An open letter to Nicholas D. Kristof, regarding his opinion piece in the New York Times, Is an Egg for Breakfast Worth This?
I read your article on egg laying operations in today’s “modern agribusiness” economy.
On the one hand, I think you left out some of the ways that the US Dept of Agriculture has created and pushed the “productive” nature of what used to be called farming. Current and past farm programs, as well as banker-initiated agendas, have stressed production over ethics, over concerns about chemical use, and about concerns for the neighbors and environment.
On the other hand, Americans have had and do have the alternative of searching out the local folk that raise chickens in a more traditional manner — with the more traditional rates of loss to predators from foxes and opossums and skunks and from feral and unfettered neighbor dogs and cats. Consumers still have and have long had the option to buy the locally raised eggs, produce, and meats. But they have to afford them, and discern who they buy from.
Modern advertising implies that any store that sells Oreo cookies means you get the one and only Oreo cookie wherever you buy it. Ads that Eggs are the “perfect” food imply the same.
I do warn you, that history shows prohibiting various practices and products, from drugs to dog fights, shows that it merely increases supply and profits, and creates criminal enterprises to exploit them.
Regulation of the milk industry has assured that factory milk farms meet Federal standards. Which means that the number of people actually milking cows for sale of milk and milk products has been reduced heroically — if one of them falls on hard times, or the wrong family member or worker is incapacitated, a significant source of milk will be threatened.
You might ask why the massive egg farms. You might also look into existing Federal regulations that force the small producer to get big or quit.
As economic troubles, from the national debt to lingering toxic assets bolstering the financial foundations of some American banks, to constraints on world production of oil and corrupt Federal promotion of “green” energy — expect shortages. Shortages of credit to businesses and to consumers has been downplayed, and so far has been quite local. I expect that to spread.
The big egg producers don’t have a large enough profit margin to tolerate a doubling of electricity costs, or a doubling of the cost to transport birds and eggs to and fro. Yet our President has set the wheels in motion to multiply electricity costs to bring the average cost up to the cost of (expensive) wind and solar power. The cost of oil since 2005 has been a function of speculation, not production, when production stopped increasing to moderate or take advantage of changes in price.
We need the local producers that are less reliant on intercontinental systems of operation and supply. The big egg producers, the national level producers of most products, but especially food, are facing, potentially, circumstances that will end their operations. Factors such as intermittent outages (i.e. the “smart grid”, where Washington, D.C. turns off one state or region to supply another, except for those “exempt” — campaign contributors, those “too big to turn off”, perhaps) and the rising costs of energy and intercontinentally sourced products and also the rising costs of meeting various Federal regulations (remember the Food Safety Administration starting to come online? ) will be threatening the business sector as well as communities and cities. And threaten people used to reliably available food at moderate cost.
It has been said that the wealthy can afford ethics. It might be observed that the “war on poverty” has manufactured the illusion that all Americans are wealthy, that all are entitled to the housing, the clean-hands work (or indolence) of the wealthy. How many Americans have “cleaned” the fish they caught, then prepared and shared the meal with family or friends? How many have butchered their own chicken, or hog? (My parents cleaned our chickens, we took the cows and calves to a local butcher). Most Americans have never grown a potato, and eaten the result (one of the easiest foods). How many Americans, today, have canned peaches and pork, so that it would be available months in the future?
I don’t recommend poverty as a life style. I do think that WWII put a lot of farm boys, and men that worked hard in cities, in factories, and in transportation, on the front lines against some powerful enemies. It might be that the very illusion of affluence is a serious threat to national security — and a threat to our national economy. The average age of today’s farmers is 55-60 years old. Since we don’t have a next-generation farmer waiting to continue producing food, it might well be that concern over the egg mills of today is misplaced. Wait ten years, there may not be many still producing eggs.
I don’t eat a lot of eggs. I have three hens in the back yard, two of them Bantams, that keep way ahead of my egg use. It is fairly easy to keep chickens — but takes years to learn to do it reliably. And it means finding someone to do the chores if I am away for 12 hours or more. It takes good fencing to keep predators, including the neighbor dogs, from killing the livestock that deserves my protection.
My neighbor bought a cow — that jumps fences. That loves to munch on my garden. More fencing. Which makes me wonder about all the scrap metal my neighbors are selling for export to China. I doubt America has budgeted the energy that was so cheap when that metal was first produced — to replace the metal to build fences. And cars. And bridge and building supports that need replacing.
When you advocate federal regulations to “solve” a problem, you actually mean to create an industry to exploit those regulations, to build the new barns at increased cost to “meet new regulations”, to build new equipment to meet changing requirements. To increase costs to continue to operate, and increase the benefits to those that operate outside the law. To expend more energy that is now less cheap, to continue to do what we do today.
I can think of many reasons for consumers to choose locally produced produce, food, furniture, building materials and practices, etc. Bringing Federal regulations into the argument hasn’t been notoriously successful in the past.