Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Where Our Food Comes From Is An Emotional Battle

I wasn't sure I even wanted to get involved in this debate as a wide variety of farmers and people involved in Agriculture have eloquently (and controversially) submitted their thoughts to the world.

Recently Chipotle came out with a dark video designed to market their product and wake up the American public. What makes my toes curl is the vehemence with which consumers have defended how revolutionary the ad is. I won't argue the points in the video as the following (diverse group of) people have done a great job: Farming America, Ray Bowman, and Diana Prichard.

The fantastic thing about our country is the CHOICES we have. We can pay a premium for foods based on moral and emotional premises or we can buy a cheaper product that is no less healthy. Before anybody argues with me about the health benefits of one type of production over another, there has been no scientific data to prove that production method has any effect on healthiness of meat (one example is Grass-Fed vs Corn-Fed by Meat MythCrushers).

Every farm is different. Every farmer makes choices about their farm using different criteria. I don't personally support organic, but I don't begrudge anybody who does choose organic. If we are going to educate people about Agriculture, it needs to be in a positive, factually true way. One comment I just read on a blog post concerned me as the person stated the only way to raise food was pasture fed, no antibiotics, and no pesticides. I respect that you do not want animals given antibiotics (which are given when animals are sick) and pasture-fed but you are kidding yourself if you believe pesticides are not used on every farm. Even organic farmers use pesticides...they are just derived from natural sources, which can be just as dangerous as synthetic compounds (see Berkeley on Organics).

My Toxicology class is actually talking about Pesticides right now. I will put up a post later this week laying out some of the particulars, but I encourage you to read a Special Issue recently released by Science in the meantime.

Agriculture is a diverse mix of small farms, large farms, grain operations, grain and livestock operations, grass fed beef, feedlot, all-natural, conventional, organic, the list is endless. If you are a consumer that is concerned about food production then I strongly encourage you to reach out to any number of Farmers who are blogging (see this page). I also encourage you to set up tours at different farms so you can see first-hand how food is produced. Follow the Illinois Farm Families website, and especially pay attention to their Field Moms as they are mothers from Chicago who travel to farms to see how food is produced. And if you get a chance, check out Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana and tour their dairy and pig farms! I'm hoping to get a chance to head up there soon and check out their pig setup!

At the end of the day, we should all have a chance to make the choices we believe are best, whether you are a farmer or consumer. But please research the facts before you make blanket statements or start bad mouthing people. One of my favorite quotes of all time was in an issue of Cattle Business Weekly in 2012. The former South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture, Walt Bones, said:

“A problem (and opportunity) for us in Agriculture is that a vast majority of our population is at least three generations removed from the farm and they don’t know how their food is being produced. That lack of knowledge makes attacking our abundant and diversified food supply here in the US an easy target….We are also blessed that our farmers, ranchers, processors, and distributers, and retailers can deliver all this food to us for the smallest percentage of our disposable income when compared to anywhere else in the world-leaving each of us with more money to spend on discretionary items. The next time you hear someone attacking our food supply, please keep in mind that the world loses thousands of people each day to starvation. An available, affordable and safe food supply is a must. We can debate production systems (organic vs. conventional, grass fed vs. corn fed) but at the table of opportunity, there is room for everyone.”