Monday, March 01, 2010

My Thoughts on the Divide

I just read a news release about the launch of a "social media website" sponsored by the Missouri Beef Industry Council. It's goal is to keep Missouri beef producers "apprised of 'activist attacks' on agriculture." The site, "Farmer Freedom" portrays itself as providing factual information to correct the record in the face of distortions in the media. I just visited the site. To be honest, I was very disappointed. While there are some interesting facts posted, the main focus of the website seems to be to attack the media, animal welfare groups, and environmentalists with an 'us against them' tone that I find destructive.

There are many positive and amazing aspects of American agriculture. I come from a farm family, and my legal career has always focused on agriculture. I am clearly not an activist attacking agriculture.

But I recognize - as do many others - that there are problems that we need to address. Some of these problems take their highest toll on the farmers themselves. When rural wells are contaminated, farm families suffer the consequences. When antibiotic resistant infections increase as a result of over-use of antibiotics in feed, farmers, farmworkers, and their families are most likely to be infected. When farm production methods evolve to require farmers to de-sensitize themselves from the pain that their farm animals suffer, most farmers that I know hate what they are doing, even if they don't admit it.

Farmers don't need a website providing propaganda telling them that there are no problems. What they need is an honest discussion about how we can address the problems that do exist.

And, on the hot button issue of animal welfare, wouldn't it be inspiring if farmers came out in force when a video of clear animal abuse came out - like the recent video of abuse of young calves at the Vermont slaughterhouse - not to criticize the media, not to demand laws banning video taping, but to shout out - we don't support treating animals that way. We can do better. The image of the American farmer would be enhanced, not weakened.

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