When the “CBS Evening News” called to talk to Dyersville, Iowa, pork producer Dave Kronlage about how farmers need to use antibiotics to make a living, he turned down the interview with Katie Couric—twice.
Eventually, Kronlage decided to go ahead with the interview because he thought he might have a chance to tell the farmer’s side of the story. Unfortunately for the livestock industry, CBS aired less than 50 seconds of Kronlage’s hour-and-a-half interview as part of a segment in early February 2010.
Dave Warner, communications director for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), believes a change in the way the media reports news is partly to blame for this.
“I think that reporters don’t report the news—they’re trying to make it, and they have an agenda,” Warner says. “The more controversial the issue, the more likely the reporter is taking a side. What they should be doing is presenting the two sides and getting a quote from each.
But that’s not happening.”
Warner points to the increasing number of books that have been published in the past two years about food and how livestock and poultry are raised, along with issues of organic, sustainable and local production. Niche grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, cater to natural and organic products, and many mainstream grocery stores offer antibiotic-free sections for meat and organic produce. Diversification in agriculture is fine, Warner says, but we can’t feed the world or even this country on organic and local production alone.
“I think that right now in the United States, and probably throughout the whole world, there are so many different factions out there who are misinformed and have no tie to farmers other than the groceries they buy at the store,” Kronlage says. “Because of that, they look at farmers as big business, and it seems like now the sentiment is against all big business.”
Joe Cornely, spokesperson for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, agrees with Kronlage that there
is a strong disconnect between consumer and farmer.
“As people get farther removed from understanding food production, they are much more susceptible to suggestions about the mechanics of feeding the world,” Cornely says.
Educating Others. Some in the industry are pointing to the top—the Barack Obama administration—to say a lesson in feeding the country needs to start there.
“We need to educate Capitol Hill staffers because a lot of them don’t come from agricultural backgrounds,” says Bethany Shively, who was formerly with the National Cattle-men’s Beef Association and now is communications director for the National Association of Conservation Districts. “It is important to go in and talk to them and tell them why we need tools like antibiotics to have healthy cattle, which are the foundation of a healthy food supply.”
Warner, of NPPC, believes there is a population at USDA and within the administration who do a pretty good job working on behalf of the nation’s pork producers, including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. But it’s a small population.
“We had a joint meeting with the USDA and U.S. Department of Justice on competition in ag and looked at all different segments,” Warner says. “Some staff and some consultants sat down with Department of Justice staff, and they didn’t know anything about production ag.”
One of the first questions the Department of Justice staff asked was why farmers give hormones to pigs. “That’s illegal. We don’t give hormones to pigs,” Warner says. "Overall, one of the issues we need to deal with is to explain to everyone what we do and why we do it. People don’t know where their food is coming from."
Others suggest that farmers need to do their fair share when it comes to educating themselves and communicating a positive message. Mike Smith, vice president for content at Food Chain Communications and editor of www.truthinfood.com, says his website was started in 2009 as a way to look at misconceptions about the agriculture industry.
- December 2010