by Marion Nestle
Feb 12 2008

In memorium: Earl Butz

Earl Butz, former Secretary of Agriculture in the Nixon administration, died last week at the age of 98. He had a long and varied career, but in the context of food systems he is famous for having revolutionized U.S. agricultural policy. Instead of paying farmers not to produce food, he encouraged farmers to produce as much food as possible. They did, and indeed produced so much corn that new uses had to be found for it. Voila! High fructose corn syrup! The movie, King Corn, includes an interview with Mr. Butz. He was proud of having so greatly increased U.S. food production. Indeed, the number of calories in the U.S. food supply increased from about 3,200 per day in the mid-1970s to the present 3,900 per day, with all the consequences that I discuss in Food Politics and in What to Eat. His passing marks the end of an era.

  • Fentry

    Although I commend Secretary Butz for his public service, his mantra of “Get Big Or Get Out” makes me very, very sad every time I think about it.

    I think a culture is very poor when there’s no room for the little guy outside of a cubicle or Wal-Mart.

  • Pingback: earl king | News of course()

  • Butz was best known for his PR work, which got massive attention for his views. The basic farm bill did not change during the Butz era. as price floor data shows (see “Farm Bill Slides”.) Butz is known as the classic example of the revolving door, coming from the agribusiness (corporate and land grant university), going to USDA, returning to be rewarded by agribusiness. The best writing about his impact is probably that of Jim Hightower and Al Krebs (Agribusiness Accountability Project of the Butz era). See “Eat Your Heart Out: Food Profiteering in America,” “Food, Farmers, Corporations, Earl Butz … and You” and “The Corporate Reapers.” It’s false to say that the Ever-Normal-Granary (linked here) was a supply reduction program (ie. that paid farmers not to farm), as is claimed by Wikipedia. Butz did not end supply reductions, they just weren’t needed during the 1970s price surge. They continued through 1995. Farmers shouldn’t be bashed in this way, as we know from the work of the “Farm Coalition Group” (agribusiness buyers,) the problems we have today can be traced to corporate attacks on supply management. The food movement misunderstands this history.