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By Staff | Sep 11, 2009

Time magazine ran what I would describe as an expose condemning agriculture as an evil industry bent on environmental destruction, abuse of animals and the source of most human health risks.

It’s not the first article in a major publication that I’ve seen that was built on the absence and distortion of fact, but it’s always disappointing to see journalistic integrity ignored to such an extreme. The author knows just enough to write a sensational story, but unless they give Pulitzer prizes for fiction, he’s not going to win any award.

The article begins, “Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won’t bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics.

“The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He’s fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he’ll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds of the population.

“And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed so much corn from the ground will be washing into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. That’s the state of your bacon – circa 2009.”

Later on, it focused its criticism on the beef industry. The solution was organic farming and niche livestock production. We have a family beef CAFO. Ironically, we just had our annual meeting. In touring the operation I was extremely impressed with every aspect of it. I could best describe the care being given to the cattle as a 4-H project. Herd health is tied to feedlot performance and by every measurement of performance, the CAFO’s animals exude healthy conditions.

The operation uses mono-slope bedded barns. High-sloped roofs control air quality. Pens are bedded with corn stalks, manure is handled as solids. It’s even stored under roof. The manure provides crop nutrients. A significant portion of feed rations are distiller’s dried grains, integrating the feedlot into the biofuels industry. Under roof, cattle are protected from winter and summer. They are comfortably bedded.

The amount of pen space is dictated by performance. If cattle are comfortable, they gain at optimal rates. The idea that animals are kept in terrible, confined, abusive conditions isn’t a logical conclusion because there is no profit in that. Animals have to be comfortable in order to maximize gains and every effort is made to see that conditions are conducive to performance.

I used to raise pigs, feeding them in outside sheds. The tail docking is a pig thing. It’s been done for decades before confinement practices were predominant. It’s not a function of the system or necessarily any indication of stress. Feeding antibiotics maintains health so the pigs don’t get sick. Modern confinement buildings provide better living conditions for pigs than sheds used in pre-confinement days.

Pigs perform better in confinement than in outside lots for a reason. They are healthier and more comfortable. Manure lagoons are an outdated abandoned manure handling system. Manure today is managed by certified applicators as crop nutrients, part of a sustainable production system that reduces commercial fertilizer usage. Critics, like the author of the Time article, paint the entire industry by their worst performer. In doing so, they do inequitable harm.

The author thinks eating pork is unhealthy, suggesting it is a primary cause of obesity. Pork has never been leaner and most of the fat is lodged between his ears. The author suggests economic support for rural ag communities is bad, growing corn is bad and that farmers apply excessive fertilizer.

The amount of pesticides and fertilizer used to grow a bushel of corn has declined significantly as the result of technology. Using more pesticides and fertilizer than needed for optimum yields is illogical as it would eliminate profitability from farming. Farmers have been diligent managers of resources to produce the most output with the least input and have been extremely successful in boosting production efficiencies, lowering the cost of food production.

Americans spend more for healthcare than most other industrialized nations, but significantly less for food. Yet Time magazine thinks food is too cheap. The production system the Time article promotes would at least double the cost of food to consumers for absolutely no worthwhile reason whatever.

It would have no impact on consumer health except to reduce food output, increasing food scarcity.

Agriculture must feed the world and Time magazine has no clue whatsoever as to what that requires. U.S. agriculture is the most healthy, most sustainable, most productive, most efficient food production system that has ever been developed in the course of human history.

The Time article’s author failed to include input offered by a variety of agriculture and health experts, appearing to purposely disparage agriculture by promoting the most distorted, unbalanced misrepresentation of our food production system that he could.

The problem is that those who don’t know any better will believe it.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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