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A new sheriff in town: Lusk brings facts and research to skewed arguments

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Sometimes one hour is all you need to change a perspective.

Each year, the Noble Foundation sponsors the Profiles and Perspectives Community Enrichment Series. This multipart series brings highly regarded national and international speakers to southern Oklahoma to share experiences and insights. In one hour, these speakers detail subjects from the arts and agriculture to politics and space exploration. Each speaker brings a unique story. Each story leaves a lasting impact.

This fall’s Profiles and Perspectives lecture featured Jayson Lusk, Ph.D., the Regents Professor and Willard Sparks Endowed Chair in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University. He’s also one of the most cited food and agricultural economists of the past decade.

In the wild, wild West of food and agricultural economics, Lusk is the sheriff, shooting down misconceptions with silver bullets of truth. He’s young, brilliant and in one hour will reshape how you view food production in the United States.

During his presentation, Lusk highlighted core concepts from his most recent book, The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto about the Politics of Your Plate. He stripped away the misperceptions, skewed facts and downright lies about today’s agriculture production.

“I fear perspectives are being formed by a culture that, in my assessment, has generated a misleading picture about the state of food in America,” he told a captivated audience. “I believe there is a vast under-appreciation of the consequences and costs of many of the fashionable food policies that are currently being championed.”

Topic by topic, Lusk addressed the irrational fears dominating the general public’s perceptions regarding food production, starting with pesticides. Turns out, 99.9% of pesticides are made naturally.  Of the hyper-fear about pesticides leaching into food, well, Lusk has one fact: “Three cups of coffee or 1 gram of basil a day is more than 60 times as risky as the most toxic pesticides at current levels of intake.”

What about hormones? Haven’t we all heard that hormones given to cattle seep into milk and beef, thus causing early puberty in children? False. Research shows that cattle given hormones have 3 nanograms more estrogen than cattle who have never received added hormones. To put that in perspective, raw cabbage contains more than 10,000 nanograms, and soybean oil contains almost 1 million.

Then there is the emotional and relentless debate over genetically modified organisms and biotechnology. Today, 90% of corn and 100% of soybean are GMO, and after more than a decade of eating biotech foods, there has “not been a single scientifically confirmed case of human illness that can be attributed to food biotechnology.”

Lusk went on to tackle commonly held beliefs about “romantic traditionalism”—the idea that agricultural practices from the 1940s were somehow more righteous and healthier than those used today. Again, a falsehood. Because of technology, we have more food from less land. We spend less on food than our grandparents did. And we eat better.

“The food abundance we’ve enjoyed is not because we cooperated with nature,” Lusk said. “Our abundance is a triumph of human ingenuity over nature’s indifference.”

In one hour, Lusk blitzed through subject after subject—local farmers markets’ economic impacts, among many others—before detailing how these baseless beliefs impact public policy towards the support of developing technology (because you can’t develop technology on a whim).

“A world view that celebrates naturalism in food as a core tenet is one inherently hostile to innovation, growth and progress even if they reduce poverty and bring about improved food safety, quality, health and environmental outcomes. … I am worried about raising a generation of children unwilling or unable to imagine how to improve our diets through mathematics, chemistry, biology and engineering.”

So am I.

But my confidence is bolstered when I see next-generation agricultural advocates like Jayson Lusk. I’m confident that they will inject calm, rational, researched answers into a hysterical situation and keep our country from completely destroying our food production system.

They’ll keep us safe. Because that’s what good sheriffs always do.

Bill Buckner Bill Buckner (
President and CEO of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation | Twitter | Facebook

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The views and opinions expressed in AgChllenge2050 blog posts are solely the opinions of the authors, and not those of Farm Foundation, NFP.