What bothers me most about Karl Zinsmeister's article on farming ("Technology, Ecology, and the American Farmer," Dec.) is not just his apparent dislike of traditional ("hidebound," "atavistic") farmers and farm methods, but that he has apparently bought the entire high-tech-is-better package. It's clear that he is suffering from "technophilia," the unreasoning love of all things technological.
Farm tech is not the boon he makes it out to be. All the advances in production to date (production of lean pork, increased feed conversion ratios in chickens, improved milking averages) are the result of a simple act of selection on the farmer's part—breeding from his fastest-gaining, highest-producing animals. This is not high tech; it's a technique known since pre-Roman days.
The rest of the tech "improvements" on the horizon—embryo transplants, BST, lots and lots of artificial insemination—are just so much biological dabbling. Really folks, the world is drowning in milk. It ends up in federal giveaways at home and abroad; the Danes ship their excess to us every Christmas in those omnipresent butter cookies. There simply isn't any need for more via BST. You want lean beef? You don't need gene transfer, etc., to get it—you only need a Texas Longhorn herd sire!
High tech is just one more of those lovely ways to take agriculture out of the hands of farmers and put it under bureaucrats. For instance, who decides which dairies get BST? Is it by lottery? Or will anyone be able to purchase it down at the feed store in half-gallon jugs?
In a farm economy that is scarcely market-driven, the forces that should bring about change (i.e., consumer demand) are simply not given enough sway. The best thing in the world for all of us farming families—and consumers—is not more technology, it's fewer federal ag supports. Federal meddling of the past, and the threat of laboratory meddling of the future, is not the way to go.
Peace Valley, MO
Karl Zinsmeister reveals the great disparity between the two basic views of the future of our natural resources. Prevalent among environmentalists and natural-resource bureaucrats today is the view of natural resources as inherently static, fragile, and if touched by man, destined to degradation and decline. From this vantage, damage control and limiting human activity to slow the march toward ecological catastrophe seem the only answers. The very ideas of progress, technological development, and economic growth are disturbing.
The strict preservationist mentality is the driving force in status quo environmentalism and has had powerful and quite often negative ramifications in every field, from wildlife management to federal agricultural policy. Its adherents do not recognize that their policies are often part of the problem and see adjustment, expansion, and creation of new regulations as a logical path to follow.
If, however, one accepts natural resources as dynamic, resilient, and renewable, then progress and technological development hold some of the keys to an enhanced and healthy environment. Innovations like scientifically bred poultry and genetically engineered alfalfa make the future of agriculture bright, both for harvests and the environment.
The American farmer has been led down a path of misguided government policy. Current policies cannot be scrapped overnight, but it is time to halt the misdirected march and allow our farmers and ranchers to benefit from innovation and respond to markets.
Robert E. Gordon, Jr.
The National Wilderness Institute
Karl Zinsmeister calls for fewer subsidies and government interference, implying that all our problems stem from a price support program that has at least stabilized adequate production levels. But other government policies have driven our farmers to accept government assistance in order to survive.
Our farm policies are formulated primarily by those who sell to us—and buy from us. Let me suggest that the politicians, scientists, and academicians who have put men in space and who are so intent now on such new toys as the supercollider might do well to modify their goals.
We are tired of always being told that we must become more efficient and supply the raw food products at prices typical of 20 or 30 years ago. None of our suppliers, tax collectors, or institutional professors are performing at those levels.
We have no bones to pick with the environmentalists. We would welcome biological controls of the various pests that destroy our crops. A farm program that really supports family farming rather than vertical integration and corporate buyouts would be quite welcome. Honest administration of the antitrust laws would enhance our markets and perhaps permit us to gain our income from the market rather than the U.S. Treasury.
Devon R. Woodland
National Farmers Organization
Couched in Disagreement
Despite overwhelming evidence accumulated through five decades of postwar research producing tens of thousands of scientific papers and numerous Nobel Prizes, Thomas Szasz ("Psychiatry in the Age of AIDS," Dec.) continues to take the ideological position that mental illness does not exist. He still believes that the extreme and often destructive and painful emotions and behaviors that the medical and research communities accept as mental illness are nothing more than normal expressions of the human condition.
Now he is taking advantage of the painful plight of thousands of AIDS victims to flail this ideological dead horse once again. There is sound scientific evidence documented in both psychological as well as autopsy studies to show that neuropsychiatric pathology accompanies infection with the HIV virus both before the illness develops clinically and certainly during the course of the illness. We also have demonstrated that treating the depression that accompanies AIDS improves patients' moods, as does treating the depression accompanying cancer.
Dr. Szasz, with a belief system founded on ideology rather than science, would deny AIDS victims treatment that can improve both the length and quality of whatever life remains.
Melvin Sabshin, M.D.
American Psychiatric Association
There are reasons for the "official arrogance" noted in Jacob Sullum's editorial on the disaster relief situation in California ("Disastrous Relief," Jan.). City officials could not let people into their own homes because of the legal liability involved in the event of an accident. One wonders what percentage of the billions put up by the government will end up in the pockets of our legal warriors and their collection agencies (also known is insurance companies).
Sullum correctly states that insurance companies can reduce losses beforehand by demanding certain preventative measures. Whether they could have prevented some of the highway damage is a dubious proposition, as they would be unlikely to have the necessary technical expertise.
The legal-insurance axis in California is an example of monopolistic power run amok. Giving this group further power seems unattractive. Is a corporate state any improvement over the Stalinist state of the "liberals" or the theocratic state of the Moral Majority?
Hungry Like the Wolf?
Nobody is trying to kill off Yellowstone wolves; we are simply opposed to their placement there. ("Will the Wolf Survive," Trends, Jan.) Many of us oppose the wolf because his wide-ranging lifestyle gives enviro-cologists excuses to further lock us off our lands because "this is now endangered species habitat." In North America, Europe, and Asia there are over 60,000 wolves, and their population is climbing. The term "endangered" is used as a scare tactic. It is a matter of increasing government controls on public lands and takings of private properties that is the concern.
Why would Defenders of Wildlife like Uncle Sugar to administer their program? 'Cause the damned wolves will cost stockmen millions in damages before they're through. Maybe the reason they've only paid two claims is because they've got some tight-fisted folks (with their money) controlling the checkbook. Start the program, then dump it on the feds! Hank Fischer ain't no fool!