Kansas State University is one of the top ag schools in the country. I can safely say that because I ran an annual survey listing the top 10 schools when I was publishing MEAT&POULTRY magazine. K State was always one of the leaders. A check of their ag department faculty proves my claim, too. It’s filled with some of the most respected people in the industry – the good doctors Dale Blasi, James Drouillard, Melvin Hunt, Jim Marsden and Randy Phebus populate the tip of this prairie ice berg.
If there was any place that might be trusted to have some natural resistance to the current fad-driven anti-agriculture sentiment sweeping the uneducated press, it should be the K State Collegian, their campus newspaper. A full and balanced viewpoint in the tradition of unbiased journalism can be developed by walking over to the College of Agriculture in Waters Hall and knocking on almost any office door.
But the newspaper seems to be following the New York Times/ Time magazine style of anti-ag reporting. They do have the good taste to label some of their more one-sided pieces as opinion, though. In one of those things that make you go ‘hmmm,’ I thought a line from the newspaper’s frequent contributors of op/eds that attack animal agriculture, a political science and philosophy student, was telling. “Bias in the media isn't always explicit. It's found in stories reported, headline wording, graphics, photos and tone of voice”.
Yes it is.
A frustrated Brandi Buzzard, a grad student in the University Department of Animal Sciences, grew tired of the attacks. Probably wanting fair representation from the ag side of the board, she sent this long and heartfelt message to me:
“Have you seen the headlines lately? The news has been full of anti-agriculture propaganda ranging from YouTube videos to university newspapers and even national television news programs. Anti-agriculture activists are constantly criticizing the producers of our food supply and projecting negative images about the practices we utilize.
When I read or hear these outlandish accusations I experience a wide variety of emotions; injustice and annoyance being the frontrunners. Recently, I read an article in my university newspaper that was challenging the health benefits of milk. Milk, of all things, was under attack and was being cited as the “cause of sixty percent of ear infections in kids under the age of six.” In the same article, milk was blamed for increasing the chances of osteoporosis. In yet another anti-ag article, meat was accused of being “bad for human health.” How, I ask, can meat be bad for human health when there are studies that suggest beef may prevent type-2 diabetes?
Why do those who reap the benefits of production agriculture choose to degrade it so harshly? One of the largest commonalities of many anti-agriculturalists is their lack of knowledge of industry practices. Lack of education of consumers and the media damages the shining reputation the agriculture industry has built over the past two hundred years. Today’s average American is at least twice removed from production agriculture. This means that kids today, more often than not, have no concept of where their food comes from or how it is made. This is a serious problem in our society. When a middle schooler doesn’t understand where the milk in his cereal bowl comes from, we as agriculturalists should spring into action.
How can we combat animal rights extremists? Farmers and producers need to proactively engage our consumers about the safe production practices that take place in our industry. Being proactive rather than reactive allows us to cultivate a positive image in consumers’ minds before they become biased against agriculture practices due to unfounded information splashed across their morning news. When we are reactive, we allow anti-agriculture organizations to damage our industry’s reputation, thus forcing us to play catch up. Why shouldn’t we take the initial step to reach out to our consumers? Better than anyone, a producer knows about the painstaking care we give our animals. Our animals are not only food but more importantly they’re our livelihood. We trust the safety of our product enough to place it on our own family’s dinner table. Multiple studies have shown that healthy, comfortable and well-cared for animals are often the most productive. By actively engaging consumers about how their food is produced, we can take a giant step towards weakening the oppositions’ argument.
Through interaction with consumers, we can spread the truth of production agriculture and build our support system. I know that we, as producers, are all busy with day to day tasks like feeding the world. However, next time you hear someone talking about vegetarianism or sharing their opinion of inhumane production practices, don’t just act disgusted and walk away fuming. Indulge them with the facts. Tell them that we eat the same food you do, why would we want it to be unhealthy or harmful in any way? Share with that naysayer stories of how you get out of your warm bed every two hours during a snow storm to go check your cattle to ensure their survival. If you’re feeling particularly hospitable, invite them to your farm for a tour; you treat your animals well so you have nothing to hide. It’s these small conversations and gestures that will save production agriculture. If we don’t start working to defend our livelihood and ways of life, too soon we’ll have nothing left to defend.”
In the best interest of freedom of speech, a philosophy student’s thoughts about animal agriculture should be published. It should be taken with the same seriousness, though, as an article written by me on the finer points of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s thoughts. I would have to preface the piece by saying, “I’m not sure what I’m talking about but I’ve heard…”
Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for Cattlenetwork.com and Agnetwork.com.