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Ben & Jerry's II-Creating The Strawman PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Friday, 18 November 2005
AFF Sentinel Vol.2, #52
Creating the Strawman
Leaving out the Realities

Last time we talked about the genesis of Ben & Jerry's do-gooder, save-the-family- farm campaign, which is based on false premises, increased subsidies for small farmers only, and an over-emotional concern for the human-cow personal relationship.

Ben & Jerry's has enlisted the help of the Union of Concerned Scientists to partner in their campaign and "enrich its understanding of small-scale farming and sustainable agriculture."

This partnership claims "industrial" agriculture is wrong because, while it is "extremely efficient at delivering cheap food to supermarket shelves," it is "largely dependent on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides" that can threaten watersheds, long-term soil fertility and the health of humans, animals and ecosystems. Then they charge that "waste products" from large livestock operations (manure to you and me) "present tremendous environmental challenges as well."

Now let me get this straight. They don't want us to use fertilizer. And they don't want us to spread manure. And they talk about soil fertility? I think they would flunk agronomy... but I forget... do- gooders don't want to know about the "dirty" details.

They also decry "single-crop planting of high yield, hybrid crops," irrigation (you can do without that in Vermont) and reliance on energy- intensive, "highly mechanized systems" at every step of production. In other words, we go back to horses and mules again. So then we devote millions of acres to feed for horses and places to put the manure from all those horses. They also claim "few of the jobs and dollars generated by industrial agriculture stay in local economies." Yes, most farmers commute to the farm from the suburbs of places like Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas and Denver.

Then there is what they consider the "problem" of absentee farm owners. How about the thousands of farms and ranches owned in partnerships of mothers, brothers and sisters who live off the farm while another sibling stays and runs the place. Next they will call for legislation that requires a person to live on the farm if they are going to run it!

We don't know anyone who is opposed to family farms. In fact, the overwhelming majority of farms and ranches in the U.S. are family operations, from the smallest hobby operations to the largest, most successful ones. We know of no organized effort out there to kill off family farms. Some families just manage better and/or have better resources than others. Changing the rules of economics, or paying some family farmers more than others is neither an economically or politically justifiable solution. And it sure isn't the free market.

Certainly rural communities are under pressure. But just as our communities used to be spaced out according to how far a person wanted to travel in a wagon and back, and later according to easy pickup travel, other accommodations will have to be made to adjust for fewer farmers and ranchers on the land. To expect otherwise is to hope that we stop making improvements in agricultural practices, that we go back to needing twice as many people to farm and ranch and that our agriculture join the poorer, developing countries with periodic shortages or sub- standard nutrition much of the time.

Ben & Jerry's also is opposed to BST, a naturally occurring hormone many dairymen use to boost milk production. Their Web site opposes it and the label on their ice cream - after they fought a long legal battle to put it there - notes that they do not use milk from BST-treated cows. But even their Web site admits the FDA says no one can tell the difference in the milk and it is commonly used in the industry.

So why do Ben & Jerry's oppose it? Because they feel "it is a step in the wrong direction toward a synthetic, chemically-intensive, factory-produced food supply." They see the use of BST to be a "poorly conceived, risky solution to a problem that never existed." In other words, the goals of increased milk production and lower costs for dairy farmers don't exist in their minds.

Listening to Ben & Jerry's spiel about doing things the old-time, old-fashioned, non- technological, "natural way," you'd expect Ben & Jerry's just has hundreds of old-fashioned, wooden ice cream freezers out there under the trees in Vermont cranking out ice cream, right?

Well... that wouldn't be very practical now, would it? Of course, they see no inconsistencies or irony in the sophisticated 11-step process they use for making ice cream: the 1,000-gal. blend tanks, the six 5,000-gal. storage tanks, the pair of 700-gal./hour freezers using liquid ammonia, the "variegater," the "pasteurizer," "homogenizer," "spiral hardener," "bundler" or other high-tech equipment and processes. It takes pages and pages to describe even the basics of a highly evolved system. But that's okay - that's them, not us.

That's another characteristic of do-gooders. They are great at telling you how to run your business. They may not run their businesses the way they're espousing or they might not run them that well. The business pages said Ben & Jerry's ice cream was great but their business ability wasn't up to the task of the company they had become. They sold out to Unilever in 2000.

Next Time: What Is the Big Picture?
Last Updated ( Saturday, 24 June 2006 )
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