Archive for June 19, 2009

Twitter Chat on Food Inc

Following a lengthy discussion with many individuals, from all aspects and opinions, while changing water on the ranch, I was struck by the following epiphany.

Individuals that believe Food Inc is an accurate portrayal of “all” modern agriculture in the United States are perhaps the individuals that brought us to this point of discontent.

It seems that the biggest concern that these individuals have is with “big agriculture,” “industrial farms”, and “factory farming.” These terms were heavily used as the description of today’s production agriculture. So I pose the following question: How did we end up with these non-family owned corporations in the first place?

Certainly, there are some issues that need to be addressed regarding “non-family owned corporate agriculture.” We in the beef industry have been struggling for years, with the consolidation of feeders and packers and the impact felt in the market place due to their actions. Understandably, similar challenges exist in the poultry, pork and dairy industries as well. However, I propose that it is because of the actions of the suburban and urban population that we have arrived at our current destination. Whether or not is our final destination is yet to be seen.

Urban sprawl is continuing to encroach, surround and swallow productive land and is forcing the small farmer and rancher to sell their land. Complaints about noise at night, noise during the day, tractors and cows on the highway, odor, dust and other aspects of farming and ranching have resulted in ordinances and legislation that place restrictions on agriculture that financially force the small farmer and rancher to sell. The “NIMBY” (not in my back yard) attitude has forced family owned feedlots, dairies, hog and poultry farms, slaughter houses, and rendering facilities to close up, never to reopen.

This has resulted in larger dairy, swine and poultry farms, and fewer, but larger, feedlots, slaughter houses and rendering facilities, located predominately in the mid west. Small farmers and ranchers and related businesses that once were rural did not have the resources to survive the fight against urban sprawl, and those that were located farther from the major population areas were able to grow, due to a reduction in competition, but continuing increase in supply .

Today, those non-family owned corporations rely on the family farms and ranches for their product and the family farms and ranches rely on them for a market. Is it a system that we like, not always, but it was not a system created by family farmers and ranchers. It was created by the consumer. However, the struggle continues. Family farms and ranches continue to be threatened by new legislative regulations, and new agency permitting programs pertaining to the environment and animal welfare, brought about by activists focused on a few “bad apples”, the minority, and economically devastating the majority. Without major change, we are headed to even larger agri-business and more consolidation, exactly what the Food Inc supporters do not want.

Additionally, these corporations are often criticized for “monopolizing” technology that they create. What is not admitted, or realized, is that the typical family farm and ranch does not have the time, money or resources to devote to innovation and technology development, and that without these corporations, much of the progress we have seen in efficiency and yield would not exist, and likely, we would be a net food importer instead of an exporter. Further, it is these corporations that so generously support FFA and 4-H programs and agriculture programs at universities and community colleges. Without their financial support, most of these programs would not have the success that they currently have, let alone exist.

It is time to face the facts. While local grown is a wonderful idea, it is far from practical to feed a country, let alone the world. Common sense tells us that New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, etc., will never be able to sustain their food needs by buying local. Can it be done in rural areas? Certainly, however, unless the plethora of permits, regulations and legislation are curbed, that too will soon be a memory. Society needs to allow the affordable construction of new slaughter houses, rendering facilities and packing houses. Society needs to place the value of the human being above species and allow family farmers and ranchers to stay in business, enhance the environment and continue to serve as the carbon basin for the general population.

Movies such as Food Inc., directed at the urban consumers, that paint agriculture with generalizations, misinformation, and emotionally driven propaganda, will only exacerbate the “problem” that they are trying to solve.

Ironic, in my humble opinion, that the “enemy” which they are fighting, was ultimately created by themselves.

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull the mote out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Mathew 7, verses 1-5

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