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The Ag Agenda

June 2011

When Did Food Become So Complicated?


Bob Stallman
President
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Sustainability. Organic. Biotech. Big Ag. Local. Pure. These are just a few labels being tossed around freely to discuss something that I’ve always thought of as a pretty simple and straight-forward concept: Eating.

There is no doubt that a handful of people aspire to dictate what is placed on America’s dinner tables. Unfortunately, in meeting their objective, these self-subscribed food activists are turning the simplicity of food into a complex political agenda.

All Shapes and Sizes

Food. Everyone is talking about it. From food activists to the Prince of Wales – who recently made a U.S. visit for the sole purpose of telling us how to farm – everyone has an opinion on how food should be produced in the U.S.

I am an ardent believer in open debate. It’s one of the cherished rights we have as U.S. citizens. But, the advocates of the food debate are using an all-or-nothing approach, without taking into consideration consumer demand and need. Many argue that all U.S. food should be sourced locally, if not produced individually for household consumption.

With the global population expected to reach 9 billion in the next 35 years, and with the U.S. as a major global food resource, do we really want to backpedal and wipe the slate clean of years of food advancements that allow us to help feed a hungry world?

Although I am a conventional farmer, I admire agriculture’s many facets. Organic, local, biotech-free, no-till, etc., are all important and have their place in the bigger picture. Agriculture comes in all shapes and sizes from a local farm stand to a large operation.

I think National Public Radio summed it up best in a recent segment: “To [many] this is what the future should be – fruits and veggies grown on small farms, nearby the city. But, get over it. This isn't the future – not if we want to feed everyone.”

Where’s the Farmer?

Somehow during this food debate, the farmer has been shunned. There have been several major food summits held recently in Washington, D.C. Speaking on the panels were food activists and national thought leaders. Unfortunately, no farmers were invited to participate.

Who knows food better than those who grow and raise it? Because of the hard work of U.S. farmers and ranchers, Americans today have more food choices and spend less of their disposable income on food than practically anyone else on earth. Americans are living longer than ever before because today’s food system allows for better nutrition and food safety.

Family-owned farms make up more than 97 percent of our nation’s farms. They include small-scale and large-scale operations, as well as organic, traditional, no-till and biotech, among other production methods. The fact is, whatever label you attach to them, they are getting the job done.

The food revolution that is being sought by some may indeed come to pass, but it will not happen without genuine consumer demand and resulting market signals. And it surely won’t happen without the input of America’s food providers – farmers and ranchers.