Sunday, June 16, 2013

Evolution of an agriculture sustainability paper

For two weeks, I've been pondering and literally lying awake at night trying to find some direction for my MBA sustainability paper. Now, with the pressure mounting - the paper is due in exactly 2 weeks and 26 hours - I finally feel like I'm getting closer to a topic.

You'll see, the problem was not that I didn't know what to write about, rather there was too much. I spent 30 hours immersed in discussion on the role of corporations to create sustainable value, and while only briefly touching the subject, I drew parrallels to the agri-food industry throughout the entire discussion. Our food system is So. Incredibly. Broken.

Where does one start when you want to examine the total value equation on food production? There are so many issues. In a Jerry Macguire-like moment I scribed a state of the union; only to find it made the task of enacting change seem even more insurmountable. If interested, I'll post this document. In truth, it reads more like a summary of "The End of Food" by Paul Roberts.

Since then, I've been on a rollar coaster of agri-food emotion. Too haunted by the Smithfield processing plant horror stories of Food Inc., I numbly stared at the "Only $5" sign hanging above the poultry section at the grocery store. I physically could not pick the chicken off the shelf. Nor could I venture to purchase the sausage or ground beef. My mind flickered back and forth between a conversation with a CFIA meat inspector (ironically re: our class discussion on Maple Leaf Foods), news stories of "pink slime" and my beef and pork farmer friends, working their hardest to make a good living raising quality meat for Canadians. At the same time, I was hard-pressed to have an open and candid conversation with my roommate over why she chooses organic without getting my back up and feeling a need to defend.

How can I be growingly wary of one aspect of the food system and yet embrace seed technology and believe whole-heartedly GMOs are part of the sustainable ag solution? This confusion is only a fraction of that which the general public must feel. I am beginning to understand why the issues become so emotionally charged. When you can't possibly know all the facts, you fill in the void with speculation and belief.

In two weeks, I've come across two young people, speaking out against GMO's.

Their quest is noble, but my resolve is made only stronger when I see the myths on which their arguments are built. The anti-GMO movement has latched onto them to propel their anti-corporate rhetoric, and I wonder, at the tender age of 11 & 13, are they already too far gone to be educated?

When I ventured to comment on an article "The Only Real Way to End GMO's" I was berated by readers who clearly weren't interested in a different perspective. It was deflating, and in retrospect, I should've paid closer attention because I wasn't going to win over any readers in this forum anyway.

So, that was a lesson the GMO vs organic debate is so hot, it probably can not be tackled in one 3000 word paper. So that leaves me to continue to try to narrow the many issues down to something manageable. At present, I'm looking at food waste reduction or the role of technlogy. Looking for reader feedback; if you have a moment to shoot me a comment!


  1. Good luck. If you wanted it narrower you could pick GM labelling and what effects that might have.

    Or, focus on the growth of gm crops in the developing world and the fact that genie is out of the bottle despite the efforts of the birkenstock crowd.

    Or, I like the idea of how our youth are being indocrinated by techers etc against modern agriculture.

    Lots of ideas !!

    Good luck !

  2. @savyfarmgirl this is an incredible challenge you have accepted!!! You have such a dynamic understanding and breath of knowledge from which to pull from (kudo's to you!). I too understand your personal roller coaster of agri-food emotion. I worked within seed breeding and stepped away from the industry for personal reasons yet was given the gift of seeing the biotechnology industry from a different perspective when I stepped away (still a major supporter of biotechnology to this day).

    The roller coaster ride of emotion from a recent book "Wheat Belly" was a perfect example of the challenges one can deal with on a consistent basis. On the second page of the book I almost threw the Wheat Belly book across the room for an off handed comment which was meant to incite emotion in the book. In the end I had to concur with the basis of some parts of the book yet all most all the research used was suspect at best. Thankfully the research used in the "Wheat" book has not led to the regulation or deregulation of any food source at this point yet does display how emotions are such a "key" to this agri-food issue. Still I believe that biotechnology is an absolute key to our future in this world and support it at every chance yet do accept the value of others perspective.

    Believe you have the bones of your paper above in that from your perspective it is hard to research and find clear direction while maintaining your personal view (both from a personal and business context sense). Micheal McCain I believe is an excellent story to focus on as he was in a place of not knowing what to do (even with access to the best minds) when faced with a crisis filled with an emotional dynamic as well as personal, business, social, safety, and extreme moral ramifications. In the end he made it personal and stepped forward (as any leader can). The agri-food issue is not a crisis issue that can or will be solved over night yet is something that will (and can be) address as personal commitments by our leaders (be that social, business, or government leaders).

    Best of luck @savyfarmgirl with your challenge and do not be afraid to reach out to people in the industry around you for their perspective. Keep us posted!

  3. Thank you Richard & cropview24 for your comments. I apologize as I replied and it never appeared to have posted in the comments.

    Both are full of some great ideas. I love the subject of GM crops, but I decided to stay out of that one for now. It's so polarized. I love the suggestion around the education system. That is a subject my mother & I were just discussing when I was at the farm, because it's not only their understanding (or lack thereof) of modern agriculture, but also the absence of any food preparation in the curriculum. Adults no longer know how to make a healthy meal or read a label (I'm making generalizations of course), and I wonder if this was taught, if the reliance on processed, calorie-dense and nutrient-empty food would decline.

    Cropview24 - I love your comment - "it is hard to research and find clear direction while maintaining your personal view". This is very insightful as I'm experiencing this yet hadn't put it totally together yet. I am definitely writing along that vein, so we'll see where we get. Michael McCain is fantastic as an example of leadership and character, and how doing the right thing, even in a time of incredible certainty pays off down the road. Now, saying that, we'll ignore MLF's latest earnings and focus on the industry as a whole. Strong leadership is needed as much now as ever.

    Thank you both for your encouragement & support. I was so happy to read it!

  4. Thank you for share this informative post.

  5. thank you for your comment, and my apologies for the delay responding to your comment. I'm glad you enjoyed it!