Big Meat has tantrum over Oct 15 Michael Pollan talk at CalPoly

Harris Ranch feedlot photo from Mark Bittman's 2008 NY Times article, "Rethinking the Meat Guzzler"

RIP, academic freedom: Writer Michael Pollan—aka “elitist,” and apparently Agribiz Public Enemy No. 1—will now be part of a panel discussion at Cal Poly on Oct. 15 instead of giving a planned one-hour lecture. Harris Ranch Beef Company Chairman David E. Wood wrote to Cal Poly President Warren Baker threatening to withdraw a pledged $500,000 donation for a new meat processing facility on the campus if Pollan’s “unchallenged forum to promote his stand against conventional agricultural practices” was not rethought. Now, Gary Smith, Monfort Endowed Chair in meat science at Colorado State University, and Myra Goodman, cofounder of organic vegetable company Earthbound Farms, will join Pollan for a more “balanced” forum. (We guess Goodman will be providing the neglected veggie perspective.) (New Times SLO)

Our take: The controversy and expected Big Ag turnout may end up being a good thing: Pollan is disarmingly effective when debating his critics (La Vida Locavore blogged one recent example), and this way there will be more sinners than choir in the audience. However, the baldfaced “pay to play” pressure to which many agricultural and land-grant colleges are being subjected is cause for grave long-term concern.

12 Responsesto “Big Meat has tantrum over Oct 15 Michael Pollan talk at CalPoly”

  1. There is a solution. The universities can stop taking money from Big Corp / Big Ag. If they want independence they should be careful who’s hand they eat from. What they should have said was, “Okay, keep the money. We’ll get along without you, David Wood.” Simple and clear statement that they can’t be bought. Oh, but wait, they can be…

  2. Cherie says:

    I agree completely with Walter. Its so damn disappointing that these institutions can be so easily bought…I shouldn’t be surprised but I am.
    I hope Pollan gives them hell.


  3. Of course, this problem of corporate influence on universities is not limited to big ag.

  4. Isn’t this a fantastic illustration of exactly what Michael Pollan writes about?  Their actions just prove his point that food is a financial and convenience commodity these days, not a necessary source of nutrition.

    These companies are so concerned with their profits that just one opposing viewpoint has them scrambling back to their feet like a downer cow.  Anyone who is confident in their position would welcome debate.  Someone that knows what they’re doing is wrong would seek injunctions and use blackmail to withhold donations.

    Michael should just say “I rest my case”. 
    This is deplorable.

  5. Addie says:

    I’m going up against Big Meat next week on my campus too.  Thanks for this entry and the link! very helpful.  Paul Shapiro of the HSUS is coming to join me.   Our Agriculture Faculty gets lots of money from Big Pork.  Not much university-based critique of intensive confinement systems happening up here….

  6. AJ says:

    Bias alert: I used to do business with Harris Ranch and I actually appreciate their contribution to the Western states.

    Let’s consider the consequences of shutting down an “un-sustainable” operation like Harris Ranch:
    1.) About 1,000 people laid off – 1,000 households devastated
    2.) Western beef prices would increase

    There’s at least one major difference between people like David Wood and Michael Pollan:  People like Wood give money to universities, Pollan takes it.

  7. People like Wood get that money from consumers, who are increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how it is produced.

    Your fearmongering comment is just the kind of alarmist response that I find it fascinating the large corporate farming businesses are trying to spread: “If you make us change, people will starve!”

    Please. No one is talking about “shutting down” Harris Ranch. Pollan and others like this blog are merely discussing what external costs the company might be passing on to surrounding communities and the larger public health system with its corn-fattened, antibiotic-treated beef. Harris already has a “natural” and an “organic” beef line, so it is definitely exploring these areas, although I would argue that neither are well served by feedlots. If Harris Ranch were to amend its practices to be more sustainable, it will probably have to raise prices — or perhaps make smaller profits. And I would hazard a guess that the people who work for it might enjoy their jobs more.

  8. Melissa says:

    Harris Ranch is completely over-reacting. They tried to get one of our professors fired because the guy “pissed off” the Harris Ranch person. This Harris Ranch person also tries to say that that professor represents the opinions of “all of Cal Poly” which is total and utter BS. We’re a SCHOOL! Last time I checked, we as students have the RIGHT to hear differing opinions, not have donors shove their views down our throats and get all pissy when another view is represented. Harris comes across as fear mongering, greedy and outright close minded here.  We already are undergoing massive professor layoffs. Our school does not need to lose more professors simply because they disagree with the opinions of these “donors”. Those donors aren’t donating to help our school! They’re donating to get their hands into Cal Poly Corporation, and it’s pathetic.

  9. melissa says:

    its easy people.

    stop eating/wearing/torturing/testing on/animals.

    its not rocket science. meat is murder.

  10. Mary says:

    And so I wonder: just WHEN are we going to NOT TAKE IT anymore??? People have to remember that universities are CORPORATIONS too, and so, until that organizational structure is broken and reorganized, along wih the capitalist corporate structure across the land, in ALL fields, not much will change, and the power will grow. We, the “talked-down-to” population, must rise up in a recognizable fashion – change OUR eating habits, and eat less; not settle for “quick-fix” foods (check the salt content, for one, of most of those foods!); share our food(s) with neighbors who are in need; refuse to donate to organizations, and yes, universities who subscribe to such deadly chain-linked agreements with the perpetrators of genetic modification, harming our animals, and wrecking our food chain. Time for a whole new path. Now we need ACTION!

  11. duder says:

    Michael Pollan is payed $25,000 to speak at universities. Who’s the real criminal? The panel sucked btw.

  12. Meg says:

    I loved the brouhaha – made so many more people aware of feedlots in general and Harris Ranch in particular.  Congrats to whoever, however the threat was leaked to the press.  I don’t like seeing attempts to curtail academic freedom, but this is the real world and I’m glad students got to see it.  Corporations throw their weight around, and cash -strapped universities, government agencies, groups and people of all kinds kowtow for the bucks.  It needs to stop.  In this case, you can vote with your fork.  Buy local non-feed-lot grass-fed meat, or eat none.  If you want to know where to get it, look for a health food store that sells meat or a grocery that specializes in local products.