Food, Inc. or Black Sheep?

I recently watched the movies Food, Inc., King Corn, Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me. These movies are portrayed as factual documentaries about the American food system. The messages are similar; 1) big farms are bad, small farms are good, 2) conventionally grown food is bad, organic food is good, 3) less expensive food is poor quality, high-priced food is good quality, 4) technology and efficiency are bad, “old-fashion” methods are good, 5) organic farming methods are good for the environment, conventional methods are destroying the environment, and 6) U.S. farms and food systems are “self-governed”.  What do these assumptions have in common? They are all opinions, not fact.

As a dairy producer who’s been involved in agriculture my entire life, I found these films to be opinion based dramas aimed at scaring consumers. These movies are based on a narrow viewpoint crafted to push an elitist agenda with the goal of eliminating food choices. They play on emotions in an attempt to make you feel guilty for purchasing and consuming conventionally grown food.

The facts paint a different picture;

Myth: Big farms are bad, small farms are good
Fact: Food is produced on farms owned and operated by families – 98% of U.S. farms are family owned. Farms of all sizes produce healthy, safe products because we as farmers take pride in the food we produce. Farms are businesses that must be profitable to be sustainable, regardless of size. The perception is small farms treat animals well and large farms don’t, this simply isn’t true. We know healthy, comfortable, well-fed animals are productive animals. Our cows eat a balanced diet prepared by a nutritionists which provides the nutrients they need. Corn is not “unnatural” in a cow’s diet. Corn is a grass. Soy, another important component in a cow’s diet, is a legume. These ingredients are part of a balanced diet on livestock farms of all sizes.

Our cows eat a balanced diet that includes corn, which is a grass
Myth: Conventionally grown food is bad, organic food is good
Fact: There is no science-based evidence that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown. A healthy, balanced diet is easily achieved from non-organic food. The production methods may differ, but the end product is the same. I feel good about serving conventionally grown food to my family and am glad I have the choice. See my blog "What's the Difference Between Traditional "Regular" Milk and Organic Milk?"

Jack and Garrett petting one of our content cows
Myth: Less expensive food is poor quality, high-priced food is good quality
Fact: Many believe in the theory “if the product is more expensive, it must be better”. This is just not true. The marketing labels on the package drive up the price of “organic” or “natural” foods. These products are labeled as somehow different, better and healthier. These are marketing claims, not nutritional differences. It’s important to read the ingredients on the back of the package, not the marketing claims on the front of the package. Consumers can purchase healthy, quality, nutritious and reasonably priced food at many grocery stores across the country.

Myth: Technology and efficiency are bad, “old-fashion” methods are good
Fact: Modern management methods and technology allow farmers to produce more utilizing less land, fewer animals, less water, fuel and other resources. Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) technology provides products such as drought-resistant seeds, pest-resistant plants and products with increase nutritional value. Modern methods allow farmers to produce more using fewer resources which keeps the cost of food down and is good for the environment. We applaud other industries when they employ modern technology to realize efficiencies, so why is this standard not acceptable in agriculture?

We live were we farm and feel good about the modern methods we employ
Myth: Organic farming methods are good for the environment, conventional methods are destroying the environment.
Fact: In the dairy industry, we’ve reduced our carbon footprint by becoming more efficient. A 2009 study by Cornell University found over the past 60 years, U.S. dairy has reduced the carbon footprint of its products by 63%, thanks to improvements in animal genetics, feeding rations, animal health programs, cow comfort and overall farm management practices. In fact, more milk is produced today with only 9 million cows than with 26 million cows in 1944. Conventionally raised cows produce more milk than their organically raised counterparts which allows conventional dairies to be excellent stewards of the environment.

Myth: U.S. farms and food systems are “self-governed”
Fact: Food systems from farm to processor are highly regulated in this country. All meat, poultry and milk are subject to the same government regulations and inspections procedures to insure food safety. I assure you the agriculture industry isn’t “self-governed”. See my blog The Milk Inspector is Coming. Food safety begins on the farm but consumers have an critical role in food safety as well. It’s important to store and cook food properly to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

People must take responsibility for their choices. Almost every food item you purchase today contains nutritional information printed on the package, including quick serve restaurants. You make the choice to eat at home or in a restaurant, you choose the quantity of food you consume, the amount of time you spend exercising, the amount of time you sit idle and so on. The increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes among American’s is not the fault of modern agriculture and American food systems, it’s based on the choices people make.

The sad reality is these types of movies are the only information many people receive about food and agriculture. At the center of these films is Michael Pollan, a best-selling author seen by many as a "food expert". Mr. Pollan has no experience working in agriculture, food processing or anything related. He’s a journalist with a M.A. in English from Columbia University. There isn't enough land nor farmers to sustain his plan. If his theories were standard practice, the U.S. food supply would decrease, food price would increase dramatically and more people around the world would go hungary.

I urge you to learn the other side of the story by checking out Agriculture Responds to Food, Inc. and Safe Food American farmers do an excellent job producing safe, nutritious and affordable food to feed your family and many families around the world. We should be celebrating American agriculture, not condemning it.