Responding to misinformation

So, Food Day came, and Food Day went.  The earth didn’t stop rotating on its axis, no great Vegan Agenda was unveiled, and the majority of Americans didn’t even notice.  And you know, that’s fine with me.

Many of y’all don’t know this, but when I noticed that the Food Policy class at Ole Miss was hosting a Food Day event, I wrote a letter to the editor which expressed my concerns about such an event being held under CSPI’s umbrella.  Readers of this blog know my concerns with CSPI’s Food Day, but if you’re new to the party, you can catch up here.

Here is the letter I wrote to The Daily Mississippian, which was posted on their website on October 20th (bits in red are particularly important points):

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to Zach Mitchell’s recent piece about the Food Day event hosted by the Trent Lott Leadership Institute and the Office of Sustainability. I was disheartened to see that Mr. Mitchell’s article contained no background on the truth about Food Day, and that none of the Food Policy students seemed to realize the motives behind the event.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has declared October 24 to be Food Day. It is being promoted as a way for consumers to get together to talk about the ‘problems’ in our food system. Famous names that have been attached to Food Day include Michael Pollan — author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma — and Morgan Spurlock — creator and director of the film Super-Size Me.

I would encourage the students of the Lott Institute’s Food Policy class to do their own research.  Supporting local farmers is an excellent notion, and one I wholeheartedly support.  However, I do not support CSPI’s Food Day. I grew up on a beef cattle operation, and CSPI’s biggest supporters seek to put my family — and the rest of animal agriculture — out of business.

While I applaud the dialogue between students, university professors and local farmers, I am upset that such a conversation is being held under CSPI’s Food Day umbrella. The creators of Food Day seek to move the American diet towards an entirely plant-based one, eliminating animal agriculture — Mississippi’s No. 1 industry. Food Day’s board of directors includes Pollan, who was quoted as saying, “Eat food, not too much. Mostly plants,” and the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States Wayne Pacelle (whose HSUS employees have stated that their goals include the abolition of all animal agriculture).

CSPI, through a series of misinformation and scare tactics, would have consumers believe that farm animals are abused, pumped full of hormones, and raised on “factory farms.” The truth is, 98 percent of American farms are small, family-owned operations, and the majority of farmers and ranchers are dedicated to ensuring the welfare of the animals they care for. Calling a large farming operation a “factory farm” on the basis of size alone is simply wrong.

For farmers, “food day” is every day. Students interested in learning more about agriculture and the vital role it plays in our country’s economy should visit www.realfarmersrealfood.com. Join with our nation’s farmers and ranchers in celebrating their every day life — the production of food the we all rely on.

Sincerely,

Virginia

Class of 2009

Animal Agriculture Alliance

On Halloween, two Public Policy students were kind enough to respond to my letter.  While I welcome dialogue and the chance to discuss my position, the points made by their retort as misinformed– as was the event that they were protecting.  Instead of posting their letter in its entirety, I’m going to address their concerns point by point.

To the Editor:

We are writing in response to the letter from Virginia Houston that was published in last Thursday’s DM. We would like to clarify a few issues that were brought up by Virginia, as well as defend our actions and intentions regarding Food Day.

She claims that animal agriculture is Mississippi’s No. 1 industry. This is not entirely true. Agriculture as a whole is Mississippi’s No. 1 industry, not just animal agriculture. Forestry and the production of soybeans, corn, cotton, rice, hay, horticulture, sweet potatoes, wheat and peanuts are also responsible for placing agriculture in the top spot.

Here, I will admit my own typing mistake.  Agriculture in its entireity is the top industry in Mississippi.  However, I was not entirely wrong.  Would you like to know what Mississippi’s number one agricultural commodity is?

Chickens (both broilers and eggs).

She claims that the creators of Food Day promote an entirely plant-based diet. This, too, is not true. Food Day’s goals include:

-Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods

-Support sustainable farm & limit subsidies to big agribusiness

-Expand access to food and alleviate hunger

-Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms

-Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids

-Support fair conditions for food and farm workers

None of these six goals promote vegetarianism in any way. Furthermore, the Food Day logo has a chicken on it! We highly doubt that an organization promoting a meat-free diet would use a chicken on their primary advertisement.

First of all, putting a chicken in their logo is another clever way to mask their true purpose.  But you still don’t believe that CSPI is pushing a plant-based diet?  Well, don’t take my word for it!  Let’s hear it from Jeff Cronin, CSPI spokesman:

“We’re not a vegan organization, but we do want to nudge people in a more vegetarian direction, absolutely,” Cronin says.

You can find that audio interview with Mr. Cronin at Brownfield Ag News.  While CSPI isn’t a vegan organization, pushing consumers towards a vegetarian diet does not help livestock producers.

In regards to CSPI, they are one of many organizations that made Food Day possible. While their individual agenda may differ from the goals of the whole group, CSPI has played a role in making food day possible.

According to their website, CSPI advocates the following in regards to animal agriculture:

“Reforming factoring farms to protect animals and the environment. Farming of animals can and should be done without cruelty, and without degrading the quality of life in rural America.”

Ah, factory farms.  It’s such a catch all, isn’t it?  You know, I have yet to find an organization that can actually define the term.  Which is strange, considering that reforming such operations is one of Food Day’s six principles.  And you know, I’m glad that they mentioned the other organizations sponsoring Food Day.  If you go to CSPI’s Food Day website and click on their fourth principle (which adddreses reforming factory farms), it shows a list of informative sources should consumers want to know more about the issue.  And who’s on that list?

  • Compassion in World Farming
  • Environmental Working Group
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
  • Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production
An august group, to be sure… if you’re an animal rights activist.  It’s safe to say that real farmers and ranchers know the truth about these groups.  For more, you can check out the watchdog blog Humane Watch.
But here’s where things get fun really interesting.

Additionally, Virginia expresses her wish for the student’s in the Lott Institute’s Food Policy class to do their own research. We have, actually, and, interestingly enough, our research reveals that many of her claims are incorrect. Take, for instance, her statement that, “CSPI, through a series of misinformation and scare tactics, would have consumers believe that farm animals are abused, pumped full of hormones, and raised on ‘factory farms.’” Our research shows that corporate agriculture has dominated the food system over the past few years. In the case of beef packing alone, only five companies control an astonishing 79 percent of the market. Upon conducting our research it is MORE than evident that most meats found in the supermarkets are indeed a product of a factory farm.

Virginia’s claim that 98 percent of American farms are small, family-owned operations is also not entirely true. These farms are almost always contracted out by large corporations, an operation known as contract growing. This process indentures small, independent farmers to grow livestock for a corporation.

Again, I’m looking for that definition of a “factory farm.”  Did this research come from Eating Animals?  The Omnivore’s Dilemma?  While there are meatpacking companies that do a large portion of business, there are still thousands of small family farms.  And you want to know the quickest way to offend them?

Call them a “contract grower.”

Additionally, I have to point out that they’ve incorrectly said that I was in the wrong.  That statistic quoted which says 98% of farms are family owned is indeed true, information provided by the United States Department of Agriculture.  Don’t believe me?  Check it out in black and white from the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Most farms are incorporated for tax purposes.  That’s it.

And finally, they conclude with this:

Finally, we cannot help but feel that Virginia wrote this letter with the sole purpose of boosting her own agenda. According to her LinkedIn profile, Virginia currently works in communications at the Animal Agricultural Alliance.

Had Virginia been here and participated in UM’s first annual Food Day, she would have seen that the last thing we were doing was trying to promote a meat-free diet, and eliminate animal agriculture. Actually, she could have met one of the many farmers who take pride in the animal products they produce.

Sincerely,

[Names redacted]

Food Policy Students

I really want to be sarcastic here, make a quip about the lengths they went through to check out my LinkedIn profile.  And I could, since that research was entirely unnecessary; as you see in my letter above, I signed off with my place of employment.  However, I do take umbrage in being accused of solely pushing my agenda.

That’s the thing with Food Day.  There are agendas everywhere.  And my biggest issue is that CSPI’s version of Food Day only included niche producers, and they made practically no mention of livestock producers.  I don’t need to come to Ole Miss and meet the producers they brought in to understand how much pride farmers take in their work.  While I’m sure they’re fine, upstanding people, and I would like the opportunity to talk with them one day, I’m the proud daughter of a fourth-generation farm family.  I grew up in beef production, and I know firsthand the pride that producers take when showcasing their animals.  My only “agenda” is promoting all aspects of American farmers and ranchers, and I never accused the Ole Miss Food Policy class of trying to do that.

CSPI, on the other hand, is a different animal entirely.

Like I said, I welcome dialogue!  And honestly, I wish that Ole Miss had offered a food policy class when I was an undergraduate.  I would have been all over that!  If you have questions or comments that you’d rather not leave in the comment area on this post, feel free to shoot me a note at SouthernSensibilityBlog@gmail.com.

And remember, for American farmers and ranchers, every day is food day!  

(This should go without saying, but please note that all opinions presented on this blog are my own opinions and are not reflective of other parties.  This is just the way *I* feel.)

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One thought on “Responding to misinformation

  1. Well said! As an Animal Science major from Okla State I applaud your efforts. Unfortunately words can be twisted to fit any agenda, don’t ever feel like your “spitting into the wind” so to speak. Keep it up.

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