Food


We need to stand up to the special interests, bring Republicans and Democrats together, and pass the farm bill immediately.

Barak Obama

This quote has already been posted by much greater bloggers than I (here, here and here, for example), but it is just such a great example of double-speak. I couldn’t pass it up.

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[Most Western environmentalists] have never experienced the physical sensation of hunger.  They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels.  If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists in wealthy nations were trying to deny them these things.

Norman Borlaug (1914 – 2009)

Norman Borlaug, a true unsung hero, passed away this week.  In 1999, the Atlantic Monthly estimated that Borlaug’s efforts combined with those of the many developing-world agriculture-extension agents he trained and the crop-research facilities he founded in poor nations saved the lives of one billion human beings.

See Gregg Easterbrook’s eulogy in the WSJ and Reason’s excellent interview from 2000.

I think I have a basic understanding of public choice theory, and how special interests can use political power to extort money from the rest of us.  However, I cannot understand the tremendous political power of the agricultural lobby, especially the corn growers.  Only 2-3% of the American workforce is directly employed in agriculture, and I’m sure the corn growers are only a fraction of that small percentage.  And yet, the industry continues to receive massive subsidies in the face of opposition by groups as diverse as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Motorcycle Industry Council and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, the American Lung Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club.

Everyone Hates Ethanol, The Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal (Mar. 16, 2009).

Americans are unlikely to use enough gas next year to absorb the 13 billion gallons of ethanol that Congress mandated, because current regulations limit the ethanol content in each gallon of gas at 10%. The industry is asking that this cap be lifted to 15% or even 20%. That way, more ethanol can be mixed with less gas, and producers won’t end up with a glut that the government does not require anyone to buy.

The ethanol boosters aren’t troubled that only a fraction of the 240 million cars and trucks on the road today can run with ethanol blends higher than 10%. It can damage engines and corrode automotive pipes, as well as impair some safety features, especially in older vehicles. It can also overwhelm pollution control systems like catalytic converters. The malfunctions multiply in other products that use gas, such as boats, snowmobiles, lawnmowers, chainsaws, etc.

That possible policy train wreck is uniting almost every other Washington lobby — and talk about strange bedfellows. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Motorcycle Industry Council and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, among others, are opposed, since raising the blend limit will ruin their products. The left-leaning American Lung Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists are opposed too, since it will increase auto emissions. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club agree, on top of growing scientific evidence that corn ethanol provides little or no net reduction in CO2 over the gasoline it displaces.

(HT Carpe Diem)

PETA has launched a campaign to rename fish “sea kittens.”  Apparently, fish are just suffering from some bad PR.

People don’t seem to like fish. They’re slithery and slimy, and they have eyes on either side of their pointy little heads—which is weird, to say the least. Plus, the small ones nibble at your feet when you’re swimming, and the big ones—well, the big ones will bite your face off if Jaws is anything to go by.

Of course, if you look at it another way, what all this really means is that fish need to fire their PR guy—stat. Whoever was in charge of creating a positive image for fish needs to go right back to working on the Britney Spears account and leave our scaly little friends alone. You’ve done enough damage, buddy. We’ve got it from here. And we’re going to start by retiring the old name for good. When your name can also be used as a verb that means driving a hook through your head, it’s time for a serious image makeover. And who could possibly want to put a hook through a sea kitten?

I’m thinking this could really go two ways.

green-daily-sea-kitten. . . . f-shark-cat-31361

Mike Luckovich had some ideas for other image makeovers.

lcrmlu090115

I have to disagree with PETA, though.  I like fish alot.  Anyone up for some kitten and chips?

Primary farm producers in the world’s developed countries receive about $280 billion a year in government support. In the European Union, farmers receive a third of their income from government subsidies. Beef and veal producers get more than 70% of their income from subsidies.

A typical cow in the European Union receives a government subsidy of $2.20 a day. The cow earns more than 1.2 billion of the world’s poorest people.

Mark Vaile, Australian trade minister in 2005

(HT Carpe Diem)

The New York Times has this article on fatty foods and the concept of “informational cascade.”

The notion that fatty foods shorten your life began as a hypothesis based on dubious assumptions and data; when scientists tried to confirm it they failed repeatedly. The evidence against Häagen-Dazs was nothing like the evidence against Marlboros.

It may seem bizarre that a surgeon general could go so wrong. After all, wasn’t it his job to express the scientific consensus? But that was the problem. Dr. Koop was expressing the consensus. He, like the architects of the federal “food pyramid” telling Americans what to eat, went wrong by listening to everyone else. He was caught in what social scientists call a cascade.

We like to think that people improve their judgment by putting their minds together, and sometimes they do. The studio audience at “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” usually votes for the right answer. But suppose, instead of the audience members voting silently in unison, they voted out loud one after another. And suppose the first person gets it wrong.

If the second person isn’t sure of the answer, he’s liable to go along with the first person’s guess. By then, even if the third person suspects another answer is right, she’s more liable to go along just because she assumes the first two together know more than she does. Thus begins an “informational cascade” as one person after another assumes that the rest can’t all be wrong.

Does this sound like another religious “scientific” non-debate grabbing headlines recently?  In fact, let’s play a game.  I’ll just take some of the money lines from this article on the health effects of fat and substitute a few words.

–  “The scientists, despite their impressive credentials, were accused of bias because some of them had done research financed by the food [oil] industry.”

–  “With skeptical scientists ostracized, the public debate and research agenda became dominated by the fat-is-bad [catastrophic global warming] school.”

–  “Later the National Institutes of Health [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] would hold a “consensus conference” that concluded there was “no doubt” that low-fat diets “will afford significant protection against coronary heart disease” for every American over the age of 2 [global warming is now a reality].”

–  “But when the theories were tested in clinical trials [against actual climate data], the evidence kept turning up negative.”

On both global warming and dietary fat, I’ll defer to the wisdom of Dr. Edward H. Ahrens Jr., who stood steadfast against the fat-is-bad consensus:

“This is a matter,” he continued, “of such enormous social, economic and medical importance that it must be evaluated with our eyes completely open. Thus I would hate to see this issue settled by anything that smacks of a Gallup poll.”