Tuesday, September 15, 2009


We live in a world that is run on fear. I feel that our senses are so numbed by the romanticization and exploitation of our "news" that the facts and any sort of information is lost in the dramatization of trying to stimulate our senses.

The twisted and contorted and misled and misinformed and not informed world of media has become part of my job and part of life for the time being. The project that I am working on has ended up being a political hot button. I witness, first hand the mistakes, biases and political will of the media. What a learning experience! After the name calling, threats, accusations, and misinformation settles, we are left standing there legitimately questioning and challenging our motives.

At some point we must stand for something or else our county/country will be run by and for the interest of money.

Enough of my personal soap box, this is not the forum for political agendas nor is it interesting to anyone besides the few that are involved. I would like to share a letter that is written by a very prominent agricultural advocate here in Whatcom County.

My View
By Henry Bierlink

Fear Based Approaches Lack Integrity

I've attended a couple events recently that have me reflecting on the role of "fear" in our political process. Fear is a powerful motivator. Scaring people into action is much more effective then educating them. But it usually results in lousy public policy.

One of these events was a meeting concerning the implementation of the County's critical areas ordinance on farms. It was healthy to have rural citizens express their concerns over how we try to balance protection of water quality, wetlands, and wildlife habitat with our desire to keep farmers and farmland productive. But an unhealthy fear clouded the discussion. Somehow, large portions of the audience concluded that the County has determined that animal agriculture, including 4-H and FFA projects, was a great threat to the environment and that draconian steps needed to be made to restrict it if not discourage it.

This fear has some factual basis but was blown out of proportion at the meeting. The County is legally obligated to protect all its resources and when animals are mismanaged they can cause negative impacts. The County seeks to provide the least onerous means of providing some accountability through the Conservation Program on Agricultural Lands program administered at the Conservation District. Most who go through this program realize that respecting property owner's desires and the needs of environmental protection is a delicate but achievable balance.

Farm Friends understands that this program is not perfect and the meeting underscored that some needed changes should be made. That is a productive discussion. Fear that the County wants to discourage agriculture is not.

On the other end of the spectrum I attended Food INC., a documentary film painting a grossly distorted picture of production agriculture and building a case in favor of locally produced, organic food. Again, "fear" was the dominate emotion, with the intent to scare people away from the most efficient, safest food production system in the world.

I don't argue that there are many legitimate criticisms of the way we produce the food we enjoy so cheaply. Just like in our recent financial meltdown there are places where greed and short term decision-making has left us with systems that are indefensible when you step back and honestly reflect. There are a myriad of books out about our food system. I find most of them reasonably balanced and very interesting reads.

Food INC. doesn't come close to measuring up to the standard these books have set. I could cut them some slack as it is hard to be thorough in a 90 minute film, but they don't even try. They present a series of "hit pieces" outlining abuses in our food systems and then note that those they are criticizing refused to comment.

A recent Capital Press op ed piece reinforced my conclusions: "The film did little to advance the debate over how food is produced. More importantly, it ignored the complexity of an efficient system that feeds much of the world."

I don't like operating out of fear. I have some sympathy for landowners who haven't had the experience of working through the complexities of balancing animal husbandry and the environment. I have no sympathy for those that use fear to manipulate me.

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