Critics are crying foul over this week’s TIME magazine cover story. The story is a wide-ranging frontal assault on all aspects of modern food production, and the story is written in a manner that the very few words included to give agriculture a token voice are quickly trampled by an onslaught of anti-modern-agriculture rhetoric.
The first paragraph pretty much sets the tone. “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 washed 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.”
The article quotes numerous entities critical of modern farming, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, several disenfranchised farmers dismayed about how agriculture has changed, organic advocates and others who sell their farm and food products based on criticizing the products and processes of mainstream farming and ranching.
Letters regarding this opinion article, which TIME unfortunately cloaked as a news magazine cover story, may be sent using this link: http://bit.ly/19LOXL. You will need to input the headline of the article—America’s Food Crisis and How to Fix It—when you submit your online letter.
Listen to an AgriTalk radio interview with Daren Williams, of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Read Bob Stallman's letter to the TIME Magazine editor. Stallman is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Pork magazine associate editor Rick Jordahl comments on the TIME magazine article.
What I would say to Time and Bryan Walsh
Dear Mr. Walsh: I heard about your TIME cover story – “The Real Cost of Cheap Food,” Aug. 31 – on Thursday of last week, two days before it hit the news stands. By the end of the weekend I had received several e-mails and phone messages alerting me to the “outrageous” and “disingenuous” cover story that trashed modern agriculture.
You and TIME certainly captured the attention of those of us involved in agriculture, and I’m sure you also captured the attention of millions of Americans as they walked through airports, checked out at supermarkets or those just sifting through their mail at home. If it was your intent to scare or repulse consumers who have little or no knowledge of agriculture, congratulations – you were successful.
Of course, those of us involved in modern agriculture in any way recognize that your story misrepresents a lot of facts, and, in some instances, repeats some outright lies. On the whole, your story is what I call “semi-accurate” but not “truthful.”
For instance, it’s accurate that most pigs raised for food in America are held in confinement operations. You like to call that “factory farming,” but we prefer to call it efficient. You criticize farmers for utilizing the advancements in technology – such as animal health products – to keep their pigs healthy. And you further condemn those farmers for capturing the manure from their livestock to use as fertilizer on their fields.
Your story claims agriculture is accelerating global warming, obviously in reference to that U.N. report from 2006 that has been thoroughly debunked. Those and other examples you use in your story are straight out of the “activists” playbook.
I could continue to list specific misrepresentations in your article, but the point I want to make clear is that your article doesn’t even try to present opposing viewpoints. Your sources are nearly all activists or those who have vested interests in the demise of modern agriculture. Take Bill Niman, whose business is raising and selling natural beef and pork. Mr. Niman has promoted his products by disparaging traditional beef and pork – scaring consumers into believing his production methods are somehow safer, and more nutritious.
When I first saw your article I knew it was a hatchet job before I got past the cover. That’s because you chose the most sensational words of introduction possible in the label over the photo of the hamburger on the cover: “WARNING: This hamburger may be hazardous to your health.”
I strongly suspected that your knowledge of agriculture was thin. When I saw the lead photo in your story those suspicions were confirmed. Spread across two pages is a single cow, apparently Niman’s, in a large pasture of brown grass. The pasture is obviously under severe stress from lack of rainfall, yet you chose this as an example of how cattle should be raised? Given the vast resources of TIME Magazine, couldn’t you at least find an attractive photo of a cow on lush pasture?
The fact that you chose to believe what you’ve been told by a handful of activists, and that you wrote an inaccurate portrayal of modern food production is not what bothers me most about your story. No, what bothers me most is that TIME chose to print the story at all – especially without even a hint of balance to the reporting.
I’ve been a TIME reader for many years, and I have often viewed the reporting as insightful and top-notch. Time’s coverage of major issues such as war, politics and the economy has added to our national debate in a positive way.
But now I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical because if TIME could get a story so wrong about a subject I understand – agriculture – why should I believe TIME is publishing credible reporting on subjects outside of my expertise?
How could you people devote such resources to a story and get it so wrong? — Greg Henderson, Drovers editor.