As is custom, there is a fair amount of reflection following hotly contested elections. While I do want to look forward, an additional 500 words or so analysis from my corner of the world won't hurt.

Before Arizona's election this year, Florida had decided in 2002 that hogs raised for food should have constitutional protections (democracies and voter initiatives can be messy at times). We did not go that far in Arizona, but understand we have crossed a threshold in this state as we now regulate food production for other than safety and health.

Those advocates with no grounding in animal husbandry decided certain practices were not humane. They trumped the best science we have available, and voters sided with them. I doubt we have seen the end of these types of public arguments.

I was fortunate this year to have participated in several private trade missions to a variety of countries. While we have 300 million people in this country, it only represents 5 percent of the world's total.

Many countries cannot feed their people, but I am also impressed that many are borrowing our best production and technology, and are figuring out solutions. They will feed their own people, and ours as well.

Brazil, as an example, now grows more soybeans than this country and they are busy investing in poultry and hog production facilities, as well as solving transportation and other infrastructure issues. Ten years ago they decided to be energy independent and now they import not a single barrel of foreign oil.

They are poised to make additional inroads into our food production. I was in Vietnam and found hog operations similar to this country. When I inquired as to why they switched from free-range production, they replied by saying it simply did not work.

It may surprise you, but half of all food and foodstuffs are now imported into the United States. Food has been plentiful and inexpensive in our country. Since we take it for granted, and while we debate the esoteric and “higher” values of western civilization, we are quietly exporting our food production. We have certain romantic values of farming that prevent us from accepting that food production should be entitled to the same economies of scale as any other business.

Our costs and our regulatory structure are all conspiring to have our food production and our food security exported to other countries. Exporting our agricultural production will continue, while we have the luxury of debating whether gestating hogs can turn around.

Of course, I don't dismiss my critics. I appreciate that economics does not trump other issues. Agriculture is adaptive when improved science tells us we must adjust. However, I stand my ground when regulatory burdens are added to food production - above and beyond health and safety - and when they are based on the luxury of emotion over science.

My travels this year remind me how fortunate we have been in this country. They have also brought home to me how willing we are to simply cede our food security.

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