Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Food, Inc. or Black Sheep?

I recently watched the movies Food, Inc., King Corn, Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me. These movies are portrayed as factual documentaries about the American food system. The messages are similar; 1) big farms are bad, small farms are good, 2) conventionally grown food is bad, organic food is good, 3) less expensive food is poor quality, high-priced food is good quality, 4) technology and efficiency are bad, “old-fashion” methods are good, 5) organic farming methods are good for the environment, conventional methods are destroying the environment, and 6) U.S. farms and food systems are “self-governed”.  What do these assumptions have in common? They are all opinions, not fact.

As a dairy producer who’s been involved in agriculture my entire life, I found these films to be opinion based dramas aimed at scaring consumers. These movies are based on a narrow viewpoint crafted to push an elitist agenda with the goal of eliminating food choices. They play on emotions in an attempt to make you feel guilty for purchasing and consuming conventionally grown food.

The facts paint a different picture;

Myth: Big farms are bad, small farms are good
Fact: Food is produced on farms owned and operated by families – 98% of U.S. farms are family owned. Farms of all sizes produce healthy, safe products because we as farmers take pride in the food we produce. Farms are businesses that must be profitable to be sustainable, regardless of size. The perception is small farms treat animals well and large farms don’t, this simply isn’t true. We know healthy, comfortable, well-fed animals are productive animals. Our cows eat a balanced diet prepared by a nutritionists which provides the nutrients they need. Corn is not “unnatural” in a cow’s diet. Corn is a grass. Soy, another important component in a cow’s diet, is a legume. These ingredients are part of a balanced diet on livestock farms of all sizes.


Our cows eat a balanced diet that includes corn, which is a grass


Myth: Conventionally grown food is bad, organic food is good
Fact: There is no science-based evidence that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown. A healthy, balanced diet is easily achieved from non-organic food. The production methods may differ, but the end product is the same. I feel good about serving conventionally grown food to my family and am glad I have the choice. See my blog "What's the Difference Between Traditional "Regular" Milk and Organic Milk?"

Jack and Garrett petting one of our content cows
Myth: Less expensive food is poor quality, high-priced food is good quality
Fact: Many believe in the theory “if the product is more expensive, it must be better”. This is just not true. The marketing labels on the package drive up the price of “organic” or “natural” foods. These products are labeled as somehow different, better and healthier. These are marketing claims, not nutritional differences. It’s important to read the ingredients on the back of the package, not the marketing claims on the front of the package. Consumers can purchase healthy, quality, nutritious and reasonably priced food at many grocery stores across the country.

Myth: Technology and efficiency are bad, “old-fashion” methods are good
Fact: Modern management methods and technology allow farmers to produce more utilizing less land, fewer animals, less water, fuel and other resources. Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) technology provides products such as drought-resistant seeds, pest-resistant plants and products with increase nutritional value. Modern methods allow farmers to produce more using fewer resources which keeps the cost of food down and is good for the environment. We applaud other industries when they employ modern technology to realize efficiencies, so why is this standard not acceptable in agriculture?

We live were we farm and feel good about the modern methods we employ
Myth: Organic farming methods are good for the environment, conventional methods are destroying the environment.
Fact: In the dairy industry, we’ve reduced our carbon footprint by becoming more efficient. A 2009 study by Cornell University found over the past 60 years, U.S. dairy has reduced the carbon footprint of its products by 63%, thanks to improvements in animal genetics, feeding rations, animal health programs, cow comfort and overall farm management practices. In fact, more milk is produced today with only 9 million cows than with 26 million cows in 1944. Conventionally raised cows produce more milk than their organically raised counterparts which allows conventional dairies to be excellent stewards of the environment.

Myth: U.S. farms and food systems are “self-governed”
Fact: Food systems from farm to processor are highly regulated in this country. All meat, poultry and milk are subject to the same government regulations and inspections procedures to insure food safety. I assure you the agriculture industry isn’t “self-governed”. See my blog The Milk Inspector is Coming. Food safety begins on the farm but consumers have an critical role in food safety as well. It’s important to store and cook food properly to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

People must take responsibility for their choices. Almost every food item you purchase today contains nutritional information printed on the package, including quick serve restaurants. You make the choice to eat at home or in a restaurant, you choose the quantity of food you consume, the amount of time you spend exercising, the amount of time you sit idle and so on. The increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes among American’s is not the fault of modern agriculture and American food systems, it’s based on the choices people make.

The sad reality is these types of movies are the only information many people receive about food and agriculture. At the center of these films is Michael Pollan, a best-selling author seen by many as a "food expert". Mr. Pollan has no experience working in agriculture, food processing or anything related. He’s a journalist with a M.A. in English from Columbia University. There isn't enough land nor farmers to sustain his plan. If his theories were standard practice, the U.S. food supply would decrease, food price would increase dramatically and more people around the world would go hungry.

I urge you to learn the other side of the story by checking out Agriculture Responds to Food, Inc. and Safe Food Inc.com. American farmers do an excellent job producing safe, nutritious and affordable food to feed your family and many families around the world. We should be celebrating American agriculture, not condemning it.

10 comments:

  1. Awesome post - as always!!! These movies make my blood boil. Your information is so informative. I guide people to you on a regular basis. : )

    Martha - Virginia

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  2. Wow, good post. More of us need to take this type of pro-active stance! Keep us motivated.
    Thank you. Sue M., No. Calif.

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  3. It's good to know the myths and the facts about food. Thanks for sharing that informative post.

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  4. Food, Inc., King Corn, Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me... I hope you did not watch them in one long TV night! Thanks for the post. :)

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  5. Thanks for your article in the FB News and thanks for all you are doing to promote the "True" story.

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  6. Thanks Brenda! Great post sharing your thoughts.

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  7. I really dont think it takes scientific evidence to figure out that food which is produced not using harmful chemicals is better for us. More and more people are swaying towards organic due to the cancer causing effects of many chemicals used in our country for industry as well as agriculture today. Examples of companies doing GOOD- Chipotle and PURE Bar.
    I love farming, I applaud farmers across this great nation. But more is not always better. The government should not be taken as the gold standard by anyone for anything as far as risks and our health is concerned. The FDA is a prime example. Drugs are allowed to be prescribed to consumers all the time, drugs that should have had more testing. My Father is in a similar situation now, as he developed heart problems from a drug prescribed to him deemed safe by the FDA when in fact, they simply went by the drug companies research and ignored the 15+ years of independent studies cautioning that this drug was not in fact safe. If we cannot trust them when it comes to drugs, how can we with food?
    Just my two cents =)
    An out of the box thinking sort of mom,
    Shauna

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  8. Thanks Shauna for taking the time to read and respond. You make the assumption that non-organic food is produced using “cancer causing harmful chemicals”. That is not fair to farmers and not accurate. Organic production methods may differ from conventional but they are not better or safer and there is no scientific proof that organic food is different, better or healthier. I absolutely understand you want to feel good about what you’re eating and know your food is safe and healthy. I feel the same. My family, and many family farms of all sizes, produce a good quality product using conventional methods. Both conventional and organic milk goes through the same strict quality and safety control measures. I’m glad consumers have a choice, they should. I don’t want parents to be guilted into purchasing expensive organic products because they are no safer or healthier than traditional.

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  9. Have you actually seen a factory farm?
    http://video.humanesociety.org/video/770234216001
    Check the Humane Society's website. I've even seen images from my own local news

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  10. The video you linked to is from a veal slaughter plant, not a dairy farm. Animals deserve a dignified life and humane death. I’m a 3rd generation dairy producer who was raised on a large, modern dairy farm. I’ve been on numerous dairy farms around the country, all family owned and operated. I personally know many dairy farmers; some have a few cows and some have thousands. All provide good care to their cows and calves. Family farms come in all sizes. The term factory farm was made-up by groups who condemn animal agriculture to push their own political agenda. The Humane Society of the U.S. is a fundraising machine that raised $131 million last year using deceptive ads full of cats and dogs. Unfortunately, only 1% of the money raised goes to pet shelters. See http://humanewatch.org/ to learn the truth about HSUS.

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Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m opening the doors of our farm to share with you and enjoy engaging in discussion. Please be respectful in your comments. I reserve the right to remove posts that include name calling, slander, and vulgar language or contain links to websites that assault animal agriculture.

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