A Failed Hit-Job and a History of Bad Times

We’ve grabbed the popcorn and watched The New York Times’ resident food snob, Mark Bittman, pick through the fallout from the failure of three ballot measures that would have advanced his anti-food-freedom agenda in California, but an op-ed published by the Daily Caller has brought our attention back to the campaign itself. Henry Miller, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and former director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Biotechnology, opposed biotech-labeling measure Proposition 37, and Bittman attacked him personally — and apparently falsely — in his column.

We won’t feign surprise that Bittman was sloppy in his personal attacks, as Miller explains. More interesting to us were Bittman’s errors on science. According to Miller, GM crops can have fewer mycotoxins—harmful fungal secretions— than conventional crops, improving human and livestock health; reduce prices of staple crops, improving food security; and reduce the amount of carbon emissions required to cultivate a given amount of food. Perhaps these reasons and others might have motivated every major daily newspaper in California to balk at Prop 37. Or, you know, you could just choose to believe Bittman’s presumed vast conspiracy of shadowy moneymen.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Bittman has let himself get ahead of the facts in pursuit of a fever dream. Recall that earlier this year the columnist with a fancy for cheese took on the medical establishment’s conspiracy of Big Doctor, Big Pharma, Big Hay, and Big Cow with a scathing expose on how evil dairy products are. Never mind that Bittman’s “evidence” was anecdotal stories from the last refuge of bankrupted Nigerian royalty and incoherent yelling — that is, e-mailers and Internet commenters. His fight against food must advance on all fronts.

Facts have also been Bittman’s foe when he said that the Northeast could become its own breadbasket once again. Consider just one problem, the number of mouths to feed: New York State’s population has doubled, Connecticut’s has trebled, and New Jersey’s has increased four-fold since 1900. He’s wrong about the practicality of subsidizing or taxing individual items in the typical grocery store, which on average number nearly 40,000. He’s also wrong about the desirability of taxing soft drinks, which won’t fight obesity effectively. He’s wrong about the humaneness of raising pregnant pigs in individual maternity pens, which the American Veterinary Medical Association finds provide for animal welfare.

Indeed, it seems like we might be able to make a “food rule” — to borrow from Bittman’s fellow foodie Michael Pollan — out of all this. Put simply: If Bittman takes a position on a food issue, take the other. You’ll probably be on the right side.

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