Last Wednesday, I arrived late at Green Drinks, held at Old Town Cafe, and at first, I thought I had the wrong location as I listened to a speaker promote the 4-H Program.
It turns out the speaker was from the WSU Cooperative Extension,and nobody, except me, saw anything wrong with this promotion. Are people unaware of the cozy relationship between the Coop Extension and AG?
The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the federal-state-local partnership between USDA, the Cooperative Extension Service, the land-grant university system and local governments. It was intended to promote and assist farmers, and that remains an important focus even today. The 4-H Youth Development Program is their youth outreach program.
I learned this shortly after arriving here when I enrolled in the Beach Watchers program. It was a great program (funding was since cut) and I have the highest respect for the people involved with the Coop Extension, but the information provided by the government was occasionally biased or inaccurate and promoted agriculture while downplaying the environmental and health toll. For example, we were told only positive things about confined animal feeding operations, with emphasis on delicious and profitable milk and cheese, but no discussion of slaughterhouses, manure or disease.
What really caught my attention was a post board focused on AG issues that included a special program for bird management in fruit crops. When the USDA is involved in “bird management” expect blood. After all, ALPHIS, the animal and plant health inspection service, is the USDA division that also houses Wildlife Services, responsible for killing millions of animals each year.
This program promotes research and collaboration to improve production and profit through a variety of techniques. Some of the techniques involve different forms of lethal removal or harassment of birds, some involve the use of poisons that could damage soil, water or air quality, some involve genetic modification of food crops, and a few are actually sensible and sustainable, such as using kestrel boxes to eat small birds.
But even with regard to environmentally friendly portions of the program, the basis is sales and profits, rather than any concern regarding impacts to ecosystem health or loss of biodiversity. Check out the phrasing of this information for farmers: “…The comments and attitudes displayed by focus group participants suggest that fruit farmers should consider bird management practices other than the use of Methyl Anthranilate if there was the possibility of consumers becoming aware of it.” Nice.
And notice who the sponsors of the program are? It includes the Washington State Dairy Federation. They do not grow fruit crops. But they do kill birds. What is not listed is that the funding and authorization for this program came out of the 2014 Farm Bill. Hardly a ringing endorsement for sound environmental stewardship.
So why was this being presented at a green event? I believe this violates the values of many who attended this event, but they, and the program sponsors, have a blind spot when it comes to AG and they continue to give AG a free pass. I am getting tired of this and I want to hold AG accountable. Promoting programs that destroy ecosystem health and function is simply inexcusable at a green network event.