Following is a reply to Mark Ritchie and Karen Lehman's embargo
post (Tues Apr 9).
I was unaware of the severity of the corn market bind. I
subscribe to the hypothesis that our corn/soybean based farm industry
is--in part--an indirect consequence of the commodity programs.
The arguement seems theoretically unassailable.
Sugar support prices, stable corn & soybean prices, massive growth and
centralization of feedlot industries (including poultry, pork and beef),
and the even more centralized soybean and corn processing sectors are
But economic doctrine aside, exposing the US corn and soybean
markets to fluctuations will decrease the advantages of centralization and
monoculture. Possibly it opens the door for a switch to the slaughter of
grass fed animals.
That's where the Food First message applies. If Americans ate mostly grass
fed beef/pork/poultry and moved toward a lower meat diet, we would be
heeding Francis Moore Lappe's plea.
Growth of the organic market is testimony to the potential for us
to change our eating habits and our willingness to pay
for more wholesome products.
Consumers are gradually shifting their $ votes toward organics. Some
attribute this to fear of chemicals in food, but recent studies reproted by
the fresh produce market suggest that consumer reasons for buying organics
have changed toward more positive reasons, including a sense that organics
have superior quality!! (The Packer's Fresh Trends report--Jan 1996).
Perusing the meat counters at natural food stores leaves the impression that
some are shifting gradually toward diets with more humanely produced meat.
Looking at menus of trendy restaurants (like Cafe Boeuf) suggests that
some are shifting toward less meat in our diets as well.
Some would argue that the Alar 'scare' served to accelerate growth in the
organic produce market. If that worked for organic produce, then what about
a corn 'scare' to focus consumer attention on the reasons for eating grass
Notwithstanding the usual arguments of some animal 'scientists' that
consumers won't accept lean/unmarbled beef, it seems clear that a rapid
increase in slaughter of grass fed beef would ease demand for corn in the
short run. In the long run--what about serious research on the potential for
making grass fed beef/pork more palitable? Cooking instructions seem like a
viable intermediate run measure.
This line of thought desrves serious consideration.... The question is, who
has the incentives to make a concerted effort?
The pieces are in place to launch a concerted effort to convert a segment of
the population to grass fed beef.
On the producers' side: A corn shortage could also focus cow calf operators
on the possibility for by-passing the feedlots.
In the Market: The natural food store phenomenon is big enough that it
touches a large percent of the trend setting population in the US.
These stores already sell range fed chicken, eggs, & pork as well as organic milk and natural
--The Rocky Mountain Farmers' Union is busy organizing more dairymen
to produce organic milk and grass fed beef.
--The holistic resource management movement seems to be taking hold in California, the Rocky Mountains, and the
--Grass fed beef is beginning comming to market through groups in Kansas,
Montana, Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest.
--In your region, the Pew Foundation has funded the Midwest Organic Alliance
which is working to promote demand for organics.
It seems that there is an opportunity for some type of coalition of organic
producers and natural food marketeers to form in order to see through a well
focused promotion of grass fed beef & pork.
What do you think?
Ag and Resource Economics Dept
Colorado State University
Ft Collins, CO 80523