Making up numbers–the stats of a sport called ‘Attack the Farmer’

By Gene Hall

I love baseball. Part of the fun is studying the numbers, the statistics of the game. I enjoy comparing the achievements of today’s players with those of decades ago. A few nights ago, the best player on my favorite team, Josh Hamilton, hit four home runs in a single game. He was only the 16th player in the more than a century old history of the game to do so. My grandchildren will marvel at that feat someday: “PawPaw saw that game!”

But, many in America have a new favorite pastime. It’s a game played enthusiastically by people who believe the numbers and assertions of the “sport.” The trouble is the numbers are often extrapolated from inaccurate data.

I call the game “Attack the Farmer.” It’s canon of statistics is a mix of truth, half-truth and outright falsehoods. Doesn’t matter —all of it can be used interchangeably. In the rules of this game, which is basically “no rules at all,” you can just make up numbers if what you have doesn’t work for you.

A study conducted by the land grant and research school Kansas State University (KSU) reports that opponents of antibiotics use in livestock grossly exaggerate the amount given to food animals.

With data from a 2006 Department of Agriculture swine survey and a 2009 survey of swine veterinarians, KSU discovered that about 1.6 million pounds of antibiotics are used in pork production for growth promotion, nutritional efficiency and disease prevention each year.

It’s still not surprising that one 2001 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists claimed that 10.3 million pounds a year are used. Even though five years separated the UCS study and the USDA study that contradicts it, it’s extremely unlikely there was that much antibiotic use in animal agriculture 10 years ago. Activists can sometimes get carried away with numbers. Even if you buy the 2001 report, you’d have to celebrate what would then be dramatic declines in antibiotic use.

National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President R.C. Hunt said that the 2001 report was pretty much fabricated. Hunt denies that America’s pork farmers overuse antibiotics. He says they work with veterinarians to make sure sick animals are treated. Here’s the NPPC news release.

The KSU study found that 2.8 million pounds of antibiotics were used for growth promotion/nutritional efficiency, disease prevention and disease treatment in all livestock. That amount is 368 percent less than the amount asserted by attacking Union of Concerned Scientists for just growth promotion/nutritional efficiency and disease prevention.

A four-decade career in agriculture has conditioned me to trust the research of agriculture scientists at the land grant universities.  I find them to almost always be spot on accurate. Here’s a link to the KSU study abstract.  If you don’t, feel free to make up some numbers.  You won’t be the first.

Photo © Victor Burnside | Dreamstime.com

Gene Hall

Public Relations Director
Texas Farm Bureau
I believe that the only hope for a food secure world is capitalism and reasonable profits for America’s farm and ranch families–that the first element of sustainability is economic survival.
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