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Local and global food

Farm Press editors travel a lot, especially when farm organizations and farm input suppliers hold their winter meetings.

One of the things you notice on these trips is the sameness that is enveloping much of the country. A shopping mall or business area in Fresno, Calif., looks pretty much like one in Denver or San Antonio.

That’s why editors consider it a treat when they run across a local restaurant that isn’t part of a national chain. Several come to mind: Craig’s Barbecue in Lonoke, Ark., Bozo’s in Brownsville, Tenn., Sherman’s in Greenville, Miss.

All serve relatively inexpensive food that doesn’t taste like the recipes were concocted in some chain restaurant laboratory. At the same time, many of those are finding it increasingly difficult to survive.

To an extent, USDA’s support of local food initiatives reflects this thinking. Most of us prefer to buy our vegetables from local farmers’ markets or grow them in a vegetable garden like the one First Lady Michelle Obama planted in Washington.

But not everyone can eat in a local restaurant or buy from local farmers, especially in the winters they endure in the Midwest.

The creation by USDA of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, a program designed to establish a link between local food production and local consumption, has drawn applause from environmental groups.

On the other hand, environmental activists say they are having a difficult time squaring USDA’s and the Obama administration’s policies of supporting local foods with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s ties to the biotechnology industry.

The appointment of Roger Beachy as director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture has created some qualms among “Foodies,” as local food advocates are sometimes called. Beachy was director of the Danforth Plant Science Center, which has conducted research on genetically enhanced crops.

The opposition to his appointment and of others who have been involved in biotechnology, including Vilsack, is based on the premise that all genetically engineered crops are inherently bad and should be banned.

This is despite the lack of evidence that genetically engineered crops are any different from non-GMO groups other than their ability to ward off insects or enable producers to better control yield-robbing weeds.

In recent weeks, environmentalists have taken to claiming genetically enhanced crops are not sustainable, that they have not provided higher yields and lower pesticide use. Those claims, like so much of the rhetoric of the environmental movement, are false.

The truth is that as much as we like the local eateries, they can’t feed everyone. Nor can local food initiatives provide the food needed to feed not only this country, but the 6 billion people who inhabit this planet.


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