I often find myself in a predicament. This usually happens when I go looking for trouble. Somewhere out there in cyberspace, someone will post an article about “Big Bad GMOs,” or the horror of “Factory Farming.” Inevitably, the comments on these sorts of things are filled with hatred and inaccuracy. There is always mention of “greedy industrial farmers who only care about making money while ruining the environment and confining animals.” As a farmer who raises livestock and crops with so-called “industrial” methods, these things always get me going, and they always put me in a difficult situation.
I will reply (yeah, I know, glutton for punishment) by posting a comment to the tune of, “As a farmer who uses modern methods of livestock production, I get tired of people telling me that I treat my animals poorly and my crops are poisoning people.”
And the response almost ALWAYS is something like this: “Well, I’m sure YOU don’t treat YOUR animals badly. But INDUSTRIAL agriculture does, they cram their animals into CAFOs and they rob GOOD farmers like YOU from making a living.”
And that, right there, is where the gigantic disconnect between the consumer and the farmer comes in. I’m still not sure how to bridge this gap. I often envision myself taking said cyber-person by the shoulders and shaking them.
Here’s the deal. I AM “INDUSTRIAL” AGRICULTURE!! Along with thousands of other farm families working hard to feed the population. When you say “CAFOS ARE EVIL!” You are telling me, my family, and the people that we work with that we are evil. The animals we raise get sold to “BIG BAD CORPORATIONS” such as Tyson and Hormel. We buy our GMO seed from Monsanto. Our livestock is raised in confinement.
So, if I do decide to push the issue with these people who feel that all farming should look like it did in 1950, they will then proceed to tell me that they pity me. That the EVIL CORPORATIONS have FORCED me to accept their ways and raise an INFERIOR, INHUMANE, and TOXIC product. Clearly, I, as an individual, must be STUPID to not see it. If I was smart, I’d choose to raise my crops and livestock without chemicals or confinement.
And here is my disclaimer, as I have stated before, I do not mean any disrespect to farmers who choose to raise their produce differently from me. There is no one perfect way to farm, and I know that the vast majority of farmers, and food industry workers, are good people working hard to provide a quality, abundant food supply.
See, when it comes to a debate, many humans have a really hard time telling each other one-on-one that we have a problem with each other’s individual actions. Especially, when we’re not 100% confident about what we’re debating. It’s so much easier to throw up a scapegoat, like a faceless corporation, than to tackle an issue on a individual level.
So, If I am really feeling feisty, I go on to say “I make the choices I make because I am confident that they are the best choices for me, my farm, my family, and the consumer. I educate myself about the applications and consequences of everything we do on the farm, and I am comfortable that the product I provide is safe, environmentally sound, and nutritious.”
And then, I’m told I am a fake. I can’t possibly be real. The “BIG CORPORATIONS” have brainwashed me and I am a paid fake. And if I am real, then I have destroyed their faith in humanity. Because it just can’t be possible that there’s more to agriculture than what Michael Pollan (the director of the horribly biased Food, Inc and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) told them.
Here is the truth.
The animals my family cares for are raised in CAFOs and FEEDLOTS. They are comfortable and they do not suffer, and we work our tails off every day to ensure that. The animals’ comfort always comes before ours. The hormones and antibiotics that they receive are given in a prescribed manner, under the direction of our veterinarian and feed specialist, according to USDA rules and guidelines. I fully understand how these products work, and do not hesitate to feed my family the beef we raise.
Our crops are GMO and we use chemicals. We live right in the middle of the farms where we grow our crops. My kids play in the yard right next to our crops, they help with the planting and harvest of them. We follow several guidelines and rules set forth by the USDA to ensure that the crops we grow are safe. Using GMO technology has allowed us to produce more crop with less fuel, chemical, and water.
Now, if you choose to buy organic, local, or pasture-raised produce, (or whatever the latest food buzzword is) that is completely your choice. Please, just don’t do it while saying that our “FACTORY FARM” is inferior, because, I ensure you, we are not.
I do not hesitate to feed my family our beef (which is also sold to Tyson) and I do not care if the food I buy in the store contains GMOs. I am confident that the US food system is reliable, safe, and continually improving.
I don’t deny that there are issues, there always will be. I’ll admit, there are some things that I see happening in agriculture and food production today that concern me. I am glad there are skeptics out there, because nothing should ever progress unchecked. I have faith that we will work through these issues and come out better because of it.
I do know that I am glad to be living in today’s day and age, where food-borne illness is so rare that it makes the news, as opposed to years past where it was a common cause of death.
So, back to the difficult situation I put myself in. Reacting to bad information about farming puts me on the defensive, by default. And for some reason, people are particularly skeptical of defensive people. At least, I know I can be.
I’m pretty defensive, aren’t I? I’ll admit it. Agriculture has been under attack lately, and it seems like every day there is some new piece of misinformation out there.
How can I not defend the way of life, the “BIG BAD INDUSTRY”, that I love? How can I not reach out to consumers and show them that what my family is doing is not going to harm them, the environment, or the animals? How can I not begin to take a proactive approach to this problem of misinformation?