Agriculture's Big Picture
AgWeb Editor Greg Vincent takes a big-picture look at agriculture and current events.
Great PR Piece for Organic Ag
Aug 27, 2009
If you haven't had the opportunity to read Time Magazine's latest cover story "Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food"
, hold your nose and do it. At best, this is a sad excuse for journalism. At worst, it's a high-profile article that goes to millions of readers and may mislead those who don't notice there is little citing of sources to back up the claims the author chooses to present as fact.
There are indeed a few facts presented in this article that have some merit. However, the issue is that publication with the reputation (though falling fast in recent years) like Time Magazine has published a story that is probably best classified as an essay to promote organic agriculture.
Here are a few of the "facts" presented:
"The U.S. agricultural industry can now produce unlimited quantities of meat and grains at remarkably cheap prices."
Source? Unlimited? A little hyperbole here?
"Change is also coming from the very top. First Lady Michelle Obama's White House garden has so far yielded more than 225 lb. of organic produce — and tons of powerful symbolism. But hers is still a losing battle. Despite increasing public awareness, sustainable agriculture, while the fastest-growing sector of the food industry, remains a tiny enterprise: according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), less than 1% of American cropland is farmed organically. Sustainable food is also pricier than conventional food and harder to find. And while large companies like General Mills have opened organic divisions, purists worry that the very definition of sustainability will be co-opted as a result."
"As the developing world grows richer, hundreds of millions of people will want to shift to the same calorie-heavy, protein-rich diet that has made Americans so unhealthy — demand for meat and poultry worldwide is set to rise 25% by 2015 — but the earth can no longer deliver."
"But cheap food is not free food, and corn comes with hidden costs. The crop is heavily fertilized — both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop — at least until corn ethanol skewed the market — artificially low."
Can't let a good story go without taking a shot at ethanol, despite the fact U.S. corn growers were producing a record crop while prices were going higher. But what good are facts?
What is agriculture to do? Should we let this go and write it off as something nobody will pay attention to? Or do we need to fight back and start telling our story?
You can weigh in Tuesday night via Twitter with the weekly #AgChat discussion. The discussion on August 25 will focus on how the mainstream media reports on and views agriculture.
Log in to Twitter and join the discussion.