As I was driving home from the Ohio FFA Convention last Thursday, my helper and I got to talking about some of the issues facing farmers — from animal rights activists to food activists, to environmental issues, to everything in-between.
Farmers just get blamed for everything, she half-jokingly said. But the more I thought about it, it’s no joke — farmers really do have fingers pointed at them for just about everything.
And yet, they persevere and do what they do — which is provide the food and fiber that maintains our families and our nation.
There are organizations and individuals who don’t know the first thing about raising farm animals — some who don’t even eat animal products — but they have all the answers for those who do. They call for “more humane” standards, knowing full well they won’t eat the product no matter how it’s raised, and likely will never lift a pitchfork or a hay bale in their life — if they even know what one is.
For some people, the only time they’re on a farm is when they’re recording a secret video against it, as part of a political campaign to convince voters one way or another. They violate the farmer’s trust, the farm policy, the duties they are hired to carry out and pursue clips and images to make whatever political point they want — all at the farmer’s expense.
And then there’s the media attacks — the mainstream media mostly — which likes to sensationalize and tell half-truths at the farmer’s expense.
I watched a video earlier this week from CNN in which the guy they interviewed tried to blame food companies for America’s obesity epidemic. Don’t get me wrong — there are a lot of overweight people in our country. And we need to do something. But I have a hard time blaming farmers and food companies for what I eat when there are so many personal choices of what to eat, how much we eat and whether we bother to exercise.
The clip featured former lobbyist Jack Abramoff — a name well known for his years lobbying and also for the time he spent in prison following corruption scandals. He discussed what he called “big food,” while they showed images of a farmer baling hay, a swine barn, and cans of Coca Cola and Pepsi.
He argued that there’s “just too much money” in these big companies, and they do too much to influence lawmakers. “We don’t wind up with a food supply that, frankly, is healthy at the end of the day and it’s making us fat and it’s killing us.”
It seemed like anything “big-scale” was to blame. Or, perhaps, anything too “big” for Abramoff and the reporter to understand.
I’m sorry, but the size of our bodies — or our butts — is not the farmer’s fault and usually not the food company’s fault, either. It has a lot more to do with choices and how we make them, and thanks to a large and abundant food supply we have plenty options to make healthy choices.
The videos that really bother me are the ones produced by so-called “food revolutionaries” like Jamie Oliver, who helped coin the phrase “pink slime” from a perfectly safe, perfectly approved U.S. Department of Agriculture product called “fine leanly textured beef.”
Oliver scared the bejesus out of viewers of his TV show when he inaccurately poured household ammonia in with meat to demonstrate what he calls “pink slime,” and likened it to making edible human food from something otherwise destined for dog food.
Beef carcass values dropped about $40 a head, hurting farmers, butchers, consumers and everyone involved. On May 8, the Associated Press reported about 650 American jobs will be lost when Beef Products Incorporated closes three processing plants this month — the result of “controversy surrounding its meat product that critics have dubbed ‘pink slime.’”
“This is a sad day for the state of Iowa,” said Gov. Terry Branstad, in a statement to media. “The fact that a false, misleading smear campaign can destroy a company’s reputation overnight should disturb us all.”
Anymore, the “smear” attempts almost seem daily — and farmers are blamed for everything from global warming to slowing down traffic on the roadway.
All by people who like to eat, and most of whom have little or no part in producing what they eat.
Sometimes complaints are legitimate — that’s for sure — but other times I wish the people complaining understood what it’s like to farm and make a living at it. It’s easy to tell somebody what to do and how; and it’s another thing to be the guy actually doing it.