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Hollywood & the farm

Farmers, ranchers, ag economists, and food advocates took center stage recently at the U. S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance Dialogue in Hollywood, California.

There was no shortage of dialogue when panelists tackled the topic of Science, Technology & Food.

Richard Smith, Monterey, California grape grower spoke about how technology is a tool  for refining food and pinpointing the most beneficial traits.

However, many consumers do not perceive this because they don’t see any evidence of how the technology is being used to make their lives better and more nutritious.

Daniel Dooley, University of California senior vice president of external affairs, responded that technology is a process. “I expect that 15-20 years from now, consumers will be seeing more of the benefits,” he responded.

Moderator Michael Specter, author of Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives, asked panelists to define the term sustainability. “I hear this word all the time, and I don’t really know what it means,” he said.

Smith responded, “It’s when we use all of the science and experience we have available today to raise crops, in a way that maintains our resources for the future.”

Neil Moseley, Pleasant Acre Farms, operates a natural vegetable farm. “My sustainability definition is taking care of the land and balancing environmental impacts so that I can pass on the farm to my children,” he said.

Katie Pratt, a north central Illinois farm women and member of Illinois Farm Families, responded. “Sustainability is using fewer resources, including water, pesticides, fertilizers. That’s what technology helps us do. It’s not just biotechnology, but other technology, too, like autosteer.”

What about the divide between conventional producers and natural and organic producers? Specter asked.

Moseley said his brother is a conventional farmer. “We’re supposed to hate each other,” he said. “We don’t need to agree on everything. There’s plenty of room at the table for everyone. If farmers divide among themselves, it’s the quickest way to defeat. Our family farm was not large enough for me, and I couldn’t get into conventional farming without a sizable investment upfront. My farm allows me to interact with consumers, and I correct many of their misconceptions about conventional agriculture.”

The panel debated other issues, such as the role of government in public health versus personal responsibility, with Exhibit A being the ban on giant soda in New York City.

Panelists remarked about how easily consumers accept technology in so many other aspects of their lives, but draw the line at food.

“It’s unfair to compare food with iPads and computers,” Dooley said. “Consumers never will accept technology in food to the same degree. It’s not that consumers fear their food. It’s more an issue of having confidence in how it’s raised.”

He stated that getting caught up in extremes on either side of the issue seems to be a common, but a pointless exercise. “Most people are in the middle,” he said.

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