By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 24, 2020
CHICAGO, Ill. – Dairy Management Inc (DMI) has a new hire at the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, under the leadership of Tom Vilsack and Mike McCloskey, as part of the big push to make “sustainability” center of the plate. The definition could surprise us.
We know the goal on climate is to get “U.S. Dairy” to “net-zero” emissions across the supply chain by 2050 or sooner, but for me, this looks like a smoke screen to ramp up the rate at which the dairy food industry giants seek to scale dairy production and fill in the gaps with a little Perfect Day.
No announcement, but an occupation change and new Undeniably Dairy logo’d cover photo on his twitter feed signals that Caleb Harper — the former principle researcher and founder of the now closed Open Agriculture Initiative at M.I.T.’s embattled Media Lab — is the new DMI “Executive Director Dairy Scale for Good.”
Our initial inquiry for DMI’s vice president of media relations and issues management about the position and whether other candidates were interviewed — and other questions — was emailed earlier this week and not answered.
Harper has a long history of advocacy for urban food production in the sense of digitized, software-programmable, particalized and reconstituted food. He wrote opinion pieces and did TED Talks about how the cutting edge of this movement is agri-‘culturing’ companies making lab-created dairy protein from DNA-engineered yeast and meat replacements from gene-edited muscle cells, stating that these are the food innovations needed to be sure the world does not go hungry.
In a National Geographic opinion piece in 2017, Harper even mentions and advocates for companies like Perfect Day and Modern Meadow, makers of replacement dairy protein from bovine-DNA-altered-yeast, as the future of food production because, according to Harper, people will move to cities and the rural lands will lose population.
Yes, he’s a guy who believes in true factory farms, the kind of factory farms where fermentation vats feed yeast and collect their excrement to separate out interchangeable dairy components, like protein, and where gene-edited muscle blobs grow in bioreactors instead of as animals on farms.
All part of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) plan, I might add. They want to move everyone to the cities, re-wild the farms and rural lands, and they’ve already begun.
Harper, who goes by the handle “CalebGrowsFood” on Twitter, is part of the WWF “Thought Leadership Group.” In fact, Mike McCloskey of Fair Oaks, fairlife, and Select Milk Producers as well as a key leader in DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is also on the WWF Thought Leadership Group. Harper’s association with WWF goes back a long way.
For his part, Harper’s OpenAg Project at MIT set out to prove people in cities could grow their own food in LED boxes controlled by computers. Trouble is, it appears that despite the glowing reviews in 2016-18 when models were featured, the boxes never really worked. Some of the photos and demonstrations were allegedly fudged with plants purchased from local stores, according to Oct. 2019 and May 2020 articles in the New York Times, Propublica, WBUR public radio and several reports in science and technology publications.
On April 30, 2020, Caleb Harper left his position as the lead researcher for the OpenAg Project at MIT.
His departure coincides with the Institute’s investigation into the entire Media Lab at MIT amid the brewing scandal that first came to light last fall when the MIT Media Lab’s main director Joichi Ito was found to have financial ties to Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein is the international financier and socialite, who was a previously-convicted sex-offender and committed suicide last year in prison awaiting trial on new charges of human trafficking.
According to the New York Times, and other sources, the OpenAg project, led by Harper, was being used through various meetings between Ito and Epstein to get Epstein to invest more than the half million the MIT Media Lab was already receiving from him in “discretionary” funds — funds MIT was not aware of. As this became known, the work of the lab itself came under scrutiny, and that scrutiny is still in progress even though the lab shut down at the end of April with Harper’s departure.
Here’s the clincher. MIT began a thorough investigation of its Media Lab after firing the director over the Epstein financial ties, and along with that, is investigating Harper’s OpenAg project. Portions of the investigation were reported on in May of 2020 by various science journals and even the New York Times, indicating Harper’s OpenAg project released water from its “computerized plant boxes” with too much nitrogen, well beyond the levels they were permitted to release, and it went to an underground well. A researcher on-site blew the whistle with local authorities, resulting in a $25,000 fine. He was reprimanded in an email from Harper for jeopardizing the future of the project, the report indicated.
In addition, Harper’s computerized artificial intelligence plant boxes, that were showcased on 60 Minutes and National Geographic as well as other high profile outlets, never really worked, according to researchers in the lab, who were interviewed by ProPublica, a non-profit journalism entity judged high in their accuracy based on evidentiary reporting.
What we are learning is concerning. Harper, in this Undeniably Dairy Scale for Good position, may be the very person to work with Vilsack and McCloskey on what practices dairy farmers (most likely via the FARM program) must implement in order to remain part of “U.S. Dairy” by meeting their environmental benchmarks on soil, air, and water. That’s being funded with dairy producer checkoff funds, and there is a big question mark behind the name of the new hire on implementation. Does he really know anything about those three resources – and how to really produce real food while stewarding those resources?
To be continued in the July 31, 2020 edition of Farmshine