An Odd Vision

March 30, 2018

The Schmidt Foundation was founded by a Silicon Valley billionaire and his wife. Doug Bock Clark, who spent three years living with a tribe of ‘hunter-gatherers’ on an Indonesian island, is a young free-lance journalist. And Rolling Stone, for five decades, has been the herald of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.’

One wanted a story published knocking modern agriculture, one wanted a grant, one was happy to publish a story it got for free, and when their paths crossed it led to an odd headline: Why China is Treating North Carolina Like the Developing World?

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And the answer to their question was: Hogs.

Here’s how it happened: The Schmidt Foundation gave a grant to the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Journalism. UC-Berkeley then gave a grant to Clark.

Clark, it appears, went on the internet, read all the stories he could find critical of hog farmers then had a revelation: China was out to get its hands on North Carolina’s hogs, and, to do that, it was treating North Carolina like a third world country.

If Clark’s vision leaves you puzzled, when you look deeper it gets more puzzling.

China raises more hogs than any nation on earth. It raises 96% of the pork its people eat. And imports just 4%. How much of China’s pork comes from North Carolina? Something like one-tenth of one percent. Germany sells more pork to China than America. And America sells more pork to Mexico than to China.

Here’s another slip: Clark reported that Duplin County raises more hogs than any other county in the United States. But he was wrong. It doesn’t. How did a journalist with a grant from a wealthy foundation make a silly mistake like that?

Clark described seeing six hog barns made of metal. But the barns he saw weren’t metal – they were made of wood. How could he mistake wood for metal?

In one breath, Clark described a lady telling him she believed the odor from a hog farm near her home killed her nephew and, in another breath, he said the same nephew had died of cancer.

He reported hog waste is “potentially lethal” and that “people die with distressing regularity in the waste.” And he reported that hog farming is a $2.9 billion industry that provides 46,000 jobs in North Carolina – but that led him to another odd conclusion: “The overall economic benefits of hog farming,” he said, “have actually been relatively small.”

When their paths crossed the Schmidt Foundation, the journalist, and the rock ‘n’ roll magazine each got what they wanted. What did it lead to? They spun an odd tale then moved on and left everyone else to pick up the pieces.


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