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Cropchoice Opinion
Down on the Corporate, Cloned Family Farm

(4 July - Cropchoice Opinion) -- Just in time for the holiday, big banker Wells Fargo has rolled out its $4.5 million dollar vision of American farming's past, present, and future. It's at the Minnesota Zoo (yep, the zoo), and features some interesting ideas about farming ... as well as some unusual biotech animals.

The "Wells Fargo Family Farm" is a brand new Hollywood-style version of a 1950s family farm. Intended for urban zoo-goers, the exhibit claims to "look like familiar Minnesota farm structures", and consists almost entirely of wood buildings, perfectly painted and complete with impeccable wood fences, weathervanes, a red barn, windmill, "Land o' Lakes Grain Elevator" and a "General Mills Farm House" (with snack bar).

The place is pristine. Even Wells Fargo's man in Minnesota admits "everything is brand spanking new. Nobody ever had it this good." A healthy dose of blacktop keeps penny loafers clean.

The attraction for visitors is the opportunity to commune with livestock, petting some mohair attached to its original owner and, from a set of bleachers, watching some heavy udders at cow milkings scheduled three times a day. There are draft horses too. Of course draft horses and goats weren't common in a 1950s Minnesota family farm; but zoo officials took a page from politicians and put together focus groups. Zoo clients demanded goats and working horses for family farms. So the zookeepers put them in.

But the main event, the centerpiece, on this mid-century corporate-branded "family farm" is the world's first permanent exhibit of cloned cattle. Wisconsin company ABS Global, which first cloned cattle in 1997, has donated three Holsteins, Gene (a bull) and two heiffers, Cookies and Cream. Zoo officials hope the clones will be a big draw.

Nice of ABS to let its old experiments retire in the limelight; but what's the point of putting these animals on display for thousands of non-farmers to see ... at the zoo ... on an idealized "family farm" that never existed anywhere but on television?

It could be to make an unhappy public more comfortable with biotech by confusing them. What are cloned cattle doing on a 1950s farm? The mix up is this: Consumers are being told that cloning fits with their idealized notion of a family farm. Since the "Wells Fargo Family Farm" is probably as close as many suburbanites ever get to where their food comes from, consumers remain happily ignorant of the contradiction: Gene, Cookies, and Cream - no matter how sweet their demeanor - are creations of a factory farming system that is destroying real family producers.

But only a few zoo visitors will pick up on this while, sadly, many more may walk away without much clarity on how the exhibit relates to family farming reality.

SOURCE: Twin Cities Star Tribune, Minnesota Zoo