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Whether you’re a Trump fan or not is irrelevant when it comes to the mainstream media’s role in his election. There was much inaugural hand wringing and self-examination of the inadvertent role media played by covering every tweet and provocative campaign comment.

Yet, many of the same media outlets and others play a similarly complicit role in the marketing of food fear, causing hand-wringing on the part of consumers who may reject a food for no good reason for fear of potential health issues that range from joint pain to death.

By publishing anything claiming to have a whiff of scientific basis, assigning it a nefarious headline and relinquishing responsibility to verify its legitimacy, media counter their own noble pursuit by contributing to consumer confusion instead of being a beacon of clear, reliable information.

“Carcinogenic pesticide found in Ben and Jerry’s ice cream” and “Chemical in mac and cheese tied to birth defects” are among the latest alarming headlines.

I understand that it’s often no easier for the media to sort through the sea of pseudoscience than for its audience. In fact, one could argue that, in the highly competitive modern age of the 24/7 race, to be first to post and the unrelenting pressure to quickly turn multiple stories in any given day, the public shouldn’t expect Pulitzer prize-winning journalism.

Often, media outlets hungry for content and short on staff simply post news releases verbatim – no scrutiny applied – from an author, company, advocacy group or public relations firm. One recent example is a, “These 7 foods are scientifically proven to put you in a bad mood” article, which was picked up by many media outlets including AOL, MSN and Glamour.

With a simple 10-minute search for the science behind each claim – if scientific studies were even provided, I discovered the article didn’t “prove” much of anything. As is the case here, so often science “suggests” a link or claims consuming a certain ingredient – in unrealistic, outrageous amounts, in many cases – “may” cause various health conditions.

The mere presence of a chemical in a food doesn’t make it harmful, but often, stories lead us to believe otherwise.

Consider the “high levels” of phthalates recently reported in the cheese powder of various boxed macaroni and cheese products. One of the companies whose products were tested said the amounts of phthalates reported in the study are “more than 1,000 times lower than levels that scientific authorities have identified as acceptable.”

But the “fear your food” headlines lure readers in because there’s nothing quite as personal as the food we eat and feed our kids and how it impacts our health. And more readers mean more advertising dollars. That means more editors and reporters get to keep their jobs. I understand. I was a reporter, too, scrambling every day to dig up stories on deadline that were compelling and would make my boss happy.

So, where does this leave consumers? Swimming in a sea of conflicting studies, claims that don’t deserve the label “science” and flat-out efforts to market food fears. Trust research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) shows that the public wants full transparency – the good, the bad and the ugly – so they can make informed decisions for themselves and their families.

But until they get it, here are two steps anyone can follow to outsmart the marketing of food fears.

First, read beyond the headline. Many times, reporters start a story with the most shocking nuggets to draw you in but end with statements from experts like, “The study raises important questions but doesn’t prove causation,” or “It’s probably not cause for concern.” In a time of increasingly shrinking attention spans, I’d venture to guess a good number of readers don’t get to that last paragraph. Try starting there.

Second, Don’t accept an “Eat this and die” story as gospel without viewing at least two other sources. Before you believe a claim, do a quick online search of the topic. The search results alone may paint a more balanced picture, but select at least two other credible sources and see what they say. BestFoodFacts.org covers many such topics with information direct from credentialed experts.

Consumers are smarter than those who market fear believe. These two steps empower you to outsmart the marketing of food fears without a PhD. Let’s face it, the pseudoscience food stories aren’t likely to go away, so our diligence in digging for the truth is the key to making healthy choices in the grocery aisle.

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.

101st Wyoming State Fair Marks Continued Tradition

By Jason Fearneyhough, Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director

Welcome to the 101st celebration of the Wyoming State Fair and Rodeo! 

After the incredible success of the 100th Wyoming State Fair, we are more dedicated than ever to continue the traditions established over the last 100 fairs. We strive to provide families of the state wholesome, fun and educational experiences and entertainment while maintaining the culture, heritage and youth competition that makes the Wyoming State Fair. 

Last year, we looked at the storied past of the Wyoming State Fair, and now we are excited to look toward the promising future of the Wyoming State Fair for generations to come. 

The Wyoming State Fair staff and numerous others have worked hard to make the 101st celebration an experience to remember. This year’s theme is “Buckles, Boots and Blue Ribbons,” and we have many special events planned, including the Demolition Derby, State Ranch Rodeo Finals, concerts by country stars Hunter Hayes and Brantley Gilbert and two PRCA rodeos that always provide great action at an affordable cost. 

The Grandstand activities aren’t the only thing we have to offer at the Wyoming State Fair. I invite you all to walk down the Midway and through our exhibit halls and barns. Sample the great food, browse the trade show booths and enjoy a wide variety of free entertainment. 

Above all, take this chance to learn about Wyoming agriculture. The Wyoming State Fair gives youth and residents from around the state an opportunity to educate, learn and showcase their quality animals and exhibits. It gives everyone who attends a chance to spend time with others from around the state to reconnect, share ideas and create new friendships. There is truly something here for everyone in the family.

We have worked hard to continually improve the State Fair facilities and grounds since the very first State Fair. Over the last several years, there have been multiple upgrades and renovations made to provide more functionality and events during the fair, and throughout the year. Please take the time to see these during your visit and enjoy everything we have to offer. 

From the building upgrades to the Pathway to Water Quality and improved campgrounds, we are proud of our fairgrounds and are confident you will be too. Much hard work and effort has gone into this event, and I’m confident you will have a great time. 

Please join us in celebrating the rich tradition of the Wyoming State Fair. I look forward to seeing you all at the 101st Wyoming State Fair this year!

It is particularly easy to romanticize my lifestyle and rightly so. We live in a place that displays God’s beauty so boldly and magnificently. We are surrounded by cattle, horses and playful barn cats, along with “man’s best friend,” used not only for working and moving cows but also for the family to enjoy for companionship. Baby calves in the spring remind us that winter is coming to a close, and we will once again enjoy the warmth of summer.

The manual work of harvesting hay in the summer reminds us about the verse in Colossians 3:23, which says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”

So much pleasure can be found in a hard day’s work. Fall brings the paycheck that has desperately been needed, and calves are shipped to a new home. The mama cows get a much-needed break from their babies, and we get a much-needed break from the heat with the cooler fall weather. It is a beautiful season, where we start to think of sleigh bells ringing on a horse-drawn sleigh and hay rides in the red, tin sleigh with hot chocolate mustaches and chili with cornbread.

It is a beautiful life, and the traditions run thick in the agriculture world that we celebrate. Although you will hear us talk about our glorious life, we tend to romanticize it ourselves. The truth is, many days are hard. Have you ever been moving cows, and there is that one cow or calf that may be lame or not feeling so well? This particular individual has a difficult time keeping up with the herd. They do not want to get left behind, so they desperately plunge forward but are slow. And as you ride your horse behind them, you feel as though they are moving slower than molasses. As long as you stay behind this “sloth” and continually encourage, they can keep up, but otherwise, your efforts are in vain. You change direction and head to get a cow that has stopped to grab a bite to eat. Your eye spies that slow, pitiful individual lagging behind again. So, you step in behind her and continue to move forward at her dreadfully slow pace.

Just like moving that lame cow, some days in my life feel exactly the same way. No matter how hard you push, you just can’t keep up with the enormous workload or financial stress, as the bills pile up. You only get paid once a year, so budgeting for an entire year is difficult without knowing what expenses may come up.

Just like moving that cow, you have focused on one thing, and so many other things go unfinished. Those playful barn cats sometimes attack and bite. Sometimes, you want to curse those cow dogs because they have totally forgotten their training. Your horse bucks you off. You are up all night watching cows calve, and you have to call a vet to do a cesarean only to lose both the cow and the calf. There hasn’t been a drop of rain in two months, and the grass is burning up. All of your hay equipment is broke down in the middle of harvest. The horse is spooked of the sleigh. You burn your tongue on the hot chocolate and chili, and during the hayride, the worst snow storm of the year rolls in.

It’s just life.

Being a young ranch wife brings its own challenges. I have piles of laundry stacked up. Most of them have been washed, but that’s the easy part that the machines do for you. It’s the folding, hanging up and putting them away before the process really stops. I have been stuck 20 minutes before dinner after working cattle all day and staring at the pantry not knowing what I am going to cook, but I also have a baby, three children and a husband staring at me like baby birds ready to be fed. We never go to bed hungry, and the Lord has been faithful to provide, but some days, life is just hard.

I heard an anonymous quote that rang true with me. “It doesn’t matter what you do if what you do doesn’t matter.” What are you doing? Does it matter? If it doesn’t, you would be wise to find something else to do that does matter.

As a young ranch wife, what I am doing matters. I am providing food for the world. I am keeping family traditions that have been alive over 100 years. I am raising children to love and serve our Creator, and they are learning that everything we do is for the glory and honor of God. I am standing for truth in a culture that doesn’t have any truth.

It’s fun to think about the western lifestyle, and many people come from near and far to experience that lifestyle at guest ranches all over the state of Wyoming. After their experience, I can almost guarantee they look back with much fondness, but it takes a different breed of people to live the lifestyle year after year with the extreme challenges. Why do we do it? Because it matters. 

In the day to day struggles, it can be refreshing to have a group of people who are experiencing the same trials, the same joys and have chosen to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. That is what we received when we chose to be a part of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. Discussing our challenges and hearing how others have overcome theirs or seeing another young farmer or rancher implementing practices that you were considering can be life giving. If you have chosen to do something in your life that matters, I would encourage you to join others who have chosen to do something that matters, too.

2017 brought a wave of change for farming. It was a better year than farmers and ranchers have seen in a while.

WOTUS

  EPA’s much-maligned and litigated Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule appeared to have met its match in 2017. Already blocked by federal courts pending trial on the merits, the new administration’s EPA proceeded swiftly to dismantle the old rule by issuing a request for comments on how the new rule should define waters of the United States – that is, interstate waters that fall under the jurisdiction of the EPA.

  Work on the new rule continues while EPA officials have predicted a final WOTUS definition by the end of 2018. Few in Washington expect the rule will go unchallenged in court.

Even so, the new EPA is far less likely to bring arbitrary and abusive enforcement actions as it did some years back.

In all, it was the best environmental news in years. 

 Tax reform

  Nothing is certain but death and taxes — and people’s willingness to argue over how much tax is fair. Farmers got an important bump, just the same, as Congress doubled the estate tax exemption to $11 million per person. Although few farmers end up paying the tax, far, far more used to pay accountants and lawyers to structure their finances so they could stay clear of it. The doubling of the exemption means less business for consultants and more money in the pockets of farmers and ranchers.

  Farmers got increases in some important deductions they have traditionally relied on. Small-business expensing limits went up from $500,000 to $1 million for farmers, with phase-outs beginning at $2.5 million – up from $2 million the year before. A broadening of bonus depreciation for fruit- and nut-bearing trees, vines and plants was also welcome news.

The lower rates passed by Congress will help many farmers and ranchers make the most of lean times.

 Trade

Trade news was less satisfying in 2017.

For despite a pro-North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) statement and press conference among American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), Mexico’s CNA and Canada’s CFA, farmers and ranchers were largely in the dark when it came to renegotiation of the agreement that has provided the most exports for domestic agriculture.

Trade negotiators promised they would get a better deal for the U.S., even as Mexican and Canadian officials showed little interest in re-opening most of the pact.

 Farm workforce

  The year started out with more than a little sabre rattling on immigration but settled down at least a little as President Trump and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue each assured farmers that agriculture would have the supply of workers it needed. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), meanwhile, put forth his AG Act, which would allow undocumented workers to get a new “H-2C” visa for work on farms and ranches. The bill would permit 500,000 H-2C visas a year with allowances to adjust that number depending on agricultural labor needs.

Although there are far more than 500,000 undocumented farm workers in the U.S., the bill was the best farmers had seen in a long time.

 As with farming, in politics, there is no finish line. There are only harvests – some good, others less so. 2017’s was better than most.

Over the course of 2013, we’ve seen yet another banner year for U.S. agricultural exports. Exports of U.S. farm and ranch products reached a record $140.9 billion in 2013 and supported about 1 million U.S. jobs. In fact, compared to the previous five-year period from 2004-08, U.S. agricultural exports from 2009-13 increased by a total of nearly $230 billion.

All told, the past five years represent the strongest five-year period in our nation’s history for agricultural exports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has focused on two key factors in recent years to help make this success possible – first, an unprecedented effort by USDA and our federal partners to expand and grow markets around the world, and second, a commitment to make sure our farmers and ranchers have the tools to grow more, even in the face of uncertainty.

Thanks to the Farm Bill, particularly the Foreign Market Development Program and Market Access Program, USDA has been able to work with hundreds of U.S. businesses since 2009 to expand trade. We have led more than 150 U.S. agribusinesses on agricultural trade missions and helped more than 1,000 U.S. companies and organizations promote their wares at trade shows around the world.

Together, these trade promotion programs yield $35 in economic benefits for every dollar invested. Unfortunately, without a new Farm Bill, these programs can’t continue.

The trade promotion programs complement USDA efforts with our federal partners to expand trade agreements and break down unfair barriers to trade. In the past five years, the Obama Administration has challenged more than 750 sanitary and phytosanitary trade barriers, compared to less than 400 such challenges in the previous five-year period. We’ve also helped achieve new trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, along with equivalency agreements for organic products to Canada, the European Union and Japan.

But the Farm Bill stands at the heart of our trade promotion effort, and companies across the nation need a renewed commitment to agricultural trade promotion that only a new Farm Bill can provide.

As we have undertaken record efforts to promote U.S. trade, we’re also hard at work here at home to help America’s farmers and ranchers increase their productivity.

Since 2009, USDA has provided a record number of farm loans – more than 159,000 – to help farmers get started and keep growing. Additionally, using Farm Bill programs that have since expired, we stepped in to help hundreds of thousands of producers facing disaster. So, in addition to the many trade-related benefits of the Farm Bill, USDA is awaiting passage of this legislation to continue helping farmers and ranchers grow the food needed to drive exports even higher.  A new Farm Bill would continue assistance to farm businesses through loans and loan guarantees, while also reauthorizing disaster assistance programs and providing retroactive help to livestock producers who have been hit particularly hard in the past two years.

American agriculture has been an economic success story in recent years – growing more despite adversity, sending more food around the world and creating more jobs here at home. There is even more success ahead, but we need a new Farm Bill as soon as possible to keep this record momentum going.