It's getting to where you hate to pick up a magazine, click on the TV or even go to a sporting goods store. Everywhere you turn, an instant “expert” is lecturing you on the shortcomings of agriculture.
One recent evening, TV news watchers were shown a video of male baby chicks being discarded at an egg hatchery in Iowa. The surreptitiously obtained footage was aimed at raising consumer ire against “factory farming.”
Cotton producers have been confronted with signs above a display of polyester clothing distributed by Under Armour that read “COTTON IS THE ENEMY.” Efforts to get sporting goods stores to change the message have been fruitless.
An article in the Aug. 21 edition of Time magazine may win the prize for being an affront to agriculture, however. Bryan Walsh's story, “Getting Real about the High Price of Cheap Food,” is a classic case of stretching and bending the truth to prove a point.
Walsh's article purports to show that America's abundant supply of cheap food comes at a high price to the environment, animals and humans. What it shows is how little Walsh and others who share his views know about farming and the economics of feeding a growing world population.
The story, which can be found on the Time.com Web site, contains many of the claims environmental and organic farm groups have been making for years, but Time's elevation of Walsh's opinion piece into a full-blown cover story has surprised farm organizations.
Walsh takes the two or three incidents of “bad actors” that sold tainted food to consumers in the last 12 months and turns them into an indictment of the U.S. food supply as “bad for us, even dangerous.”
The article concedes that Americans spend less than 10 percent of their incomes on food, but Walsh gives little credit to innovations by farmers. He claims a transition to more sustainable, smaller-scale production methods could be possible without a loss in overall yield.
“But it would require far more farmworkers than we have today,” he writes. “With unemployment approaching double digits — and things especially grim in impoverished rural areas — that's hardly a bad thing.”
Those are the words of someone who has never spent a day on a 1950s and 1960s farm or seen the figures on the hundreds of hours it takes farmers in Africa to clear their fields for planting due to a lack of herbicides.
(In a radio interview, Walsh said Time is going away from objective reporting and moving toward becoming part of the conversation. He said he had heard opposing views to the opinions expressed in the article, but chose not to include them.)
It's fine to have a “conversation” when the participants have some knowledge of what they're talking about. Sadly, that isn't the case with Walsh.