As we charge down the path of 2020, I want to be more assertive and relentless in getting the facts to the consuming public about the production of food. The one strategic aspect that most of us in the farming community cannot quite figure out is how we do this without giving the “opposition” more exposure.
In the past week we have had two situations on the same day that really set all farmers back. My personal opinion is that one was handled well and one was not. For the record, I thought a Golden Globe was something you went to the mall to buy. “60 Minutes,” on the other hand, is and apparently has been for quite some time, anything but a “news” magazine.
First, let me say that I was upset about the way “60 Minutes” presented a hit piece on pig farmers. What I am trying to get better at is floating around social media to see what the non-farm community is saying because I and everyone in pig farming had plenty to say.
Ironically, I found a significant number of statements from non-aggies like, “Why aren’t more people talking about this ‘60 Minutes’ piece on pork?” and “I am not involved pork production but this clearly was agenda driven, not news content.”
Then, of course, there is the really hard core stuff like, “I watched 60 Minutes and Leslie Stahl talked about pork. Clearly whoever does her make-up should be fired.”
I honestly think there is one way to handle this attack piece and that is not to rehash the misinformation that has already been presented. Far too many times we will repeat the misinformation as a part of dispelling their story and providing correct facts but by then it is too late and you have assisted them in spreading the lies.
The structure of pork production has changed significantly in the past 30 years, but what hasn’t? Today there are family operations that have been successful in growth and established networks with other farm families to benefit from economies of scale. The notion that pig farming is nothing but large corporations today could not be further from the truth. The ownership of the pigs has clearly concentrated but jump in my pickup and travel with me to a growth area such as eastern South Dakota and I will show you young farm families that are taking care of pigs and also farming family land.
For the past four years, all livestock producers have been required to get a Veterinary Feed Directive to add any amount of antibiotics to livestock feed. Farmers need to have access to the tools that give us the ability to keep animals healthy and growing at the best possible rate. Regardless of what skeptics say, it is well-documented that in that period of time, we have reduced antibiotic use in livestock by 41%.
Personally, I see that as a double-edged sword because there is no science indicating that the use of feed grade antibiotics on livestock has any impact on human health. Those figures have not changed in that 4-year period. Folks still get bacteria that is resistant to the antibiotics used for humans. If 100% of the antibiotics used in animal feed went away, the problem in humans would not likely change and there would still be resistant bacteria and a less healthy food supply as well.
The method has been clear from the start of the attacks on agriculture. Warm the pot on the stove slowly and we, the frogs, will just gradually increase to a boil without noticing instead of throwing us right into a scalding pot of water. You show me one regulation or rule passed in recent years that was ever enough. There is no regulation, whether it be animal care, animal space or animal health, that is never enough for those that want our industry to end. First, the chicken just needs a little space, then a little more and then the chicken needs to be free range right up until they don’t allow you to even own a chicken.
The tactic is incrementalism and we are slowly giving the care of our land and livestock away to those furthest from the land and livestock. The truth is that experts in farming need to put their foot down and say, “Enough already.” The consumer is relying on us to provide an efficient supply of food, fiber, fuel and pharmaceuticals and if we don’t plan to give up on that then we need to take a stand. Stop letting people proclaim their expertise without having their money where their mouth is. Fight for what you believe in and regain the trust of the many customers who aren’t swayed by the agenda of the vocal minority.
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.LoosTales.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.