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June 28, 2006 - Science Must Be the Benchmark

A few days ago at our WGN Radio studios in Chicago Max Armstrong and I welcomed fifty school teachers, representing grades 1 through 12, from DuPage County, a county just west of downtown Chicago that at one time was rural, and today is primarily urban.

This visit has become an annual event; part of a three-day program organized to help urban-suburban teachers develop a better understanding of agriculture and the food industry.  The agenda includes farm visits beyond the suburbs, visits to the Chicago Board of Trade and the Mercantile Exchange as well as food processors and retailers in the city. They stop by our studios to learn about coverage of agribusiness from a radio station in the heart of a major city.  It is enlightening for us; I hope it is enlightening for them.

The questions from the teachers focused primarily in two areas: Number one, the loss of top-quality farmland as we continue to deal with urban sprawl in this area. Number two, concern over food safety ranging from Mad Cow Disease, Bird Flu, Foot & Mouth Disease, biotechnology, bio-terrorism and anything else that could affect our food supply. I fully understand that concern, but some of the questions were prefaced with comments that bordered on emotion rather than science.

"I just know this food isn’t safe."  "Biotechnology food has been with us such a short time we dare not eat it until we have had enough time to do testing." "I’ve stopped eating meat because I know animals are mistreated by farmers who keep them indoors in small cages."

These questions come from people teaching children in our schools and they should remind all of us in agriculture and agribusiness that we still have a major challenge.... to maintain science as the benchmark in discussing these issues. Later in the week I visited  Iowa State University and talked to Dr. Maynard Hogberg, Chair of the Department of Animal Science.  He reinforced the fact that in food safety and in livestock care we need science as the benchmark.  When I asked if there was a demand for graduates in Animal Science he said "there were more job openings than we had graduates at Iowa State this year." And he went on to say that "companies in the food industry, in animal health, in pharmaceuticals and in production agriculture want people with a strong science education."

Back to the teacher tour....if you have an opportunity through an agricultural  organization in your county to work with school districts to organize such a tour, I highly recommend you do it. It will benefit all of us involved in agriculture.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.