by Richard Oswald, Missouri Farmers Union president

Read the original post at the Daily Yonder.

Industrial agriculture erases the identity of our food, filtering its origins as cleanly as removing bee pollen from honey. Just mix, blend, inject it with a brand – and it’s ready for a shelf near you.

Who made your food?  In these changing times that’s becoming an important question. Maybe it’s something we should all ask more often as industrial food becomes rule over exception.

But what makes food industrial? With so many working families and no one staying home to cook every day, don’t we need fast food?

When we buy those things at the local burger store or chain supermarket, we get mostly what we expect. The public is well versed in what’s in industrial food–things like additives, drugs, antibiotics, hormones, preservatives.

We hear about that stuff all the time. Trading the good life for shelf life is the price we pay for fast-lane life in the land of milk and honey, America.

But industrially produced food is cropping up where we’d least expect it. Food Safety News points out that in America these days, not even honey is all it’s cracked up to be. Importers and wholesales of what is thought of as one of the most wholesome food products on earth are squeezing the life out of honey. Processors say it’s because U.S. consumers want a crystal clear product. But critics point out that ultra filtration of honey (and dilution with non-honey ingredients) lets importers blend cheaper and more profitable products from around the world.

No one is the wiser because filtration erases genetic and biological fingerprints that could reveal country of origin. If it’s true consumers prefer their honey that way, then for big food, that’s a very convenient truth.

At first glance filtering might seem like a good idea, a way to remove contaminants. The trouble with that thinking is that the “contaminants” in many cases are good things. Plant pollen helps make people immune to allergic reactions, (think hay fever). Pollen and DNA in honey both reveal where the product came from. While removing genetic information of when and where honey was created, filtration does nothing to change the presence of bad things in food like antibiotics and dangerous chemicals.

Industrialization of honey amounts to making an inherently good product, requiring little in the way of processing, less beneficial. It may even make it easier for Big Food to create a product more dangerous to the consuming public.

Almost all the organic honey sold in the United States comes from Brazil. Sixty percent of all the other honey consumed here comes from Asia. It’s been said that in many cases, wary consumers would have more luck deciphering state secrets than finding out where their honey came from.

Unlike honey, most (but not all) dairy products sold in the United States are American in origin. More and more those products are starting to resemble honey in that they are blended and refined to the point they could be anything coming from anywhere. That’s something that happens in our food more and more.

Small dairy farmers able to market raw, unrefined milk directly to consumers and ultra-pasteurized organic milk seem almost like direct opposites. But the thing both locally grown raw milk and organic milk have in common is that they take the preferences of health-conscious consumers into consideration by being chemical and antibiotic free.

That makes them, simply, real food from real farms.

I’ve eaten honey straight from the comb, and I’ve drunk milk right from the cow. Generally speaking, the closer you are to the source of your food, the safer and fresher food is. That’s the way it used to be for me. But lately I’ve also used ultra-pasteurized organic milk purchased from a chain-store grocer. Overlooking the source, it’s really an amazing product that keeps for what seems like forever when compared to standard, pasteurized milk.

The last gallon of standard, Big Dairy milk I bought soured before I ever got around to opening it. That’s why it was the last gallon of Big Dairy milk I’ve bought.

It’s also one reason why I have to smile when I hear or read that drug-free, antibiotic-free organic offers no benefits to the consuming public, or that raw milk from the local family dairy is dangerous.

The reasons food is packaged with so many treatments and preservatives is because the average American meal, blended from many different sources, may travel thousands of miles before arriving at your plate. What started out as a food system designed to deliver seasonal products to consumers regardless of what time of year it was has become an industrialist’s paradise. The farther we go to get food, the more concentrated industrial food power becomes and the less visible the actual source is. Animals are fed unnatural feed. Foreign ships unload bulk commodities shrunk to individual ounces and sold in carefully designed packaging for 10 times the original cost.

Something that started out as one thing is colored and treated to taste and look like something else. The more something is blended, the less clean it is. Chemical treatments make up for lack of quality and safety.

We’re blinded by packaging and advertising that never seems to mention the true origin of food. That’s the problem with milk and honey. Our government talks about exports and imports in terms of dollars, but the sense of what it takes to produce real food and how farmers make a living doing that is lost because we value consumption in terms of currency exchange more than we value genuine production, or the real basis of food independence.

Like our food production, population and consumption is a number on a balance sheet resembling corporate profits and political polls. Only a handful of people in a few states even seem to care about consumer health.

The people who grow food from scratch are almost never considered any more than health  of people who consume it.

We kill our bees with GMO grain sold around the world and protect patent holders of that grain from lawsuits for the damage  they do. We replace the honey we can no longer produce with imports from China. We destroy domestic dairy prices so that cheap milk products from Europe can be bought in bulk and sold here at a profit. We move families off the farm, move the farms farther away, and concentrate them in the hands of corporations so the public won’t see what they do. Then we pass laws to make poor judgment (something ethics used to prevent), bad animal husbandry and food ingredient laundering across borders legal, even to the point of giving it preferential treatment.

A new book, Pandora’s Lunchbox, is full of details about factory food. It all boils down to the fact that even after reading lengthy ingredient lists, it’s hard to know for sure what’s really inside.

The only way to contain the damage to our food system is by not buying the box and opening it in the first place.

If nothing changes in the way we produce and sell our food, you may never know the real identity of the corporations that manufactured your food or what it really is, let alone the farmers who made it.

Richard Oswald, a fifth generation farmer, lives in Langdon, Missouri, and is president of the Missouri Farmers Union.

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