John C. (Jack) Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president

Connecting the Dots

Grocery shopping is pretty easy. Walk the aisles, check the prices and maybe read a few labels. You don’t have to think about carbon footprints, free range pigs, foreign trade or childhood obesity while you’re filling your cart. You can worry about that stuff later.

Therein lies the problem. We’re not connecting the dots.

It’s the product of a complex system of hard working families, nature’s vagaries and, frankly, the political, social and moral choices you make. Being a smart consumer isn’t about clipping coupons and reading nutrition labels; it’s about being informed before you cast a ballot.
Most of us are ill-informed. The public debate over food is decidedly one-sided. We’re constantly exposed to claims that farming hurts the environment, animals and us. What we rarely hear is the converse: Poor choices on these big-picture issues can hurt farming, which in turn hurts us all.

I understand the rhetorical imbalance. Americans have little exposure to the business side of farming. That opens the door to people who can profit by decrying the evils of modern agriculture. Farmers typically haven’t fought back; they’re too busy feeding the world and have little stomach for public finger-pointing. But it’s reached a point where farmers are stepping up. November’s passage of Issue 2 is an example of farmers speaking out. Thank you for listening. Ohio Farm Bureau and our friends across the food chain will be doing a lot more of that kind of outreach because we understand what’s at risk. You need to understand too.

Cap and trade legislation is a perfect example. Scientists don’t agree on the causes and fixes for global warming, but the regulatory freight train keeps moving. This legislation is going to cost farmers, and you, a bunch of money. The food system is energy intensive. Crop land could be shifted to forests. All told, cap and trade could cost a family of four about $3,000 in higher energy and food costs. Your three grand buys, by EPA’s own estimate, a global greenhouse gas reduction of less than 1.4 percent. Meanwhile, foreign competitors are burning fossil fuels to build cars and grow food for a world of customers for whom Americans can no longer compete.

It isn’t just the green world that’s costing us green. We ban chicken housing and watch egg costs soar 40 percent. We threaten to end trade agreements that account for $20 billion in Ohio sales. We make policy choices based on emotion and forget to do the math. It’s going to come back to haunt us.

There will be no “farmageddon” where the grocery shelves suddenly go bare. But, just as surely, we are headed for a death by a thousand cuts. A tax here, a regulation there. Some ballot issues and lawsuits for good measure. We are putting at risk the greatest food production system ever known to man. Fewer than 2 million farmers feed 300 million Americans and a sizeable portion of the rest of the world. For about 10 percent of our income, our grocery store shelves are filled with food imported from throughout the nation and grown right outside our towns; food produced conventionally and organically; food raised on large commercial farms and small niche farms; food that fits any diet, any taste and any belief. And yet, we unnecessarily impede this modern miracle.

Here’s something to chew on. Next time you hear agriculture being blamed for the ills of the world, take the time to hear what a farmer has to say. Consider the thinking of those who feed their families by feeding yours and connect the dots between the choices you make and what’s on your plate. Above all, take care to not accidentally bite the hand that feeds you.