Fifty Shades of Hype: myths, the media and misperceptions #ag #science #food

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to give a talk to a group representing the agricultural industry in Alberta. The presentation – Fifty Shades of Hype: myths, the media and misconceptions around the science of agriculture and food – generated lots of good discussion. (Thanks for the hospitality, folks!)


“In Canada, where only 2% of the population lives on farms, we struggle with a rural / urban divide … In some cases we romanticize agriculture and food production.  In some cases we demonize it…our pull to nostalgia can be so strong that we sometimes fall into the realm of magical thinking.  Does this leave us open to buying into constructed myths around science and agricultural production?

Myths and mythmaking, as an oral tradition, have always been an important part of society. Myths can illustrate simple moral lessons; they provide context and explanation under conditions of perceived or real uncertainty. They provide pathways for connecting us to that nostalgic past we so desperately want to cling to.  They are a gateway to a more promising future.  Myths possess authority by appealing to the values and beliefs of society through symbolic representations. Words and images, combined, help to position and augment myths in society.

But myths can be misleading. And when fabrications are shrouded as reality, they can really undermine important social goals – – – like health, food security and innovation. When that happens, good science is undermined and farming is put in a very bad light.  All this can lead to poor public policy, over-regulation of markets and bottlenecks in innovation.  And this is bad for everyone.

We need to separate fact from belief…we need to separate the rhetoric from the realities.  The agriculture and food production system is just that – a system.  It is complex.  It is way more complex than simply saying that GMO is bad and organic is good or vice versa. At the farm level, it is more than just picking a production method.  And biotechnology is just one tool in the box. Ag and food production is a matter of combining integrated pest management systems, crop rotations and min or no till practice to maximize yields and to reduce impacts on the environment.

The ‘bigger picture’ of what science and ag/food production offers for food security and the environment can get lost in the mythological rhetoric.”

title slideCropLife TalkFeb 2013

Saskatchewan’s new climate change policy / Hursh.

*Carbon market for Saskatchewan*

With almost no fanfare, Saskatchewan has passed a new climate change bill that should theoretically provide a mechanism for farmers to be paid for carbon credits. However, the devil will be in the details and the regulations for the bill have yet to be established. A few years ago, Alberta initiated a program whereby that province’s large emitters can purchase carbon credits for minimum tillage and direct seeding. A number of companies are acting as aggregators, gathering up the carbon credits from producers and then selling them to the large emitters, all within Alberta. For an Alberta farmer practicing direct seeding, the payments haven’t been much per acre, but with the retroactivity of the program, larger-acreage producers have received some significant cheques. It isn’t clear whether Saskatchewan producers will benefit to the same extent from the new bill passed here. There may be more incentive for large Saskatchewan emitters to pay money into a Tech Fund and then remove the money for approved carbon reduction projects rather than buying carbon credits. There’s also the overriding reality of supply and demand. Saskatchewan doesn’t have nearly as many large carbon emitters as Alberta, but we have a lot more farmland. Saskatchewan has an opportunity to learn from Alberta’s experience. However, it remains to be seen whether a carbon credit market is actually going to be fostered in this province.

I’m Kevin Hursh.

Posted to Kevin Hursh on Agriculture: Today’s Comment