WXXI AM News

Dan Charles

Eighteen years ago, on New Year's Eve, David Fisher visited an old farm in western Massachusetts, near the small town of Conway. No one was farming there at the time, and that's what had drawn Fisher to the place. He was scouting for farmland.

"I remember walking out [to the fallow fields] at some point," Fisher recalls. "And in the moonlight – it was all snowy – it was like a blank canvas."

It's a continuing paradox of the meat industry. Every year, more restaurants and food companies announce that they will sell only meat produced with minimal or no use of antibiotics. And every year, despite those pledges, more antibiotics are administered to the nation's swine, cattle and poultry.

Beth Briczinski has been keeping a list of all the things companies are turning into products labeled as a kind of milk. "There's soy and almond and rice," she says. "Hemp, pistachio, macadamia nut, sunflower."

Briczinski is highly annoyed by these products. She's vice president for dairy foods and nutrition at the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents the original milk producers: dairy farmers.

This week, just days before he says goodbye to his job, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack landed one last punch in a brawl that's gone on at his department since he got there eight long years ago.

If you're curious about what people really think about some of the hottest of hot-button food controversies, the Pew Research Center has just the thing for you: a survey of attitudes toward genetic modification, organic food and the importance of eating healthfully.

The survey results are published in a 99-page report that can keep you occupied for days. But if you're pressed for time, here are some of the most interesting highlights that caught our eye.

The day after Donald Trump swept to victory, the head of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Zippy Duvall, released a videotaped statement aimed at the President-elect and other political leaders in Washington.

"Rural America turned out and made their voice heard in this election," he said. "Now it's time for our elected leaders to support rural America."

Local food is fashionable. Customers are swarming farmers' markets. Organic vegetables sell at a premium. So what's to keep a young, smart, enthusiastic would-be farmer from getting into this business and making a good living?

Allegedly, there's a tsunami washing up on American shores. It originates in Chinese beehives and the American beekeepers who've spotted it are hopping mad.

In 2008, food prices around the world surged and awakened fears – which continue to this day — that the world could re-live the disastrous food shortages of the early 1970s.

Nothing is more basic and simple than food. Yet it comes to us courtesy of a long, complicated supply chain that spans the globe.

That chain delivers food cheaply — but it can break. Four years ago, it blew up in most spectacular fashion, affecting hundreds of millions of people who rely on rice for sustenance. That crash — the great rice crisis of 2008 — was a true disaster for some of the poorest people in Asia and West Africa.

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