Shill or…not?

I like to bust myths here on the ol’ blog.

From the so-called dangers associated with GMOs to ethanol production, regulations, animal welfare and the often misquoted study that speaks of environmental degradation and ozone depletion associated with livestock production, I’ve covered it. But a friend of mine brought to my attention there’s one myth I haven’t done much to address: the Farm Bureau myth.

In other words, the often repeated myth that the Farm Bureau, both on the national and state level, is just a shill for ‘big ag,’ lobbying for the interests of enormous corporations rather than the farmers that make up the membership.

So, if the Illinois Farm Bureau isn’t a shill for big ag, what exactly is it? And what does it do?

For starters, the crowd accusing the Illinois Farm Bureau of being a lobbyist group for ‘industrial agriculture’ is partially correct. The Illinois Farm Bureau does devote some of its resources to lobbying, both on the state an national level. Where shill-crying crowd goes astray is the ‘big ag’ or ‘industrial agriculture’ part of the equation.

Trust me when I say that companies like Monsanto or Tyson or any other seed or food company have enough liquidity to pay for their own lobbyists, and certainly don’t need us to take care of that for them. Instead, when the Illinois Farm Bureau is talking with Congressmen and Senators, we’re doing it on behalf of our members. Illinois Farm Bureau has contacted state and national elected officials to talk about everything from GMOs, water quality and regulations, to the farm bill, animal care and free trade.

What’s more, we ask our members to do the same:

Sometimes our stance on an issue may fall in line with an agricultural company, but that doesn’t mean we’re on their payroll.

And here’s the thing: it’s Illinois Farm Bureau members who direct lobbying efforts, set priority issues and even direct staff on how to work with the media and consumers.

Each December, at the Illinois Farm Bureau annual meeting, members of the organization gather together and vote on policy and priorities for the coming year.

Policy ResolutionsFrom education, energy and national affairs, to transportation, marketing and commodity programs and government finance, and everything in between, our members review current policy and vote to keep it the same or amend it. They also introduce new resolutions based on current events or legislation and vote on whether they should be included in the policy resolutions for the coming year.

Once those resolutions are finalized at the end of the meeting, it’s up to Illinois Farm Bureau staff to make sure that our activities, lobbying and outreach match what was voted on by the members.

But lobbying isn’t the only thing the Illinois Farm Bureau does. We also work with farmers to answer consumers’ questions about farming, work with the media to provide sources and information for agricultural stories, provide legal advice and information for farmers who need it, fund scholarships and agricultural education initiatives and even develop advertising and social media campaigns — all for our more than 82,000 farmer members.

O.M.G., you guys. It’s April. How the heck did that happen? April means I’m one month (well, a month and a week) away from my daughter’s first birthday. HOLY. CRAP. I’m not much on big (or small, for that matter) parties — especially for babies and toddlers. Despite that, we will be having a small party for H. And by small, I mean grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles only. And by that I mean we’re expecting almost 30 people at our house. Oy. I guess it’s time to put on my big girl pants and get the party planned, i.e. get the house cleaned. But I digress. It’s time for another Weekly Round Up:

  • This wonderful podcast, from my friends DeAnna and Holly (and a gal who I think should be my friend because, clearly, we’re both awesome – Emily). DeAnna, Holly and Emily regularly record their Confessions of a Farm Wife podcasts and, this time, they were live at the Women in Agriculture conference. It’s great!
  • And this Op Ed from the Washington Post’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board examined the idea of GMO labeling and came to the conclusion that it’s just not necessary. Follow the link and read the op ed — it’s definitely worth your time.
  • This story, from KSDK.com. It’s not necessarily ag-related, but can be translated pretty easily into ag programs across the state since it’s possible they’re going to be facing some pretty hefty budget cuts themselves. When Gillespie High School construction trades teacher Mark Goldasich saw a measly $600, annually, for his budget — chopped from the year before — he knew he had to do something. So, with the help of his daughters, Goldasich started a Facebook page offering up the work of his students. Now, business is booming.
  • And this, in honor of April Fools’ Day on Wednesday. Posted by Yellowstone National Park, it does explain why so many of the roads up there are closed…Yellowstone April Fools
  • This article, which gives Holly Spangler her second appearance on this week’s Weekly Round Up. File this under questions you don’t ask a farmer. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for the planter breaking down or, in Holly’s case, a calf with an injured leg, when you ask, “How is planting going?” or “Calving going okay?”
  • And this. Again, not necessarily ag-related, but I had to share because it’s just so great! Temple Grandin is well known by parents who have kids with autism (and even those who don’t!) because she herself has autism and has done so much to help kids who are just like her. But you may not know she’s well known in livestock circles, too. Because of her autism, she understands how animals, who can’t always communicate with humans, feel and react to certain situations and has been instrumental in designing humane livestock handling systems. How cool is that?Autism Awareness

Under the microscope of the general public, animal agriculture has often been a target for consumer scrutiny and legislative ‘fixes’. Now, a three-year study is helping to lay to rest questions surrounding one facet of animal agriculture — egg production.


The study, which evaluated three egg production systems in terms of food affordability, egg quality, animal welfare and worker health, was commissioned by a coalition of members, including animal welfare scientists, universities, associations, egg suppliers, restaurants and other food companies.

The research intended to identify the trade-offs and risk factors among housing systems, which included conventional cage, enriched colony and cage-free aviary systems, often called “free-range.” While the study had no intention to identify a “best” or “worst” system, study results did give an affirmative nod to one system in particular: conventional cage production.

In the study, egg quality rated the same across all three housing types. However, the results were different when it came to worker health, food affordability and animal welfare.

In fact, the study showed that one egg production system in particular, free-range, led to high death rates in chickens, with more chickens showing breast bone damage, likely from failed flight landings — information that runs contradictory to what most animals rights groups and consumers believe.

The free-range system also recorded the poorest air quality of all systems reviewed, meaning dust masks for workers, and increased labor. Finally, the research showed that eggs in the free-range system cost 36 percent more to produce than the conventional production costs.

What does all of this mean? According to Illinois Farm Bureau Livestock Program Director Jim Fraley, it means that farmers who deal with these animals every day — not those legislators or animal rights activists on the outside — really do know what’s best for their animals.

“Often we humans think we know what is best for an animal,” Fraley said. “There has been a movement to raise hens in a free-range environment, or to give them more room. Interestingly enough, the system in this study with the highest mortality rate was the aviary system, or the free-range system.”

The Dirty Word

Yesterday morning, I read an article shared by Holly Spangler over at Prairie farmer, titled “When did science become a dirty word?”

The article, written by Cathleen Enright, executive director of the Council for Biotechnology, appeared on CNBC.com and hit on some of today’s most hotly debated topics, including climate change, vaccinations and GMOs. The week before last, The Truth About Trade and Technology posted a similar article, titled “On Vaccinations and GM Food: It’s Time to Accept the Scientific Consensus.”

It’s not the first time I’ve discussed this topic here on the Illinois Farm Bureau blog. In fact, just last month I wrote about how many of us seem to have trouble marrying scientific information with our own emotions and beliefs.

And in many cases, it’s not an all-or-nothing situation. Take, for instance, the three topics Enright discussed in her article. Most people don’t believe or disbelieve the data behind climate change, vaccinations and GMOs all together. In many cases, they may whole-heartedly believe in the science behind vaccinations, yet disregard the same peer-reviewed science backing GMOs.

As Enright said:

“Increasingly, consumers have been standing up for scientific evidence as being reliable on one issue, but questioning its validity on another, even when there’s an equally rigorous body of evidence. That’s because in the age of Google, social media, personal blogs and partisan media, it’s easy to find sources that reinforce a personal point of view. Sometimes it’s more convenient to believe your favorite blog with a similar perspective than time-tested scientific evidence to the contrary.”

So what’s the deal? Why do we continue to encounter the outright refusal to believe science-based information? Especially when, I would argue, this same predicament wouldn’t have happened a generation ago.

Enright believes it’s because, in the internet and social media age, it’s becoming easier and easier to find information that backs our own personal opinions, whether or not they’re right. In other words, we’re making up our minds on a topic, then finding the research, or non-research as the case may be, to support our own opinion. That, my friends, is decidedly unscientific.

Such is the case with vaccinations and GMOs. For both, the ‘research’ against is about as airtight as a fishing net. The difference, however, is a larger majority of Americans believe in the science of vaccinations than that of GMOs.

The reason? Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant said, basically, it’s because Monsanto got too big for its britches.

In a recent article published in UK’s The Independent, Grant said the company’s ‘hubris’ played a role in consumers’ distrust for GMOs and the company had failed to appreciate public concerns over GM technology when it was introduced nearly 20 years ago.

“There never had been a lot of trust in companies, particularly not big companies and certainly not big American companies,” he said.

“[But] we were so far removed from that supermarket shelf, that was never something we gave a lot of thought to. We never thought about our place in the food chain.

“I think as an agricultural community in general — and Monsanto in particular — there is so much more to do to explain where food comes from and how it is produced and how much more we’re going to have to make.”

So how do we fix this? And maybe fix is the wrong word. After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. So maybe the better questions is, how do we bring science back? How do we underscore the importance of the scientific process, the data and the end results that show a particular finding is not only correct, but well-researched and safe?

I think Monsanto is on the right track by starting out listening to consumer concerns and answering questions.

You can’t un-ring the bell, but you can do everything in your power to make sure you’re prepared the next time the bell does ring. So ask the questions and listen to the answers. If you’re still certain that GMOs aren’t for you, that’s fine. But make sure you’re basing that opinion on peer-reviewed, sound science.

Time for another edition of the Weekly Round Up! This week, be sure to check out:

  • This popped up on my newsfeed Tuesday and I thought it was just TOO COOL. We all know Rosie the Riverter, but what about the Farmerettes, who made their appearance a generation earlier?
  • This. Because it’s AWESOME. (courtesy of ShowChampions Photography)ShowChampions Photography
  • This article, from Holly Spangler at Prairie Farmer, calls into question a recent CBS News story about women and farming. Based on the information presented, Holly poses some interesting questions — it’s definitely worth your time. According to Holly, the CBS MoneyWatch story noted that:

    “Women who are farmers and ranchers face the biggest pay gap out of all professions measured by the U.S. Censure Bureau. It also mentions that the U.N. says women farmers are likely to have smaller farms; women represent 1 out of 10 farmers and ranchers; and women farmers earn $25,410 a year, while male farmers earn an average of $41,691 a year.”

  • THIS. Because, it’s awesome. Photographer Marjorie Gayle Guyler-Alaniz has spent the last couple of years photographing women in agriculture and the pictures, well, they’re beautiful. And, yes, I realize I’m probably really late to the game here, but whatever. Just click the links. You’ll be so glad you did.
  • This article on the Truth about Trade and Technology. Interestingly, Monsanto Chief Executive Hugh Grant admits that ‘hubris’ contributed to consumer backlash against genetically modified food. In fact, he said the company failed to appreciate public concerns over GM technology when it was introduced nearly 20 years, but says without the public’s acceptance of GM foods, it will be impossible to feed the world’s growing population.
  • This video, which was shared by our friend Katie Pratt over at Rural Route 2: The life and times of an Illinois farm girl. Pretty awesome stuff. Farming is a tough job — especially in the winter. And sometimes, when it’s really tough, we need a little back up. Carry on, farmer. Carry on.

Time for another edition of the Weekly Round Up. Buckle up, here we go!

  • This, from my broadcasting friend, Meghan Grebner. Meghan’s cousin is the star of the article and the article — and the story — is SO. WORTH. THE. READ. For more on Dalaney and her experience judging at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, check out Brownfield Ag News.
  • This blog, from Illinois farm mom, Emily Webel, was published last week and I loved it. Then, I promptly forgot about it. Because I’m awesome. So, I’m posting it this week. In her post, Emily writes a letter to her local County Market, calling them out for misrepresenting conventional agriculture.
  • This. Because, of course. Pasture Bedtime
  • Did you see this? I mean, how awesome would hangover-free wine be? Sign me up, please!
  • This article, from NPR’s The Salt, which combines two of my favorite things: food and marketing. It’s super interesting, and in an added bonus (or not?) it will make your mouth water.
  • This, because it’s oh so true. Don’t ask me how I know.   Ponies
  • And did you see this story (and the follow up video) from Indianapolis about a farmer who saved a calf who had been born in the cold by warming the calf in his family’s hot tub? How do you clean that up?   
  • And, finally, this, which was posted a couple of weeks ago but I just had a chance to read this week. As a new (does mothering a 10 month old mean I’m still a new mom?) mom, it spoke to me. Both because of the food information in there, but also because of its message to all moms: no judging. We’re all doing the best we can.

Did you know today is National Ag Day (even, National Ag Week)? For someone like me, with many friends involved in production agriculture or the agricultural industry, it was pretty hard to miss — especially on social media:

Ag Day If you ate today National Ag Day - AFBF National Ag Day - Iowa Soybean National Ag Day - Prairie Farmer National Ag DayAg Day - Erin National Ag Day 1 National Ag Day 2 Why Farm Yield 360But if you aren’t involved in all things ag, today’s ‘national holiday’ might have slipped by you.

So what is Ag Day all about, really?

National Ag Day, which began in 1973, is a product of the Agriculture Council of America (ACA), which is made up of leaders in agriculture, food and fiber:

“National Ag Day is a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture. Each year, producers, agricultural association, corporations, universities, government agencies and countless others across America join together to recognize the contributions of agriculture.”

In a nutshell? It’s a day for all to learn all things ag! What could be better?

To help further the goal of celebrating the contributions of agriculture, writers, ag groups and farmers across the U.S. are sharing their stories in an effort to shed some light on today’s modern farming techniques. if you’re looking for some light reading on this National Ag Day, be sure to check these out:


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