20 June, 2008 - Let’s Respond to Wrong Statements

The subject of this week’s Samuelson Sez comes from a conversation I had a few days ago with one of the 275 tractor drivers who took part in the Heritage Tractor Adventure Ride in Northern Illinois. I enjoy the opportunity to visit with farmers and ranchers, and let me share his side of the conversation as I recall it.

He started the conversation by saying “Well, Orion, it looks like we’re finally in the news headlines.” He then explained “You know, for years we have sort of been taken for granted and people really haven’t given much thought to what we do on farms and ranches to put food on dinner tables. But now we’re in the headlines and people are talking about food prices; talking about floods; talking about droughts; and finally, people are paying attention and noticing us.”

I wholeheartedly agreed with him because everyday for the past month a front-page headline, or the top story on the 10P.M. television news or the main topic of a radio talk show has focused on floods and crop destruction, food vs. fuel and escalating food prices. It is nice to see that agriculture is finally recognized as the source of what we eat and what we wear, as well as the roof over our heads and now, energy in our gas tanks...and yes, farmers and ranchers are important and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Unfortunately though, not all of the stories are positive. Let me give you one more example of why agriculture must stay united to respond to misleading claims that appear in media.

Recently a letter to the editor in the Chicago Sun Times, headlined “Don’t Have a Cow; Beef is Bad for the Planet and Your Body”. I can’t quote the entire letter but here is one paragraph that sent my blood pressure higher: “Beef production accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all automobiles in the world. It’s insatiable demand for feed grains has raised world food prices to levels beyond the reach of the world’s hungry and the relief agencies that support them. The creation of beef pastures is the key cause of world wide deforestation including the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest. A beef-based diet requires more than 20 times as much land and water as a plant-based diet with equivalent amounts of calories and protein.”

I don’t have the time in this column to respond to all of those mis-statements from a person who obviously would like to turn us all into vegetarians. But it is one more lesson that while we may be in the headlines everyday, we must always be prepared to respond to emotional claims with answers based on science.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.