By Matt Reese
Elizabeth (Altstaetter) Almeida, with Fat Moon at Meadowbrook Farm in Massachusetts, grew up on a Logan County cattle farm and moved to Massachusetts and started an organic farm. She agreed to share some insights from her urban East Coast customers about Midwestern agriculture. In return, I will be fielding questions from her customers about “Big Ag” in this forum titled “Table to Farm.” Each week I, along with some occasional expert input from others, will be addressing consumer questions about food. I would encourage any other farm folks to jump in with their thoughts on the questions as well. This is to be an open and honest discussion to help provide clarity to the mysteries of agriculture.
I am the editor for an Ohio farm publication that covers the broad spectrum of agriculture in the state. My wife and I have a very small farm where we raise meat chickens, eggs and sheep on a very small scale. My wife markets our products through a catering business. My family also has a small Christmas tree farm. In short, I am not pro-big ag or pro small farm, I am just in favor of a robust agriculture and a safe, dependable and nutritious food supply. There are vital and complimentary roles for both large and small farms (and every size in between) in our food system.
To kick things off for the first week, I thought I would start with a very general question and a very general answer that seems to be on the minds of many people out there. In following weeks, I will address more specific questions. My wife and I often get this question from non-farm friends: “Is our food safe?”
In short, yes. The food supply we enjoy in the U.S. is the safest, highest quality and most diverse that the world has ever known. There are certainly still food safety issues that need to be addressed and there is clearly more progress to be made, but the food system we have today is historically unrivaled in terms of safety and nutrition.
Despite these facts, there is ample fodder out there that would have you believe otherwise. News reports, books, and movies in recent years have presented some very tough questions and have opened up some very important debates about our food. While there have been some important and valuable contributions from these media sources, shoppers need to remember a few things when considering the “facts” presented in these too-bad-to-be-true tales of food safety woe. It is important to note that the job of people who write books and make movies is not to provide people with factual information. Their job is to make money.
The reality of the situation is that it is much easier to make money with a story putting forth terrifying insights into a broken food system than tales about the unprecedented safety of our food. Food, Inc. was not made for charity or for the greater human good. It was made to make money, a goal at which it has excelled. It presents some very scary stuff and scary stuff sells.
Along the same lines, many animal welfare and environmental organizations have latched on to the fears of a public uninformed about our food supply. With a few photos of mistreated animals, some pseudo-scientific studies and a little twisting of otherwise accurate information, there are some groups that have built up powerful coffers to fund their political agendas.
In comparison, the message that we have a safe, and reliable food supply is starkly benign. There is a reason you have not read best selling books about our safe food or gone to the video store to rent an expose about the remarkable food system we have because, quite frankly, that is a boring message. Boring messages do not make money.
In my experience with farmers (the actual people who work on and own U.S. farms), they are some of the best people out there. They work hard. They know you depend on them to do the right things for the food they produce and the land that provides that food.
Along with being nice folks, farmers are also subjected to an incredible list of regulations and hoops to jump through to make sure they are doing things properly (some of which are self imposed). Beyond the farm, there is an impressive series of safety control measures, regulations and oversight in every step of the process from the farm to your table. There are certainly challenges, problems, bad actors and shortcomings in our food supply, but there are no conspiracies out there to provide unsafe food, either.
Ultimately, you will find that, if you really dig into each of the oft-debated food related issues, it will become very clear that science and safety are universally on the side of our food system. So, I would urge you, when you come across some terrifying statistic or unsettling sound bite about your food, examine things a little more critically. See who stands to profit for providing you with twisted facts and misinformation. Does it sound too bad to be true? If so, it probably is.