Aug 28, 2009

Time out


Last week’s issue of Time magazine took a direct shot at the meat industry and attempted to make disparaging remarks about agricultural practices. The article made a multitude of claims about just how bad meat production is in the United States. The authors of the article clearly have an agenda about what they refer to as “factory farming.” I prefer to call it production agriculture.

The magazine’s cover had a package of ground beef on it with a warning label about conventionally-raised meat being hazardous to your health.

The article was, of course, picking on the beef industry’s feedlots along with hog and poultry barns and the idea that the animals are pumped full of corn, antibiotics and hormones while raised in cramped unsanitary conditions. They go on to make the claim that production agriculture is responsible for our nation’s obesity and diabetes problem.

The perhaps not-so-surprising part of the story was that when the author contacted the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) about the article, NCBA was quick to offer up no less than six experts in beef production to provide them with the facts about beef production in the United States.

They used a one sentence quote. The article goes on to say that “Some Americans are heeding such warnings, and working to transform the way the country eats.” Hmm, who do you suppose those Americans are? Do you suppose they would be the same folks behind Food Inc., people such as Robert Kenner or Michael Pollan, author of the “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” or perhaps Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation?” All of them are advocates of organically grown foods, but they appear to be less advocates and more like crusaders for the “slow food movement.”

I’m not sure that you can say that there is any one group pushing the slow food, organically grown agenda. There are a multitude of them. I suppose you have to ask two questions: Why is anyone telling the nation how to eat? And: What’s in it for them? I can understand a food company promoting their products as organic. That’s just marketing.

But, the messages we are hearing have a political tone to them, which leads me to think that legislation is the ultimate end for the folks engaging in this agenda. But, I don’t think they have to tear something down to build their case. Throughout the entire Time article their justification for consumers to shy away from modern meat products is based around the environment argument and their belief that there is a difference in taste. There isn’t any mention of nutrition.

They discuss the antibiotic issue and make the old argument that the livestock industry over-uses them, which they contend is creating antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. This where NCBA got their one sentence mention. The author noted that NCBA contends that antibiotic resistance, “is the result of human use and not related to veterinary use.” However, the author then references pending legislation to limit the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.

The cost of cheap food is not so cheap, they claim, because after the subsidies, the disease created by a meat diet and the ecological damage done by agriculture, anyone in their right mind would want to save the world and eat organically produced food. I don’t have any problem at all with organic food. It costs more than conventionally grown food. It’s a consumer choice, one that has produced profits for cattle producers and meat companies alike. However, research has shown that organic product doesn’t have any more nutritional value, nor is it any safer than conventionally raised meat. In other words, this debate is simply a subjective argument about state of mind. The disturbing part is that I can see the animal rights groups and the environmental groups piling on this issue to push their agendas. What bothers me is that this slow food, organic food issue has more to it than simple food ideology. There is a political agenda behind this movement and as Time has demonstrated, they don’t want to be confused with the facts about modern meat production. They just want what they want. — PETE CROW