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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Perception of the Industry



It is something that really gets under my skin. Just the thing to put me on my soapbox. It's when a journalist or other public figure criticizes the agriculture industry and fails to show both sides of the story. The public gets all riled up about how farmers and ranchers are leading this country to its demise because of a topic the brought up in the story. This time the media format is Time Magazine and the journalist is Bryan Walsh.

In the August 31 edition of Time the cover story bashes the American food system for its use of chemical fertilizers and use of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO). The cover shows a photo of a hamburger meat package stating "Warning: This hamburger may be hazardous to your health. Why the American food system is bad for our bodies, our economy, and our environment - and what some visionaries are trying to do about it." The following article states many myths about the cattle industry in specific and even pushes the idea of organic farming. To read the article follow this link to Time Magazine's website.

Here are some brief examples of the myths stated in the article and the facts to set the story straight (Adapted from an email newsletter from the Kansas Beef Council):

Myth: Intensive Agriculture is accelerating global warming; eating less meat will slow global warming.
Facts: Livestock producers only contribute 3% of U.S. green house gas (GHG) emissions according to the EPA. A grain-based system of cattle production has a low environmental impact and lower methane emissions.

Myth: CAFOs are major polluters and are inhumane for animals. Work in a CAFO is monotonous and soul-killing. (Honestly this last part is kind of humorous, because why would people continue working in CAFOs if they were such horrible places of employment. Has the journalist ever experienced work in a CAFO?)
Facts: The industry uses the resources of nutritionists and environmental engineers to ensure that our animals stay healthy. Ranchers take pride in their work and animals and provide everything the animals need to have a balanced, nutritious diet and humane treatment at all stages of life. Also see ExploreBeef.org.

Myth: Animal Agriculture relies heavily on antibiotics and is contributing to antibiotic resistance in human pathogens.
Facts: Ranchers use antibiotics to treat sick animals and to ensure optimum health for animals in their care. Resistant bacteria in human medicine are the result of antibiotic misuse in humans and is not connected to antibiotic-resistant foodborne or other pathogens. All antibiotics used in animals undergo strenuous testing by the FDA.

Myth: Local, organic, grass-fed and/or other niche products are the only way we can feed the population sustainably.
Fact: Until you sit down and figure the costs of feeding the world's population with food products from these sources, one does not realize the enormous increase of cost and inability to continue to provide the same amount of food products as we do with conventional methods. Agriculture producers invest their entire lives to provide a world food supply, and consume the same food that they produce.

Myth: Americans are eating too much meat; modern food production encourages obesity. Hundreds of millions of people will want to shift to the same calorie-heavy, protein rich diet that has made Americans so unhealthy. Corn helps produce that marbled taste many of us love, but it can result in beef that is higher in fat - helping to fuel the obesity epidemic.
Facts: There are 29 lean cuts of beef, providing consumers amble choices of high quality, lean protein. The leading cause of obesity is from the consumption of excess calories from cheap, convenient food (i.e. junk food, candy, fast food, etc)

I find it a shame that the journalist did not invest his time to include more insight from the agriculture industries that he was taking a stab at. Kudos to him for writing an article that will be highly publicized and will scare people about the circumstances of their food supply. I guess that is popular journalism for ya.

The Agriculture production industries must work together to spread the facts about our production systems. We are the ones devoting our lives to producing the world's food supply. I remember the old saying is something like: It's easy to criticize something on a full stomach.