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Obama's Secretary of Food?

Well, it looks like we have a mini-Michael Pollan on the loose, and that’s not good news for agriculture. In an article that ran in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the New York Times, Mr. Nicholas D. Kristof urges the Department of Agriculture to switch its name to the Department of Food in order to meet the needs of the 300 million people that eat food versus the 2% of people that participate in agriculture. The article goes on to blame agriculture for such atrocities as the obesity epidemic, diabetes, greenhouse gasses, excessive waste, an end to small town traditions, using grain for livestock production, antibiotic resistant infections, and who knows what else—Carpal tunnel? Insomnia? Road Rage?

I encourage you to read the article, “Obama’s Secretary of Food,” and come back to join me on my pending soapbox.

Now, as farmers and ranchers, I don’t need to explain to you the errors in Kristof’s article, but I will challenge you to use the following sound bytes in correcting these errors before the lies become truth in our society.

Kristof writes, “The farm lobby uses that perch to inflict unhealthy food on American children in school-lunch programs, exacerbating our national crisis with diabetes and obesity.”

I do acknowledge that farmers and ranchers do encourage young people to incorporate meat and dairy products in their diets. After all, there is no better source for protein, calcium, zinc and iron than what comes from milk and dairy products. Nutrients like these are important for cognitive development and high performance in school. Excessive eating, sugars from soda and sweets and too many after-school snacks cause obesity and diabetes—not a well-balanced diet including animal products.

Kristof continues with, “Modern confinement operations are less like farms than like meat assembly lines. They are dazzlingly efficient in some ways, but they use vast amounts of grain, as well as low-level antibiotics to reduce infections — and the result is a public health threat from antibiotic-resistant infections.”

Our efficiencies help our meager 2% population produce food to feed the world. In fact, I once read that one farmer is responsible for feeding 144 people every single year. Moreover, I do believe more grain is used for renewable fuel each year instead of livestock production. Livestock numbers are lower now than ever before, and livestock convert grains and grasses into meat to feed people. Finally, A recent peer reviewed study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found little evidence that antibiotic use in animals poses a risk to human health. Additionally, federal law mandates that no meat sold in the United States may contain antibiotic residues that violate the FDA’s scientifically established standards. This process assures animals remain healthy and the food supply remains safe.

Breaking down the facts in well-written articles such as Kristof’s or Pollan’s has become an exceedingly difficult task that takes great effort and an even temper. Hopefully, I have helped to dispel a few of the myths included in this recent article, and I hope you will work to do the same with those that may have read this for themselves. So what do you think about this “fodder?” Perhaps it is time for all of you to write a letter to the editor of these newspapers? J