By Mike Barnett

One of the top stories of 2009 concerning agriculture was how much negative press the industry received.

Documentaries like Food Inc. and Dirt! The Movie and writers like Bryan Walsh, who delivered a broadside against modern food production practices in Time magazine have always given those in agriculture indigestion. But how many farmers and ranchers have really taken them seriously? Few, I believe. We might want to start thinking that direction.

When it comes to food, activists are taking the moral high ground farmers and ranchers have held for so many years. The “safe, affordable and abundant food supply” mantra we have chanted for so long, although true, has been turned against us. We are accused of producing an overabundance of empty calories with no concern for promoting healthy eating habits. Industrial agriculture is turning America into a nation of obese slobs. Cheap food is killing us. So their arguments go.

Six months ago I thought the only people listening to these trains of thoughts were so far out in left field and so few in number that they didn’t make any difference. I think different today.

I received a personal email from a lady this morning concerning a recent blog entry, Five Reasons You Will Pay More For Food, which also ran in our publications.

Here’s in part what she had to say:
“The food industry is funded, owned by a handful of corporations who are ultimately concerned with one thing, profit. And in the name of that, they truly do not care about the local farmer, they do not care about the quality and safety of our food and do not care about the health of our nation’s people. And right now, they are dictating what we eat and the way we eat.”

More:
Food Inc, did a very good job of following local farmers who now work for these large corporations, the pittance of a compensation they receive for their hard labor, the terrible living conditions of the animals we are eating, the hefty penalties applied to these farmers if they do not follow the sometimes ridiculous rules the corporations pass down to them. And the threat of losing a contract, and a livelihood is such that farmers who know better are going along with it, even though many of them are up to their ears in debt.”

And more:   
“Obesity is on the rise, cancer is on the rise. Girls are now starting their menstrual cycles at younger ages than ever before. Why is this? I would argue that our nation’s reliance on bad food (fast food) which has helped fuel the current direction of the food industry and the huge reliance on hormones in our food chain and the pesticides used may have something to do with our sick nation.”

Rants from some ultra-liberal activist pushing an anti-modern agriculture agenda? Hardly. The thoughts come straight out of Food, Inc. But they are being repeated by a lady who said she loves “Texas Farm Bureau, love[s] the stance they have taken on eminent domain and for the most part agree[s] with the political opinions offered in your Texas Neighbors newsletter.” And it was not a public answer to a blog or editorial. It was a personal response to me. Why? Because she is concerned.

You know how one too many bricks can topple the entire wheelbarrow? That’s what’s happening in agriculture today. Consumers are hearing too many negatives about the food they eat and the way it is produced. Those who oppose the methods we use to produce safe, abundant and affordable food have taken us to task. What they are saying is neither ethical nor true, but that wheelbarrow is starting to tip.

They are pushing the right buttons to gain consumers’ attention. They are effectively using food safety and health concerns in an attempt to dismantle the modern agriculture miracle that feeds America and much of the world.

It’s time agriculture pushed back—before that last brick brings the whole stack crashing down. The lady that emailed me said she yearned to hear from the farmers and ranchers who produce her food.

Why aren’t you talking to her?

Mike Barnett

Director of Publications
Texas Farm Bureau
I’m a firm believer that farmers and ranchers will continue to meet the needs of a growing world population by employing equal measures of common sense, conservation and technology.
Follow Mike on Twitter and Facebook.

21 Responses to “Consumers hungry for good news about food”

  1. I farm and ranch for a living as has my previous anscestors (6 generations where we are now) I do this because I love what I do, to wake each and every morning excited to face the day. As a farmer and rancher, we also eat what we produce, I would never sale anything that I would not want my family to eat. My wife and I raise about 200 mother cows, we treat them better than some children are treated, my wife tries to name most of them(they are our children) neither of us like to market them but that is a must so others can eat also. We raise a lot of wheat also to make bread out of. The other crop is guar beans, which is used as a bonding agent in face makeup as well as many other things.

  2. It ain’t your Grandpa’s agriculture…or world for that matter. The world has sped up. Improved communications, including the internet, has made the transfer and sharing of ideas instantly global. This allows both correct and incorrect information to be received and digested right away.

    Agriculture must become proactive in the sharing of correct information. Agriculture must also be aware and able to counter incorrect information in a timely fashion. Not to do so can allow the wrong ideas to promulgate into a problem that will become detrimental for agriculture.

  3. Russell Boening says:

    My family has been in production agriculture in south texas for over 100 yrs. We now operate a dairy and beef cow operation and also grow most of the feed for both enterprises. Our milk and our beef (and therefore your milk and beef) are safe and good for you. Our families eat and drink the same products that we sell; I would never put anything into the mouth of my child that I did not beleive was completely safe. Our animals are VERY well cared for. There are at least 2 good reasons for this. One, I beleive that it is my moral duty to do it that way, and secondly (though this may not be as politically correct) it is the most profitable thing to do. I truly think that our nations food supply, when consumed as a balanced diet and properly prepared is safer and more wholesome than ever before in our history. We’ve produced milk on this farm for over 55 yrs, it has never been more tested than it is now. There is ZERO tolerance for antibiotic residue and other testing criteria has become more and more demanding. The beef industry has gone to great lenths to insure BSE (mad cow disease) is virtually nonexistant in the US and has improved handling and testing of beef to eliminate e-coli contamination. We in agriculture welcome these and other scientifically based safeguards to help us continue to produce the most abundant and safest food in the world.

    RB

  4. David A. Wagner says:

    Thanks for the article Mike… I’m an optimist… My hope is that consumers aren’t trying to "dismantle the modern agriculture miracle that feeds America" but rather they are trying to tune it. Today consumers have access to an incredible amount of diverse information. I’d like to think it could be that some in this industry are doing things right and that too many in this industry are being painted poorly because of a few bad apples that happen to be sitting on top of the bushel. To be real and honest, farming and ranching is too close to the consumer health issue (regardless of diet) to be free from scrutiny. Because of the amount of information that is made available it is imperative that experts interject and comment on the validity of statements and set the record straight. The facts and fallacies must be sorted out. I’d like to think that farmers and ranchers are key in this respect. I think, as in any industry, any unacceptable practice is going to be exposed in today’s "wireless" information world. As a community, if there is a problem, it’s best to understand what it is and then figure out a way to fix it. Communication is absolutely key in this regard. Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

  5. The reality is that if we keep growing in population and eating the way we do… the conversation will start to sway the other way. "Where is the food!"

    As long as the food is healthy for human digestion at the end of the day is what matters. These movies and shows are just hurting business… not providing a solution.

  6. Why is profit such a bad word to everyone? It should only be considered bad if the company who is profiting is grossly ignoring health and safety concerns of the general public. The bottom line is, businesses are FOR-PROFIT. Otherwise all agricultural companies would be non-profits and work from donations, which they do not.

    I do think that these companies should be held to the highest imaginable level when it comes to quality, safety, and health issues, and they should be held accountable.

  7. This article touches me deeply. I live in rural Ohio and have for all my life. When I was young the farms were abundant everywher but now I find that housing developements want to push farmers farther and farther out and away from the ever expandinding boundries of the city.

    It is really quite amazing how everytime someone feels like building a new house they look for that perfect spot just outside city limits and plop their self down right next to a freshly plowed field. After a few other home builders join them and build up a small neighborhood they start complaining about things that should of been obvious to them before they built there. They complain about the smells coming from the fields and dust that kicks up when planting time rows aroung each year. WOW who would of guessed that such things would happen when you build your house 10 feet from a farm field. LOL.

    Anyway I think it is about time farmers are appreciated fully for the service they provide for the entire world. Without farmers we would all be pretty hungry. Enough said:-)

  8. Hi, Mike! Isn’t it just amazing that we’re just now thinking about what we’re putting into our bodies? I think health-conscious titles have come a long way from Tree Huggers and Crunchy Granola’s, haven’t they? It literally gives me goosebumps when I see a large turn out at a local farmer’s market. And, what makes me more excited is to see children getting excited about purchasing things that are good for them.

    I’m from the Midwest. I’ve lived in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Indiana, and I’ve seen firsthand the hard work that goes into agriculture. Can you imagine working for something THAT HARD that you don’t believe in? I really hope that the consumers give rise to the freedom of farmers.

    Another documentary I recently watched was by the gentleman who spearheaded Food, Inc. It’s called the Botany of Desire. It’s absolutely fascinating.

    Anyway, thanks for the article. Keep em coming.

  9. I am a Texas resident, and completely agree that our food should be safety standards, but some ideas people propose are ridiculous. One such idea is that all foods sold should be organic and meet one of the accredited standards. I think having the option to buy organic food is a plus, but its overpriced for the average person, and really does it actually have more nutrients? Regardless people need food to live, and I can attest to food not being "dirt cheap." With the shortages we have seen in various commodities along with the droughts here in Texas, it has significantly raised the cost of living for many people. Just my two cents.

  10. Right you are San Antonio – on just about everything. Agriculture in America is a pretty big tent, with room for all kinds of choices on food consumption and production.

    Gene

  11. The US agricultural industry faces stiff competition from China. This will lead to the cultivation of higher earning crops, whether almonds, citrus or organic food.
    The only competitive advantage for US farmers is their proximity to consumers and it is high time that farmers rediscover it.

    I am certainly looking forward to better tasting organically grown crops, even at a price.

  12. Farmers are putting out more food then ever and are doing a great job, I hope to see more positive coverage, but it may be up to the USDA, National Science Foundation, public universities and food activists to strengthen industrial agriculture.

  13. Being from Kentucky, I can certainly understand your frustrations. I agree. And after reading, "My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm", by Manny Howard, I have a much greater appreciation for the work that our farmers put in. I highly recommend it to anyone that needs to find a bit of appreciation for where our food comes from, and the difficult work that must go into it. I remember the author saying that each carrot that you see in a farmers market should really cost about $500 each.

    I highly recommend it…
    Amazon link follows:
    http://amzn.to/9tn7Cq

  14. Most of what Americans now eat is produced by a handful of highly centralized mega-businesses,and that this situation is detrimental to health, environment, even our very humanity. The ugly facts of animal mistreatment, food contamination, and government collusion are covered up by a secretive industry that wouldn’t let the interiors of their chicken farms, cattle ranches, slaughterhouses, and meatpacking plants be publiced.

  15. http://www.foodsystemsinsider.com/Article_FSI.aspx?oid=1118860&fid=JUNE_2010_3RD_FRIDAY&aid=2167&src=share_visitor

    http://www.texasfarmbureau.org/TxAgTalks/?page=2

    Thai, check out these two links for an opposing view. Thanks for posting. Your comment was passionate, well written and wrong. More than 90% of farms in America are family owned. The corporate numbers are even skewed by the fact that many farm families incorporate for tax purposes. Farmers and ranchers open their farms to tours all the time. There is even a growing industry now called agrotourism. Modern agriculture is about efficency, greatly improved yields and steady environmental improvement. Most of all, it’s a story of productivity that is only a hopeless dream in much of the world.

    Gene

  16. As long as the food is healthy for human digestion at the end of the day is what matters. These movies and shows are just hurting business… not providing a solution.

  17. I’m determined to use social media as a way of raising awareness of these issues. Too many people – not enough food!

  18. Hi

    Is a lot of the problem not down to just pure ignorance of the goverment and faliure to educate the kids and youth of today on the value of traditional argriculture food industry and farming in general ?

    Ask a kid where did that fruit come from or where did your sausages come from the reply simply is the supermarket….

    then add the blame of how it was treated or as a gentleman above states how unfair the animals are treated .. YER RIGHT !!!! totally agrre with post above that most farmers actually do have names for the herds and are better fed and treated than some kids… WELL SAID !!

    how did this world survive before ???? and i agree the population is pushing the industry out i just hope there all on amazon buying square foot gardening books and how to keep chickens or there gonna starve lololololo

    great post

    Mark

  19. I trade a lot in food commodities and the markets are reacting very strangely to the waves this very topic is causing.

    Things are only going to get worse (or better, depending on your opinion on the matter) so people had better start gettign used to it.

  20. I do believe that cheap food is killing us but i am more concerned about the genetically modified food that has become abundant in today’s society. Do we really know what the long term affects of these will be?

  21. Great post, Mike. I’m on the side of trying to raise food standards and one of the best places to begin is by helping local schools with more nutritional meal plans for students. Farmers could potentially have better food contracts if it were linked to school systems and who knows, from there maybe it’ll spread further.

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