‘Safe, cheap food’ is a big myth says OEFFA keynote speaker Alan Guebert

By Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/15/15

GRANVILLE, Ohio – When Alan Guebert was a farm boy in southern Illinois, Cokes came in six-ounce bottles, there wasn’t much “junk” food, and most of what his family ate came fresh from the farm or from other farms 10 miles away.

“We were skinnier and healthier,” he told his Saturday audience at the 2015 OEFFA conference on Ohio organic food and sustainable agriculture.

“No wonder there’s a foodie culture today,” he added. “These foodies just want to eat like we used to.”

A lot of life has changed, the award-winning agricultural columnist told his audience of several hundred Ohio farmers and local food enthusiasts.

“But something that hasn’t changed is good, healthy food.”

While he sees the appetite for that food increasing, he also sees a greater backlash from industrial agriculture. He cited the millions recently spent in western states on defeating campaigns on labeling genetically modified food.

“Are they trying to educate me, or are they telling me what to think,” he asked.

“A lot of people in agriculture don’t want you to succeed,” he told the group. “Somehow they see your success as their failure.

“Corporate agriculture would love to say, ‘Sit down and eat, and shut up.'”

Guebert rebutted the message that industrial agriculture provides our country with the safest, cheapest food on the planet.

“Maybe ‘cheap’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” he said, citing U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics that 24 percent of cut up chicken parts carry salmonella bacteria. He also mentioned a Consumer Reports study that showed one third of bacteria on chicken was resistant to antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the pathogen causes 1.5 million illnesses each year, 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.

“When did eating become such a gamble,” he said, “and not even a good gamble.”

With all the subsidies from tax monies, Guebert said “big ag is not interested in giving up its dominant role.” But he believes the tide is turning in Washington, D.C., and that the next farm bill might just be a “food bill.”

“Are you ready for that,” he asked. “Are you ready for a member of Congress to ask you how important sustainable agriculture is to the health of America, and can you answer it in five minutes? What would you say? Do you have a vision? If not, you’d better get one.

“Good luck, Godspeed, and I mean it.”