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October 2005 after the first frost and summer grasses had turned brown.  The growth of winter grasses was delayed by the drought.

Tough Questions

Column #177

In a letter-to-the-editor (LTE) in a local paper a lady said consumers should ask “tough questions” about food. What were her tough questions and were they relevant?

I started raising livestock in 1969. I was pretty conventional at first, but since I’ve always been quite progressive, I kept changing and improving. By 1999, I had progressed to reading peer-reviewed nutritional science about how food impacts human health. I read reports such as “Essential Fatty Acids in Health and Chronic Disease” by Artemis P Simopoulos that inspired me to change the way I eat and to market grass-fed meats. Everyone should read that report. It’s as current today as it was in 1999.

Not knowing very much about the nutrition of foods is ubiquitous amongst consumers. I was there once. Most farmers and ranchers are in the same boat. They all eat traditional foods and stick to what they like. Then there are those who try to eat sensibly. It was that group the lady was addressing in her LTE. So what were her favorite “tough questions” she deemed necessary for determining what is fit to eat for optimizing health and wellness?

They were:
1.    What kind of fertilizers do you use?
2.    How do you deal with your weeds, insects, diseases.
3.    Do you grow all the products that you sell?
4.    What types of livestock do you manage?
5.    What breed are your cattle?
6.    How do you feed them? What do you feed them? Do you use organic feed?
7.    Do you use hormones?
8.    Do you use antibiotics?
9.    Are your livestock pasture based, free range, or confined?
10.    How do you kill and process your animals?
11.    Do you do process them or does someone else?
12.    Are you local?
13.    Are you certified organic?
14.    Do you handle livestock humanely?
15.    Is your farm sustainable?
16.    Are you a small farmer or a corporate farm?

When you are about to purchase food from restaurants, grocers, health food stores, and retail outlets (butcher shops, farmers markets, roadside stands, internet) do you always ask tough questions like those to determine what you’ll buy? Even if you got answers to each question, would that help you evaluate the nutritional and safety characteristics of the food?

Then again, how do you know if the person providing the answers is actually qualified to answer them? Are they experts in the myths or the science of nutrition and agriculture. Are they motivated to say anything to make a sale? Or are they masters of the famous W.C. Fields quote: “If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

In college I studied the physical sciences, business, finance, and statistics. So when I started raising livestock in 1969, I had to study agricultural sciences regarding feeds, soils, forages, genetics, grazing management, chemical pesticide applications, healthcare, fertilizers, livestock selection, meats, agricultural management, and more. I quickly learned that what there is to know about agriculture is infinite. The pool of knowledge about farming and ranching today is incredibly complex, way beyond the comprehension of any one rancher or farmer and certainly beyond that of people with no experience.

Generally speaking, most of the consumers who are trying to eat healthier believe those “tough questions” are relevant. But in 99% of the cases, they have no ranching and farming experience nor have they studied the agricultural sciences in order to know all the ramifications involved. The tough questions definitely trigger their emotions which is why the movie “Food Inc.” was so popular. But that movie was filled with nonsense, myths, deception, and scaremongering while being almost devoid of information relating to what is and is not healthy food. It was anti-science.

Since so many know very little about food and even less about farming and ranching, most people are easily scammed about nutrition. And their assessment of ranching and farming in general has been based on reports and stories that imply farmers and ranchers do not care about the land, animal welfare, the environment, or food safety. They also have been conditioned to believe that livestock grazing grasslands contributes to global warming.

The point here is that unless a person’s knowledge about food and agriculture is based on scientific peer-reviewed research, consultations with experts, professional lectures, and practical experience, they are hard pressed to know if the answers to tough questions are truthful. And, to top that off, even if the answers to tough questions are correct, in most cases that will not provide them a scintilla of information regarding the nutrition and safety characteristics of the food.

For example, determining food quality and safety can’t be helped by knowing the farm size, location, livestock breeds, organic or conventional pesticides, which fertilizers are used, the health programs, animal welfare, processing plant, and more. That’s because only a chemical analysis of the actual food product is what counts!

All meat plants operate under basically the same inspection system even though some are state inspected and others are federally inspected. Inspectors are concerned about food safety and humane treatment of livestock. All managerial inspectors and many plant inspectors are veterinarians. They do not hesitate to condemn anything they think is improper. They have the power to shut down any meat plant with a single phone call. Regarding size, most of the largest plants have the best inspection records! Inspectors also enforce the many laws regarding contaminants, hormones, antibiotics, etc. Since questionable practices are condemned first and analyzed later, sometimes producers suffer big losses even though they are innocent! Just ask the Nimans.

In all the many nutritional research reports I’ve read evaluating the impact a food or type of food has on health and wellness, the researchers focused on food chemistry rather than the tough questions. That’s because the most important nutritional considerations regarding each food choice is its nutrient density, nutrient diversity, essential fatty acid profile, and glycemic load. Since I know the green leaf is the foundation food for animal life, I want my nutrients to mostly source to the green leaf. From analysis, I know that foods like spinach, kale, grass-fed and Omega-3 meats, and wild-caught seafood are as close to perfection as can be. Yes, I check the chemistry and that information is readily available.

So, let’s focus on meaningful questions not her tough questions.

To your health.

Ted Slanker

Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.

Don’t miss these links for additional reading:

Essential Fatty Acids in Health and Chronic Disease by Artemis P Simopoulos

“Food Inc.” Review by Ted Slanker

Food Analysis: GI, GL, Fat Ratio, Nutrient Load by Ted Slanker

Nimans Fight Blanket Recall from The Point Reyes Light

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