TIME magazine posted an article by reporter Bryan Walsh to its Web site: "The Real Cost of Cheap Food." The article repeats a wide range of “factory farming” claims, including the common myths about modern beef production’s over-reliance on corn and antibiotics, the distorting effect of farm subsidies and poor farm animal living conditions. It’s the cover story for the Aug. 31 print edition, which already is available at some newsstands and will be arriving in subscriber mailboxes early next week. The cover artwork is a package of ground beef that carries the warning: “CAUTION. This hamburger may be hazardous to your health.”
The issues management and media relations teams of the Beef Checkoff Program, heard from a TIME research assistant at the end of July about a pending article. At that time, it was positioned as an article Walsh was writing about food safety and antibiotics. The research assistant specifically wanted the industry’s comment on the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) and antibiotic use in the beef industry. Through actions by the Beef Checkoff Program, an interview was quickly arranged, after which, Walsh contacted the team directly to fact check how much it costs to raise a steer to harvest weight. When pressed, Walsh revealed his story would address other issues, including beef and nutrition and the environment. Again, Walsh was told he needed to hear from beef industry experts before running his story.
Five interviews were then arranged for Walsh within a three-hour time period on the afternoon of the 19th and the team provided him with fact sheets and research about beef choices, beef nutrition and the environment. Interviews were set up to discuss beef’s important role in a healthy diet with Shalene McNeill, Ph.D., R.D., National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) Executive Director of Human Nutrition Research; production agriculture and the different choices of beef with Tom Field, Ph.D., NCBA Executive Director of Producer Education; and livestock production and the environment with Jude Capper, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Washington State University. Additionally, interviews were set up for Walsh with two feedlot operators: Anne Burkholder of Will Feed, Inc., in Cozad,Neb., and Gary Teague of Teague Diversified, Inc., in Fort Morgan, Colo.
Out of the six expert spokespeople offered up, Walsh included only one quote about antibiotic use: “[Resistance] is the result of human use and not related to veterinary use.” In addition, TIME’s description of feedlot conditions blatantly disregarded the great information about the care that goes into raising cattle that was provided by Teague and Burkholder.