Apparently natural is never better

I start every weekday morning with a live video chat with Andrew Henderson, a friend of mine from the United Kingdom. We call the program “Across the Pond.”

Andrew, like myself, sees the need for free and fair trade around the world.

I referenced this discussion a week ago and at the moment our global trade of agricultural commodities is not doing well but we will get that fixed. Along those lines, we had a guest this week on the program to discuss gut health and “natural” ingredients. Something has happened to our way of thinking in regard to this serious issue. If you have a slight twitch, like I do, when you hear the phrase “all natural” there is a problem.

To be clear, I love nature. I am often asked by the non-farm folks, “How are farmers dealing with climate change?” I always respond that farmers have been dealing with climate change since the beginning of time. We call it the weather. But I honestly believe our culture is dealing with climate change in an unnatural way.

We read daily headlines about homelessness and, while it is newsworthy, what is natural about having a home? We started building homes to protect us from nature. What is natural about jumping into a pile of mostly fiberglass and driving 70 mph? Or better yet, how natural is it to be flying 34,000 feet in the air at 500 mph? As I write this I hear the buzz of an ag aviator applying pest protection to a neighbor’s corn field. Natural would be that the insects just eat what they need and we take what is left.

Natural is that we would not hide from a virus or take a vaccination but let survival of the fittest take over. I would hope that I am somewhat making my point that we use the term “natural” as a marketing slogan for appeal but nobody truly wants to live in a natural world today, in fact, just the opposite is far more true. We have built an entire artificial world to survive in because folks actually fear way more about natural than they want to embrace. It is literally just a catchy marketing term.

With all of that said, I don’t think everything should be completely fabricated and my best point is antibiotics. Most people today have a level of fear when they hear about antibiotics utilized in food animal production. Why? For the most part, antibiotics are natural. They are derived from fungus in the soil and put together in a form that humans can utilize for the common good. So to take that one step further; pigs that are outside rooting in the soil may consume the fungus directly, is that not natural? But when pigs are in a concrete barn and they too need antibiotics, why is it no longer natural?

I’m not sure most consumers understand the concept of what antibiotics do and, while it is simple, it needs to be clarified. Antibiotics kill all bacteria, both good and bad. We use antibiotics to kill bacteria with the intent that the good bacteria will come back faster than the bad bacteria and the animal will be healthier.

Now should we look into other ways to make life better? Absolutely and that is where probiotics come into play. You see if we would stop looking at the technique and instead acquire a better understanding of the outcome, we would all be better off. In other words, as consumers we don’t ask how the milk, meat and eggs arrived safely at our table we just know that the nutrition is safe and wholesome. I suppose it is mostly human nature to be curious because as I travel people will ask if I drove or flew. Although neither is natural, neither one really matters. What matters is that I arrive safely.

The moral of the story is that we have created a completely artificial world to live in because we perceive it to be more safe. The greatest challenge we have is the whole concept of sustainable food production for the future and the fact that the term “natural” has been hijacked by marketing companies. If we go back to where I started, it is not natural that my first cup of coffee every morning is with a couple of blokes on another continent instead of at the local co-op but we sure do enjoy the outcome. With all of these examples in mind, it clearly doesn’t have to be “natural” to be better.

Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at, or email Trent at [email protected].