Episode #6 – Dr. Stanton has been interviewed on CNN, the Today Show, and NBC Nightly News for his notable career in the food industry for over 25 years. On this episode he’s elaborating on the role he played in the documentary “Sustainable.”
On this episode of Agrihood Radio we’re getting a dose of priceless insight from Dr. John Stanton from St. Joseph’s University.
Dr. Stanton has been featured in the popular documentary “Sustainable.”
He has also appeared on national media outlets such as CNN, The Today Show, NBC Nightly News and has been quoted in Forbes, Fortune, Brand Week, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, among many other media outlets.
He is here today to share some insight and knowledge and answer some questions that we may have about the world of Industrial Agriculture.
Dr. Stanton says giving people choices is important, and providing the proper information is key so individuals can make intelligent decisions.
Consuming healthy food is vital. In this interview we take a close look at some of the foods we are consuming that could have adverse effects. Foods like luncheon meats that have been proven to have nitrosamines in them.
We also have a look at how commercial U.S. dairy cows are often given hormones the FDA has cleared as being safe, yet these same hormones have been banned in Canada, Europe and Japan and many other countries who do not allow it.
This is the conversation I would like people to be aware of he explains. So if you are eating processed foods on a regular basis, now you know there is a good chance there are going to be preservatives and some controversy surrounding it. When you go to eat that cow with growth hormones, you know that drug is banned in certain countries, that it is a decision on you. But now you have the information to make your decision accordingly.
Dr. Stanton gives his take on all of this and says we need to make it clear that when other countries ban things, sometimes it’s called non-tariff barriers to entry. So if we look at Europe and GMOs, they were against all GMOs until they started producing some of their own and then it wasn’t quite as bad.
This interview is sure to get you thinking about how your day to day habits that are shaping your future.
Enjoy our discussion!
Brett: Hey guys, today we’re be talking with Dr. John Stanton from the documentary, “Sustainable”. He has also been teaching at St. Josephs’ University since 1984. He has held many executive positions in the food industry. He has published over sixty (60) academic articles including; The Journal of Marketing Research and Science. He appeared on national media outlets such as CNN, The Today Show, NBC Nightly News and has been quoted in Forbes, Fortune, Brand Week, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, among many other media outlets. He is here today to share some insight and knowledge and answer some questions that we may have about the world of Industrial Agriculture. Hey Dr. Stanton, how are you today?
John: I’m doing very well thank you.
Brett: That’s great! Now before I get going, do you prefer to be called by John or Dr. Stanton, does it matter to you?
John: It doesn’t matter, actually, I prefer John.
Brett: Okay. We’ll go by John. You’re out there in the East Coast right now. I’m sitting here, down in the southern part of Texas. First of all, before we get rolling, I have to say thank you for allowing us to be in your presence and showering us with your intellect. The accolades you have can probably cover the distance between you and I physically right now. The list is long, and to get things started, I have to ask you what in the hell is going on in the world of Industrial Agriculture right now John?
John: Well you know, science has really had an impact on virtually every aspect of life from treating diseases to communicating with each other and science has had a major impact on agriculture, and the impact comes from things like GMO’s, comes from better water management, comes from better understanding of plant nutrition, so really, it’s moving more scientifically just like all the other areas.
Brett: It is, OK, I’m one hundred percent spot on with that, I think we all agree with that but it’s not moving in the best direction on a macro level, is it?
John: Well you know, that’s such a difficult question to answer because, if you take something like GMO’s, there are people in sub-Sahara, Africa, that would suddenly have the ability to grow products because it’s more drought resistant, and it’s more pest resistant etc. On the other hand, in the more developed countries, people are concerned about what could be the long term effects of GMO’s. I think that people are concerned about things like cattle breeding and the environment, and so it comes down to, well, if you cut back on the amount of cows, or you say that growing beef is not good for the environment, then there are going to be an awful lot of people who say, well listen, I like beef, someone else says I make my living on beef; so every one of these questions, you have a balance, and it’s up to society, unfortunately through our elected officials, to kind of decide which way that balance is going to go.
Brett: Right, and the bottom line, I guess for the safety of the general public is, how? The questions is how is the beef being raised? How is the Round up being sprayed not to contaminate the food we’re eating, that’s the question? I understand that people are never going to give up beef and I’m not here to change anybody’s minds on what they should eat, but what I would like do, my objective is to share some wisdom and awareness of how things are being done right now so that people have a better source of information to make better choices based on their personal lifestyle.
John: Sure, and I think the key that you said is giving people choice, but at the same time we also have to look at what’s best for society’s interest; but if we look for example, of letting people make individual choices, it’s key that we get people the right information so that they can make these decisions intelligently. There may be a lot of people who say, you know what, I like beef, but you know, I’m just going to cut back on it, I’m going to eat some other things, for example, I’m going to eat more fish. What happens, well, the world’s fishery business can’t keep up and actually have the possibility of reducing the fish stocks to almost nothing; so someone says, you know what, I won’t eat as much beef and I also won’t overdo it with the seafood, but I will in fact eat more chicken. Well, now we have more penned up chickens.
Brett: Yeah, I one hundred percent agree with it, but let’s talk about it a little deeper, nitrosamines.
Brett: Ok, So we know that that is not healthy for the body. That has been proven. A lot of lunch meats have nitrosamines. And then we know that commercial dairy is often given the hormones that the FDA agrees on giving the green light here and giving the green light there, but has been banned in Canada, Europe and Japan and a lot of other countries don’t allow that.
Brett: Yeah exactly, that’s more of the conversation I would like people to be aware of, okay now, you know that if you’re eating lunch meat there is a good chance that there is going to be some preservative in that meat that has some controversy surrounding it. When you go to eat that cow with growth hormones in it, that is banned in certain countries but now you know, going into it, that it is a decision that is all on you now, but you have the information to make that decision.
John: Yup, I agree that the key is this information. I will say this, that some place in your report, in your video, you need to make it clear that when other countries ban things, sometimes that’s called non-tariff barrier to entry, so if we look at Europe and GMO’s, they were against all GMO’s until they started producing some of their own and then it wasn’t quite as bad.
Brett: Money. The bottom line is the money, right?
John: Yeah, unfortunately, it really is, and so a lot of times they’ll say we are not allowed to charge a tariff on this, so instead we say it’s not healthy.
Brett: And make it ourselves?
John: But that’s kind of a separate issue, but that’s kind of a political way of not all of the other countries that ban things do it strictly because they are concerned about health. It should come as no surprise that it has this much to do about the money; but you know, this thing, if you talk about the bovine a really good example. It’s what they give dairy cows which is the RBST which causes the cow to produce a little more milk, about ten percent more milk. Now the FDA says there is no problem with that because it actually occurs naturally as well as the recombinant version; but you know what happen? People got nervous about it and it’s hard today to find fluid milk that comes from cows that have been treated. The public by their choice, basically stopped the use of this hormone, and it doesn’t really matter if it harms people or doesn’t harm people, if the consumers didn’t want it they didn’t buy it and they literally stopped the use of that hormone.
Brett: Were there decisions based on some scientific knowledge of showing how the cows were getting tumors and how it’s not good for the cows and therefore being passed on to the consumer?
John: I did a research study on GMO’s and I found people that were against GMO’s and I gave them a lot of sources of information, I gave them world health organizations, USDA, I gave them the EU statements, all of which said that GMO’s aren’t bad for you. How much do you think people’s opinion changes?
John: Yup, it appears that the whole social media, your whole friends and family have significantly more impact on what your attitude is to these things than the science. Now, what I think is crucial here is, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If somebody thinks, you know what, I just don’t trust the fact that all of these beef cows are getting all these chemicals and some of them are getting sick etc. The fact that they might not lie, is irrelevant. The fact that they reach that conclusion, they are comfortable with that conclusion, and it can in fact ultimately, if enough people believe it, have an impact on the ways the cattle are raised.
John: You’re really talking about people reaching a conclusion which may be the right conclusion for them, based not necessarily on science but it doesn’t matter because that conclusion is what they are driving their lives on, their life’s decisions.
Brett: You know a lot John, you been at the same University since 1984?
Brett: When I saw you in Sustainable, I watched that documentary at least two or three times within the last three or four days, and the more I watch the more I learned and I thought this for years, they say the juice is all natural but the concentrate comes from Brazil right?
Brett: Then its hits Miami or Florida then it goes to Georgia then it called it local. Is that really local? I haven’t seen that for several years and asked myself the same question. You got my attention on that one. You also said that this all natural thing is being played out so much and your response to that was, cyanide also all natural.
John: HAHAHA! The all natural thing is, that is a comforting thought for consumers, but it’s almost meaningless in term of what their food is going to be like, whether it going to be good for them or bad for them. I’m a firm believer that when someone eats something, they should enjoy it and they should feel as if they are doing the right thing and not feeling guilty; and the only way that can happen is if the food industry makes it abundantly clear the conditions in which that food existed. There has to be this transparency in the future. Now, keep in mind that it wasn’t that many years ago that the people didn’t have access to all this food. My mother was poor and she ate whatever was available. When my grandmother made stew, people didn’t say where did this beef come from?
John: So, we’re looking at the advancement of knowledge, the advancement of science as well as the advancement of consumer knowledge; but the key to me is going to be transparency and clarity.
Brett: Bingo, right, that’s my whole point. Let’s be clear, upfront and honest, and I think there is some deception going on out there and the first company that comes to mind of course is Monsanto. They have been under a lot of scrutiny and a lot of controversy around that company. The same company that invented Agent Orange is now saying that their Roundup is safe for the farmers. It’s a split decision, some farmers are saying yes and some farmers are saying no, that’s a whole other topic, I know that. You have some insights, you’ve published over sixty academic articles, including The Journal of Marketing Research and Science, so is there a link, in your opinion, that every American over the age of nineteen understands that a poor diet often leads to poor health, yet there is an epidemic of diseases like heart diseases, diabetes, obesity and cancer in society, is there a common thread, is there a link between how we’re eating and what we’re getting?
John: I don’t think there is any question that there is a link, I don’t think people completely understand the link and I also think that the bifurcation of our desire to have wonderful tastes and the opinion that we are to “eat healthy” is a force in each consumer that drives their behavior. I think that..…. my personal opinion is that too much of anything …….. some things are worse than others, let’s just say saturated fats, you’re going to pay a price at some point in your life if you overdo it. On the other hand, if a person wants to enjoy once per month, or so, a beautiful ribeye steak, that doesn’t hurt them.
Brett: Right, exactly
John: You know, I remember being around for a long time. I remember the first USDA guidelines. They were so simple, it basically said eat a variety of foods and maintain your ideal body weight. That’s really what it’s all about, with certain exceptions; and I’ll go back to those exceptions, because if you are just eating a variety of foods you’re getting a mixture of things, so you’re not getting too much of anything.
Brett: Well that’s how the food pyramid was established, are you talking prior to that?
John: Prior to that, yeah. Just eat a variety of foods, it’s so simple and people can understand it, and then the PHI Beta Kappa’s in the USDA said, let’s make it a pyramid, no, a pyramid, rather a triangle, OK, let’s make it a pyramid, no, people don’t understand. I think they had the idea of let’s make it a dodecahedron. It’s kind of silly, it’s really just about a variety, and that was the first advice they gave, and of course, maintain your body weight. The issue with Ropund up and Monsanto is a real serious issue. The science, you know what it reminds me of, it reminds me of smoking. Everybody had this suspicion that smoking wasn’t good for you but no one could absolutely prove it, and it took the scientists, that were employed by the tobacco companies, and it wasn’t until that guy, Jeffrey…..I forget what his name is, kind of spill the beans, that it really started to change, and I think that this Roundup that there was so much positive PR about how it’s helping farmers and its helping all of this, that anything that kind of addressed, maybe it isn’t quite what we think, it’s kind of got pushed to the back. Now what I would like to see, quite frankly, is much more serious scientific research on this, an unbiased research, because what happens is, when you get these things like Tobacco, all the research is done by……
Brett: In house.
John: Yes, in house by one side and people that hate tobacco on the other side, there wasn’t a really unbiased view for the longest time, and I think we need to get some unbiased research, focus on some of these things.
Brett: I agree.
John: My personal guess is that Roundup is really not the end of the world. I certainly don’t want to drink it, I certainly don’t want to be exposed to it too much on a regular basis. I’m guessing some of these things, when we started the balance, probably isn’t the devil clothe etc. in the form of ….
Brett: The devil in disguise.
John: Yes, that’s it. It’s something probably that needs to really get studied. Now, the other thing that I think is important is that more people are dying of cancer today. However, fewer people are dying from tuberculosis, but we got to die from something, and we have to be careful to understand that when we wipe out one thing, it just means that more of us are going to die from another thing, so I’m not sure that identifying, for example cancer, or things like that as unequivocal evidence that this is bad for you. Let me give you one example which I find interesting.
John: One of the things that the people that objected to the hormone in milk cows, not beef, what they said is this hormone that they are putting into the dairy cows, if you look at the age in which young girls are starting menstruation, it’s been getting younger and younger, and they have been putting this in milk. However, girls have been starting menstruation earlier for like fifty years before they started putting this in cows. I mean it is true that it’s getting younger and younger but it’s not necessarily associated with this hormone that they put in cows, so we have to be careful to try to be sure that our research is good and not susceptible…… I would say it is not very good research.
Brett: What was the biggest impact, when they came to you the producers of Sustainable, did they give you a heads up, were they coming to you for information? They were impressed by your title, did it come out of the blue?
John: No, it was a scheduled meeting, and I knew it was going to come and I knew the topic was probably for about a month.
Brett: Okay, what you think that documentary …… on a scale of one to ten, ten being completely accurate, what’s your perception of the authenticity of it all? How accurate do you think that documentary is?
John: I think the documentary was pretty good. On a scale of one to ten I give it an eight. No, that’s not fair. What they did was they presented some people that I thought had a pretty extreme view and that wasn’t necessarily the prevailing view if you know what I mean?
Brett: I do.
John: They presented a lot of different opinions, so the extent that they tried to capture what was really happening I think they did a very good job. Some of the people that they interviewed, from my point of view, were pretty far off the deep end.
John: I don’t remember which one, like I know they interviewed a friend of mine Marianne Nestle.
Brett: The Food Politic?
John: Yeah, I think she has a pretty reasonable position on things, mostly everything I agree with her on; some things I don’t agree with her on, but I would put her in the category of a really good spokesperson presenting a fair point of view, but there were some people on the edge, if you will.
Brett: Exactly what you said, I said they are out there and that, true with life. They are out there.
John: Their opinion was expressed and I can’t begrudge that. The fact that I don’t necessarily agree with all those opinions. I can’t get too excited about cage free chickens. Most of these cage free chickens, they have to force them out. Chickens don’t necessarily want to be caged.
Brett: Uncaged, cage free, yeah.
John: The second thing is that when you put these chicken out in the open air etc. they are much more susceptible to various AVN flu’s because there are in contact with wild birds. A lot of these things are six to one and half a dozen to the other. I like to kid people when they say I like my chicken, I don’t want them to be caged up etc., you mean right before you kill them? I just want to make sure that I am clear. You’re going to kill them, right? But I think that in this society, we can humanely treat animals but still have them as part of our food supply.
Brett: Exactly, John, let me ask you on a personal level, knowing what you know, the experience that you have and the knowledge that you have within, how is your health on a personal level?
John: My health is pretty good, I’m on a seafood diet.
Brett: You seafood, you eat it?
John: If I see seafood I eat it.
Brett: I got you.
John: I’m a little older now, I’m 73 now.
Brett: Are you really?
Brett: I honest to God John, I thought you were seriously in your late fifties, maybe early sixties.
John: I tell you, you can talk with me as long as you want.
Brett: Honest to God, I did.
John: Well I’ve been told that I have a lot of energy, but in my case now, I’m trading off something that might promise longevity for immediate gratification, so I don’t have second thoughts about having a steak anytime I want it. Twenty years ago I might have.
Brett: Why? Why have things changed?
John: Because I have less of my life at risk.
Brett: So in other words you’re saying that, your lifestyle is more moderate now than when you were younger?
John: Yes, this is a joke I had with the doctor. You know, I said, the more I get older the less I am putting less at stake for making risky decisions. When you are twenty, you’re putting sixty years of your life at stake by smoking. In my case, I am probably putting not many years at risk. I said to the doctor, as matter of fact, I’m thinking about becoming heroin addict.
Brett: Why not? What the hell?
John: There is not much left out there to risk. These goddam doctors are so serious. John I wouldn’t recommend that you, yeah doctor, I wasn’t really serious
Brett: Yeah, take these long list of medications instead so I make a kickback from Prilosec
John: But you know, if you really want to say what about today? What about food today and consumers today? It’s an issue of choice, and choice means transparency. Choice means that there is going to be people out there that are going to charge more money for products that were harder to produce without science, and there are a lot of people out there that will pay for it, and the good example of course is organic, cost a lot more and a lot of people are willing to pay it.
Brett: Is it been loosely used, the term organic? Is it being thrown around? I was on the phone with a cattle rancher from Wyoming, and he gave me some insights that the term organic is being thrown around like any other ordinary word and a lot of the big major corporations know how to beat the system and call it organic when it’s any different than what they are selling you on the next shelf over.
John: Yeah, that’s true, that’s true, and probably the bigger difference is that the basic concept of organic really started with primarily fresh produce and people imagine these local farms have grown these the way they would like to have it grown and of course, the big producers say, hey, they’re getting a lot more margin and a lot more profit out of that, let see what we can do. So now you have cereal companies that have organic cereals where the raw ingredients they say comes from China …..you have any reason to believe they might not be following all the rules for organic? They poison children.
Brett: Yeah, I get it, you said that on the part you played in the documentary, you said that marketing and packaging is most memorable.
John: Absolutely, I would say that for most products, the organic symbol from the USDA is fair and accurate. Are there people that are trying to sneak in? Yeah, and there are ways of doing it you know, but I think in general, organic is probably the most things followed pretty closely, but keep in mind, do you know what percent of foods from the supermarket are organic?
Brett: I’m going to take a shot at it, I would say it’s less than fifteen?
John: Yeah, you’re right, you are right. It’s like about ten percent. Now it’s more in some categories for sure. It’s much more in fresh produce etc. and vegetables, but people talk about how big this trend is, and everybody has to get into organic, it’s actually pretty small I think, you can call it a niche.
John: Now, don’t forget there’s riches in niches.
Brett: For sure.
John: It doesn’t mean it…… but people get excited about certain trends because they are growing fast. A good example is my research class did a project on why fluid milk sales are going down and they all identified all of these plant base milk products, Rice milk ……
Brett: Almond milk, Cashew milk.
John: All these things. The biggest competitor to milk is water. The second is surgery beverages. The least of all the groups stealing sales from milk, it’s not these plant based milks. What do you think the biggest reason why people don’t drink milk is, because they don’t eat breakfast?
Brett: Skipping the breakfast, having the sugar, a donut and a PopTart on their way out the door.
John: Yeah, and no longer having the cornflakes and milk. It’s a whole lifestyle change, yet all of the students focus on this plant based milk product.
Brett: We are all adults. We have enough knowledge with the computer and the internet and we are very aware, I believe, that sugar is the culprit to a lot of illnesses. Now that I’m a father of a four year old boy, my biggest thing is that I’m trying to take responsibility as a parent to get him set up on the right track and not overload him with a bunch of sugar…… and then when we travel for work, we sometimes go to a reputable daycare, and the first thing we ask is what does your menu looks like? And they say when the kids get here early in the morning we give them a PopTart, and a juice box. We would be like no, you are kidding me, that’s not how we’re raising our son, but that’s one school out of the entire country, and that seems to be the norm and that seems to tightens me up a little bit when we don’t give them a chance and set them on the proper path so they can have a better and healthier life, and not load them up with a bunch of sugar and then say, oh they have ADHD, that’s a whole other topic but that’s what gets me going.
John: I would say this though, I believe that parental influence just totally dominates the way a kid sees life, so if you do a good job of saying, look, here is the way we eat…… In my case, personally, I used to tell my kids, we don’t judge other people. They can eat what they want, they can do what they want but this is our family, this is what we do and those exceptions. When you go to the daycare and they give the child a PopTart in the morning, as long as the son is saying this is kind of an unexpected treat, this is not normal for him, it’s not really not that bad. I remember this years ago. They discovered that if you tell people on a diet, eat no chocolate, it was less effective if you tell people to cut back on their chocolate.
Brett: Yeah I get it. Restriction instead of moderation. Trying to teach a four year old kid at this point is like …… I had it at school when we travel…….. we go off for three and a half months, we are gone from Arizona…running our cooking show…. we are on the road…..it’s not like a one day deal, if I am going to take him to a daycare, it’s either three, four or sometimes five weeks and if it lasts five weeks, he eats that sugary crap and now at home he wants the same thing, that’s my situation.
John: That’s a really different situation. You know the one and done type.
Brett: Exactly. It’s not like a birthday party that happens like a neighbor block party that happen once in a while.
John: And everybody eats cake or something but I would say this, looking back, I’m convinced that this parental impact is enormous. My daughter was probably thirty and had two kids when she said to me, dad, I just want to thank you for the way you raised us and the rules that we had to abide by. It took about thirty years and especially with a teenage girl. It took about twenty times the screaming “I hate you” and slamming the door; but it clearly had an effect and that’s what I think is important and to share with the kids why, even if they are five years old. Share with them why. The longterm payoff there is big.
Brett: The why is the driving force, and I just want to say thank you for your time. I appreciate that. You know you and I can probably keep going on and on and on here, and you’re on a Spring break, right?
John: Right now I am…… but listen, I’m a full professor, and I teach Tuesday and Thursday twelve thirty to three (12:30 to 3:00)
Brett: I have your contact, I have your number, we definitely have to bring you on again. The knowledge and wisdom you have is priceless and I just want to say thank you for your input and I’ll definitely keep in touch with you and for people that want to reach out to you, are you available to public?
John: Yeah anytime, they can have my number, I don’t care. If I don’t want to talk to people I don’t feel trapped if someone calls me.
Brett: The line we’re on right now?
Brett: 856 area code 415-1774. Do you have an email they can start off with? Or they can just give you call?
John: Sure the email is easy it Jstanton@sju.edu
Brett: Perfect. Appreciate your time man.
John: Call me anytime.
Brett: Thank you again. Have a great day.
Disclaimer: Agrihood Radio transcripts are prepared by a transcription service. Refer to full audio for exact wording.