Jim Mlsna, DVM, Ocooch Dairy, Hillsboro, Wis., along with two other dairy farmers started the In Defense Of Farmers reaction to Michael Pollan and his book In Defense of Food which was recently distributed to students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (To read more about Pollan’s event and agriculture’s response at UW-Madison, click here.)

Mlsna took part in organizing farmers and others in agriculture to be present at Pollan’s recent speech at the university. Despite being in the midst of harvest season, Mlsna says a large group of green-t-shirt wearing agriculture representatives attended the event and were inundated with questions from consumers. Bovine Veterinarian asked Mlsna 3 questions about why this type of agricultural activism was so important.

Bovine Veterinarian: Why did you feel it was important, especially as a veterinarian, to be there at Pollan's speech at UW?

Jim Mlsna: Having worked with food animal clients for over 30 years and also owning my own 580-cow dairy, I felt my presence along with other veterinarians and farmers was needed to show the support for farmers and have a chance to share our stories about how we care for our land and animals while also using technology in modern agriculture. Pollan insinuates that  animals on mid- and large-sized farms are treated or fed antibiotics on a daily basis, that food products from any specialized farm that doesn’t graze are unhealthy, and that our farming practices are harming the soil. We have to stop this wave of untruths and the best way is for producers and professionals who work closely with farmers to talk directly to the students and consumers.

We were unhappy that a land grant institution with a world renowned agriculture school would invite someone to speak about farming with such a narrow experience. We believe Pollan tempered his remarks about modern agriculture because of our presence, yet the green shirts drew many people with questions. It is obvious that as our population gets farther from the farm, they want more information about where their food comes from; we need to provide truth and balance in those discussions. We want students, who are future consumers, to know we are the true environmentalists and our animal care is the heart of our lives.

BV: What were the major questions/concerns from consumers and how did you answer them? 

JM: The main questions were: Why are you here? What do you do? Do you oppose Michael Pollan? Why do you have so many cows? To which we answered: We are here to tell you how we take care of our land and animals. We only treat sick animals much the same as a mother would take care of her children. We use very few pesticides because of the GMO crops that have been developed in the last few years. Our cows are inside on hot days with fans and sprinklers on them and our cows are as important to us as your pets are to you.

We do not oppose Michael Pollan’s right to free speech but feel you need to hear the rest of the story of food production. Ninety-nine percent of the farms in Wisconsin are family owned and in order for my kids to have at least one day a week off, we grew our dairy. If we milked 60 cows we could not afford help to give the kids time away from the farm.

Another question was: Does your milk have hormones and antibiotics in it? To which we replied, Not a single load of milk processed in the country has antibiotics in it. It is discarded if it does. All milk has normal hormones and all milk is the same as far as healthiness.

BV: Should food animal veterinarians get involved in these types of things where they have the chance to interact with consumers?

JM: Food animal veterinarians may  be more aware of current events than their clients. Although many of our younger clients have gone to college, many do not like speaking about their work. It is a natural tendency for farmers to like working alone, working until a job is done and in a sense they are the exact opposite of a public speaker.

As veterinarians, we need to be their motivators and in some cases the community organizer. Most food animal practitioners don’t do their job for the big bucks – it’s because we love our job and the people we work with every day. Farmers trust us and we need to help them be understood in this age of iPods, Facebook, and the internet. Most our clients and many of us would rather be working than telling the story of agriculture, but if nobody in the profession does, the HSUS and elitist environmentalists will. Veterinarians can speak objectively about working with farmers all day and can communicate how they care for their land and animals." 

I would encourage any one who knows of appearances of the Michael Pollans and HSUS or PETA to contact me at indefenseoffarmers@gmail.com and we can give you some advice about how we handled our event. We are not a formal organization, just a couple of farmers who had a lot of help.