Dear Suzanne Somers

My Generation

I'm writing today to share a few facts regarding some things you recently said on national television.

Published on: January 27, 2011

Dear Ms. Somers,

I am writing this letter on a Thursday, having understood through various social media outlets that you appeared on the Today Show a couple times late last week and over the weekend. I used to watch the Today Show faithfully, but then I got tired of being frightened into believing my kids were going to huff something, be kidnapped at birth or be eaten by sharks. For awhile, I tried to catch the headlines during the 7 -7:30 a.m. half hour, just to see what happened in the world overnight but now the bus comes at 7:20 a.m., so that just doesn't happen anymore. So unfortunately, I missed your live interviews.

However, at the urging of many respected friends, I found and watched your two segments online, where you were interviewed on Friday by Natalie Morales and on Saturday by Amy Robach.

Having watched the interviews, I think we really do have something in common here: a desire for health. You have, I understand, written 20 books – 12 of which have been New York Times bestsellers. I think it is most impressive that we live in a country where we are all free to express our opinions. But here's the thing: I think our opinions should be based on fact. And there were a couple tidbits of misinformation you presented in your interview. I appreciate, too, that you acknowledged to Natalie Morales that this was just your opinion, but again, I feel certain you would like to have the very best facts upon which to base your opinions.

On Friday, you told Natalie, "When you inject meat with antibiotics, the antibiotics get into your gut, eat up the happy bacteria, which leaves all the bad stuff. The bad stuff starts to feast on the lining inside the gut, eventually eats little holes in the gut. Those toxins, which should be neutralized in the stomach with hydrochloric acid, leak out now and that's how people are getting autoimmune diseases – MS, fibromyalgia, lupus."

Now I should disclose, I grew up raising cattle and learned to give injections at an early age so we could take better care of the cattle. My family raises cattle today, too. And it was always my impression that the antibiotics we gave were good things; they made sick animals healthier. But I wanted to be sure, so I spoke with large animal veterinarian Shawn McKim. He says that while cattle and hogs may receive an antibiotic injection during their lifetime, each product has a specific withdrawal time to ensure no residue is left behind at harvest. Or in other words, if you give an antibiotic, you have to wait a certain number of days before slaughtering the animal and moving it into the food supply. This is true; we do this on our farm.

Further, McKim adds, "There are no real levels of antibiotics in our meat. If by some chance there were infinitesimal levels of antibiotics in your hamburger, it would be such a low level that it would not alter the microflora in your gut at all."

He also raised another good question: if by chance you did somehow receive antibiotic in your hamburger and it did somehow change the flora in your small and large bowel, how do those "toxins" then make their way back upstream to your stomach? Exactly. Your reasoning seems to counter basic seventh grade biology.

I appreciated, too, that you brought up the difference in grass-fed and grain-fed cattle, because that's something people have a lot of interest in and we're sure hearing more about it these days. I double checked your statement, however, regarding those types of beef. You said: "Leaky gut syndrome…is from antibiotics in meat. It's really important to eat grass-fed beef because they don't inject them the way they do those who are fed corn."

Here again, it looks like some of your underlying information may be inaccurate. McKim, the veterinarian, points out that grass-fed beef may well receive antibiotics, either to treat or prevent sickness in the animal. Only beef that's marketed as organic or antibiotic-free could be guaranteed to be free of antibiotics. Of course, there are problems in that system as well: what happens to the sick grass-fed steer? If he's supposed to be antibiotic-free, will he not be treated and therefore suffer more? This is a question to maybe ask yourself before simplifying our very complex food production system.

Also, while we're on the topic of complex systems, a lot of folks like to point to the Danes as a model for how to raise antibiotic-free hogs. Yet Dr. McKim adds that when the Danish outlawed sub-therapeutic treatment of hogs in the late '90s (sub-therapeutic treatment means giving them all a standard dose of antibiotic to prevent disease, instead of waiting until symptoms appear), the result was in increase in illness in the hogs and an overall increase in the tonnage of antibiotics used to get animals to harvest. I think that's just fascinating, and it's one of the things we just don't hear about when folks (like Katie Couric) go on TV to condemn antibiotic use.

I wanted to mention just one last thing. I think it was during your second interview when you brought up the topic of wheat and gluten. Again, you are correct that this is a growing problem, though the best experts in the country don't seem to know why. For that reason, I won't get into gluten-intolerance, but I did want to clarify your statement on wheat. You said, "There used to be 80 different strains of wheat. And we've engineered those 80 strains now down into five strains of wheat, so the gluten content in those five strains is off the chart. So if you're even a little bit sensitive, and gluten intolerance not only leads to great weight gain but to osteoporosis and other diseases."

My husband and I are corn and soybean producers, so I admit to not knowing enough about wheat first-hand. However, "five strains of wheat" just didn't sound right to me. So I asked Bill Spiegel, who works with the Kansas Wheat Commission (and who also happens to raise wheat himself) to clarify. He says that the DNA of wheat is incredibly complex – some five times more complex than human DNA (I had no idea). That's because today's wheat is a hybrid of 2-3 other grass crops that originated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, some 2,000 years ago.

He adds: "Like all other crops, wheat has been cultivated, refined, bred and rebred, and today's wheat plants are what we have. There are hundreds of varieties, each with different DNA and possessing different milling and baking qualities. There are also six 'classes' of wheat: Hard Red (used for pan breads and as an enhancer to other classes); Soft White (pastries, cookies); Soft Red Winter (pan breads, flour); Hard White (noodles) Hard Red Spring (bagels, croissants) and Durum (pasta)."

So I wonder, what exactly did you mean by "strains"? Did you mean class? Or hybrid? Because even though there are six classes of wheat, there are, quite literally, hundreds of hybrids (or varieties) of wheat on the market today.

Ms. Somers, I hope this is helpful to you, and I apologize for such a long letter. However, we farmers out here in the meat and grain production industries are passionate about what we do, and it bothers us when people are misinformed. Frankly, some of us take it kind of personally. So I hope you will look into this a little further. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Holly Spangler
Farm wife
Farm writer
Former farm kid

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  1. L. Ann Mathews says:

    Dear Holly, I appreciate the article that wrote to address this celebrity. I too am a wife to a small beef farmer in Michigan and did not appreciate the information that she shared with millions of viewers. Thank you for setting it straight. Sincerely, Lou Ann Mathews

  2. FarmMama says:

    Great job! I hope she does respond!

  3. DeereMama says:

    Very well written!! It will be interesting to see if you get an actual response and not just the automatic response! Please share with us if you do!

  4. farmkid says:

    This was fantastic! Thank you!

  5. Jennifer says:

    All through your letter, I'm sitting at my computer with a Chester Cat grin. Way to stick those facts in her face with a slight bit of sarcasm!

  6. NN says:

    Great response, backed with a lot of facts and telling the truth! You need to have the farm organizations get you on Today or better yet Oprah to tell the rest of the story. Keep up the good work Holly you are doing a fantastic job!

  7. SM Krause says:

    Dear Holly: Having not been associated with the agricultural industry other than purchasing produce and meats from local farmers and ranchers in our area as a way to support them, I found your article quite interesting and very informative. What I found to be most interesting about your article is the pointing out that media figures all TOO often, present ideas that are not factual or very misleading due to a possible lack of in-depth research on their subject matter. To me it seems that the media figures use their “fame” to push an agenda that they themselves do not fully understand. This makes me question who is truly behind these “scare tactics.” After all, how many farms are there in Hollywood, and can we truly believe that Ms. Somers is even a partial expert on wheat or cattle production. Thanks again for you factually based insights into the misinformation presented by another media figure.--SMKrause

  8. C. Williams says:

    Well said. Keep it up. We farmers need to get out the right information.