Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Talking to Obama

In response to his interview with the Missoula Independent, I felt the need to write to the man, here is what I wrote to the distinguished Senator of Illinois:

Senator Obama,

I am a long time supporter, and I am deeply excited at the prospect of your presidency. I recognize that you will not wave a magic wand and perform to the expectations of every american, yet I feel the need to write to you about our food and the american farm system. Having just read your interview for the Missoula Independent, I would like to ask some questions and propose to you some ideas.

1. Meat and factory farms.
You mentioned that you are in support of our ranchers and farmers. Yet the industry consistently finds ways to reduce their viability in meat production.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are a scourge to these farmers and ranchers, not to mention to our food quality, to land value, to public health and to the environment. Yet they continue, massively subsidized. For detailed and well researched information, please go to the website for the Union of Concerned Scientists and read their article on CAFO's. Here is the link:

You mentioned that more environmental regulation is required to clean up factory farms, yet, as the article above shows, this is nearly impossible. Additionally, and this is the most vital element I hope you will understand: Small rotating pasture farms that have NONE of the problems of large farms have still to deal with the ALL the strict USDA policies designed for large farms. For example, a small farmer of chickens who processes the birds in an open air facility can be shut down for not having enough windows on the facility. Seriously, this has happened. Of course the USDA regulations have no conception of a slaughterhouse with no walls.
What this means is that factory farms receive both the benefits of subsidies and free run of a market that will not allow (through USDA regulations that make sense for large businesses but close down small ones) small business to operate at a profit. This is the opposite of a free market, and it is anathema to the concept of successful small business.

The bottom line is this: Meat produced on rotating pasture land is antibiotic free, GMO free, 100% ambulatory and healthy meat, that produces no pollution/environmental degredation, instead improving on its environment. Meat produced on factory farms is generally full of chemical feeds and antibiotics, even if organic, and produces so much environmentally destructive waste that it cannot be maintained without heavy subsidies to manage the waste. This is corporate welfare, pure and simple. The hidden costs of CAFO's that the taxpayers assume amount to over $350/year for every taxpayer. (see UCS article)

If you can take a few minutes to look over the UCS paper on the subject I am confident it will open your eyes to this major problem.

Now here is where I ask you to think like a revolutionary:
What needs to happen is quite simple really - and can only be accomplished by a massively powerful and influential leader, who is not cowed by special interests and who has a mandate for change. You are the only man in a generation that will have that power, and I urge you to consider, even if just for a moment, my suggestion:

Return our midwestern corridor to intensively rotated pasture land. Farming beyond the corn belt is not economically or agriculturally viable (growing corn in the corn belt is not either, but that is a different story), so we should return, slowly and carefully our land in the midwest to pasture. This will create a huge number of jobs in the country, that are safer then the terrible CAFO jobs. It will require significantly less natural resources and corn and soy products to feed the animals, who will eat over 70% grass instead of 100% corn/soy/cow brains and spinal cords/antibiotics/whatever else. And it will restore the viability of the small/mid-sized american pasture farmer.

But why should you care? In a conversation with John Bongaarts, Vice President and Distinguished Scholar at the Population Council, he told me that the US is to food what Saudi Arabia is to oil. Global food shortages can be exacerbated or subdued by our international food policies. A fine example is our recent move to ethanol, which has decreased the amount of food bearing acreage in the US, and combined with several other factors to make the international food crisis more devestating.

Imagine this then: What if 70% of the grain acreage earmarked for CAFO's was not needed anymore? What if that 70% of acreage could be returned to human food production? The US could use this valuable and massive acreage for any imaginable purposes, restoring the value of our topsoil, growing varied and healthy crops, supporting destitute countries in the midst of food crisis. Bridging the trade deficit.

2. This leads to your other major point in the article: Obesity. Obesity in america is largely based not on sedentary lifestyle or the consumption of fats, but on the consumption of refined grains and sugar. Yet we subsidize ABOVE ALL OTHERS corn, soy, and wheat - the very grains that become refined carbs/sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils, high fructose corn syrup, the products that have given americans no end of expensive health care problems, draining our system, and for too long operated at a net loss, destroying small farm after small farm. The vertically integrated model has destroyed farming and families, while it has lined the pockets of a select few. (like Monsanto - who genetically alter 90% of their Soy products)

My solution - kill the subsidies, return our farms to multiple polycultures and animal husbandry. Monocultures have knocked out half of Iowa's beautiful topsoil (as well as illinois and indiana and missouri's) in the last 30 years. Where will this soil be in another 30 years? What then will we do when we cannot grow anything at all?

These are massively important issues which you may have the power to influence and improve. Public Health, current and future food crisis, and economic viability of the american farm are all involved in the equation. But the problem is this: big business will suffer if you consider/implement anything I have suggested. But ordinary americans will have a chance to build their lives in a sustainable, healthy way.

I know who's side you are on, and I believe you will consider carefully what I have written.

For references on these subjects -
and the UCS link above, for just a few. See Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" for some more on corn, and go to
to see a real pasture farm in action.

Thanks for your time, I and so many others are glowing with pride at your accomplishments,

Sincerely, your humble servant,

Lucas Weiss

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