Produced by Harvest Public Media, KBIA and the Reynolds Journalism Institute, we explored the language and messages behind polarizing food fights. These have been triggered by, for instance, the Chipotle anti-factory farming ad and McDonald’s using farmers in their commercials to appeal to the popularity of the local food movement.
We got lots of great comments from our SRO audience, with many saying they enjoyed talking about the buzzwords, hyperbole and spin that so much of the food production coverage has today. We had folks from across the food spectrum -- from big production agriculture, local food advocates, those who prefer organic and vegetarian food, as well as people from academia and journalism.
After an hour of our panelists mixing it up – I particularly enjoyed hearing Wes Jamison, a Florida communications professor by day and verbal bomb thrower by might -- we ended our webcast and taping and opened the event to questions.
That’s when Tim Gibbons of the Misssouri Rural Crisis Center stood up and told us he was disappointed by the panelists, which he didn’t feel was representative of the growing number of farmers producing and selling food locally. Including Jamison, we also had Mike Adams, host of AgriTalk, Chris Chinn, a Missouri hog farmer and Farm Bureau member, and Bruce Friedrich, a senior director at Farm Sanctuary and co-author of “The Animal Activist’s Handbook.”
I called Tim this morning and he repeated his concerns:
I thought the panel had three apologists for the industrialization of agriculture and livestock in particular. And then there was a vegan on the panel. There wasn’t anybody representing what we think is the most rapidly growing sector of consumers. That is consumers who care where their food comes from, want transparency in how it’s produced and also care that it’s raised sustainably both economically and environmentally.
Nobody on the panel talked about the economic impacts of the corporate takeover and the vertical integration of the livestock industry on the rural economy, specifically, and also the general economy and the Missouri economy.
(The industrialization of the livestock industry) has put a lot of family farmers out of business. In 1985, we had 23,000 hog farmers in Missouri, and I’m using USDA figures. And now we have 3,000 hog farmers. So that’s a 90 percent decrease and 20,000 less farmers raising hogs. That also extremely impacts Main Street and rural communities. With the reduction of the farmers raising hogs, you also have less independent businesses on rural Main Street that used to support those farmers.
Tim has a point. We didn’t have that representative on the panel. But that was by choice. Producers at KBIA and here at Harvest Public Media wanted to talk about the extreme messages, so we brought in people who could speak to that. And, we have covered many stories about organic and sustainable agriculture, including a piece before last year’s Farm Aid concert featuring Roger Allison of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.
Another critic of the panel was Melinda Hemmelgarn, a registered dietitian and journalist who blogs at Food Sleuth. She told us so on Friday and she posted on our Facebook page this weekend:
In the name of transparency, I'd like to know who selected the panel of extremes -- vegan on one hand; factory farm on the other, with one Syngenta- and Monsanto- sponsored agri-business radio host … and one journalist flown in all the way from Florida to tell us there's "spin on both sides." Surely we have a journalist in Columbia who could have done just as fine a job at less cost.
Clearly missing from the panel: an organic farmer to describe truly sustainable agriculture -- as concluded by theUnited Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization. “... organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as conventional agriculture is today, but with reduced environmental impact.”
Who can consumers trust was one question not clearly answered. Start with the President's Cancer Panel Report that recommends we consume free-range meat, and food produced without pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, and hormones. The American Public Health Association, that puts public health before shareholder profits, is another good resource.